Garwulf’s Corner #33: Back on Board the Desert Bus
Originally published November 9, 2016
Are you saving up for Desert Bus? If you’re not, you should…
It’s that time of year again where I get the pleasure of tugging at your heartstrings for a good cause. The 10th annual Desert Bus for Hope starts on November 12, when it will begin raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Child’s Play to help put video games and their consoles into children’s hospitals. Perhaps this year’s proceeds will break the $700,000 or even the $800,000 mark.
Now, I talked about why this is important to the children last year, and if you haven’t read that, you should. Right now. I’m not kidding. I’ll wait.
What I want to talk about this year is how this all got started — and I don’t just mean Desert Bus. You see, I saw the beginning of it all, back in the days of the original Garwulf’s Corner on Diabloii.net (which ran from October 2000 to October 2002).
And it all began with one of the most important battles the video game medium had ever fought.
As strange as it may sound, there was a time not too long ago when the video game medium was in a desperate fight for survival. Its right to free speech had been stripped away in April 2002 in a judgement by Judge Stephen Limbaugh which stated that video games were not protected by the First Amendment on the grounds that they were incapable of communicating ideas. Around the same time, Congressman Joe Baca had introduced a bill called the “Protect Children from Video Game Sex and Violence Act of 2002,” which would have taken the unprecedented step of making selling a violent video game to a minor a federal offence.
As ridiculous as it all sounds today, this was a pitched battle that could all too easily have been lost. We tend to forget just how much the acceptance of video games as a medium is generational — as a late Generation Xer, I (along with a lot of people my age) grew up playing computer games and was able to watch them grow in sophistication. We could take for granted that computer and video games were capable of communicating ideas, because as far as we remembered, they always had been. To my father’s generation — the one making and enforcing the law — electronic gaming was little more than a toy that had only recently hopped out of video arcades and primitive home consoles.
Now, we won — the judgement was struck down. Representative Baca’s bill died in committee, and to this day video games receive free speech protection — but it was probably a lot closer than anybody realizes. We could all too easily have lost.
In the midst of all of this, the two men behind Penny Arcade — a webcomic that had begun doing its own video game commentary articles a year or two after Garwulf’s Corner started — finally got sick and tired of gamers being depicted as violent sociopaths in one moral panic after another, and wanted to prove beyond any doubt that not only were gamers good people, they were people who would contribute to making the world a better place. So, on November 24, 2003, they announced that they had partnered up with Amazon.com and the Seattle Children’s Hospital to buy video games and toys for its patients, and “make this Christmas really special for a lot of very sick kids.” That first year, they raised $250,000. By the end of 2006, they had raised over $2,000,000.
And that’s when Desert Bus for Hope came into play. I’ve talked about Loading Ready Run before — truth be told, they are probably more responsible for the current existence (and sometimes content) of this column than any other source. In a sort of masochistic brilliance, they decided to livestream a marathon session playing Desert Bus — reputed at that time to be one of the worst games ever made, Daikatana notwithstanding — so long as the donations kept coming. They had figured that they would be only going for a weekend, but the donations wouldn’t stop, and by the end of the week they had raised $22,805.
The next year they raised over $70,000, and the year after that, they raised over $140,000. Last year, the tally was $683,720, for a lifetime total of $3,119,116.15.
Much to my regret, even though I saw and read that first announcement on Penny Arcade, I didn’t participate in the first Child’s Play, or even the first Desert Bus. I only became involved during Desert Bus 8, when my wife and I donated as much as we could afford at the time. In Desert Bus 9, my little publishing company was a corporate sponsor, and helped raise over a thousand dollars. That I took so long to get involved will always be one of my regrets.
I’ve written about outrage culture more than once in this column, and the unfortunate fact is that too much of our discussion of video games has become more negative than it ever should have been. But Desert Bus for Hope is different — Desert Bus is pure positivity, taking the passion of gamers and using it to give back in a way that makes children’s lives better. But that’s hardly a surprise. After all, Child’s Play was born out of a need to create something positive out of the all the vitriol being thrown towards gamers in 2003.
Today, this is all the more important. In 2003, Child’s Play quite possibly became the defining moment when gamers came together and started to give back as a community. In Desert Bus we can see all the good that we are capable of. It is perhaps our best life raft in today’s sea of negativity.
That is why all this matters in the greater scheme of things. And now, my dear readers, I’m going to ask you to join in. I’m not doing a call-in this year (perhaps I’ll be able to next time), but I am once again a corporate sponsor, and my little publishing company is contributing several books, including five signed copies of An Odyssey into Video Games and Pop Culture. Go and watch Desert Bus on Twitch (https://www.twitch.tv/desertbus), participate in the chat, and donate what you can — let’s see if this year the best readership on the Internet can help Desert Bus break $700,000, or even push the total to $800,000.