“The event started out as a couple people in a living room with a camera taped to a TV. Now, after the eighth event, the group has raised upwards of $2.4 million.”

NEWS_Desert Bus 2014 Dancing

LoadingReadyRun group holding their online charity gaming marathon. Photo by Andrew Ferguson

Victoria-based online sketch-comedy group LoadingReadyRun held their eighth annual Desert Bus for Hope online charity gaming marathon.

The marathon, founded by the group in 2007, consists of volunteers playing the video game Desert Bus for days on end, streaming the action online, while tens of thousands of people watch via live stream.

The marathon raises funds by charging for playing time by the hour. People donate to keep the game going with costs increasing each hour.

Players rotate every 12 hours and, during their shift, not only play the game but interact with the viewers as well.

This year the marathon lasted just a few hours short of seven days, running from Friday, November 14 to Thursday, November 20. The total amount of money raised this year was $635,415.04.

The event started out as a couple people in a living room with a camera taped to a TV. Now, after the eighth event, the group has raised upwards of $2.4 million.

The marathon is run by volunteers and all money goes directly to Child’s Play.

Child’s Play is a charity that provides children in hospitals with toys, books, and games. They are currently helping out 70 hospitals worldwide.

VIU Media Technologist Johnny Blakeborough has been on board with the event since its beginning.He started out as a volunteer, but in 2010 took on the role of leading the tech team and producing the broadcast.

“This event is one of the most powerful and rewarding I work on,” said Blakeborough.

He said he is amazed at how it has progressed from a couple of guys in a living room to a group of people in a studio holding auctions and having celebrities phoning in.

“The [Desert Bus] community is very involved and creative,” said Blakeborough. “They send us art, poems, and videos.”

Because of the live feed, people will make donations along with requests. Requests vary from skits to singing popular songs in the voices of certain characters. Blakeborough said Skeletor is usually likely to make an appearance.

Silent and live auctions are a good source of income, but Blakeborough said the giveaways have been the best way to bring in money.

“We will offer a giveaway and have people donate something like $5.55 or multiples of it to be entered in the draw. Because it is equal entry for all, more people have a chance.”

The marathon combines two loves of its volunteers and donators: video games and charity. The problem initially was finding a game that isn’t fun to play.

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People watch as Johnny Blakeborough takes his turn at playing Desert Bus. Photo by Andrew Ferguson

“Marathons are supposed to be hard,” said Blakeborough. “So why not have us playing the worst video game ever?”

Desert Bus is a mini-game that was a part of an unreleased game for the Sega Genesis: Penn and Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors.

The game is ultimately uneventful. The player drives a bus in a straight line from Nevada to Arizona.

“There are no markers, no scenery, nothing,” said Blakeborough. “Aside from the occasional bug splatter, nothing happens.”

The marathon has become a full-on event, and because of the participation of the thousands watching, this seemingly boring game becomes something more exciting.

The players are not alone while driving; there is a “co-pilot” in the room as well helping them along.

People are also doing skits and lots of other crazy things the donators ask of them.

Penn Jillette has been a supporter of the event for years. This year he phoned in to the marathon and started an auction.

“Penn called in and offered backstage passes to a show in Vegas, as well as a limo ride, and golf with him and his wife,” said Blakeborough.

After the bidding broke $7k, Penn said the three people who bid over $7k all got two tickets.

“We weren’t prepared for that,” said Blakeborough. “We don’t have it set up for multiple winners. But we made it work.”

The marathon has been making more money each year. “We keep thinking ‘this is the year we are going to plateau,’” said Blakeborough, “but it just doesn’t happen.”

The group is excited by their progress and started planning next year’s event at the wrap party of this year’s.

For more information on the event, the game, and donating to Child’s Play visit the Desert Bus website.

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