I’ve been long fascinated with Penn and Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors collection of minigames. Among them Desert Bus holds a special albeit equally obscure place. It is beyond any measures of common sense. While Desert Bus was never conceived to be anything else than a joke or something remotely thoughtful and it is widely mocked as the most pointless piece of gaming ever – for me it has one quite fascinating unintended consequence.
This video shows its gameplay. But you should definitely play by yourself. Desert Bus is a driving simulator with a twist. Nothing happens there except for the player riding through the desert for some staggering amount of time. The journey starts at Tucson, Arizona and leads us to Las Vegas, Nevada. In real time. The premise of coming from A to B is full of opportunities. Because it’s a game – something should happen beside riding – but there’s nothing but riding – the whole abstinence of its gameplay is glorious. The fact that you need to go from A to B for a very long time makes it special in a very particular way. And that is in many ways utterly beautiful adventure in reflecting on subsistence.
Because it is what it is and there is nothing more. It is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. And you’re playing it.
The whole idea of being boring on purpose is nothing new – but it’s the experience that makes it worth. A negative one – the one that gives you nothing except for things you make yourself up while it’s happening. It lets you to defamiliarize your state of being by perfroming a torpor operation on you.
As Mr. Auden wrote in his “In Memory of W.B. Yeates” – “poetry makes nothing happen” (and as a man whose temper is laced with conceit – i’ll allow myself to misinterpretate this quote for artistic reasons). There’s plenty of nothing happening in this game. In fact some much – it can considered to be a kind of source of so-called “nichtsereignis“. It is being haunted when the minutes drag – passing through the unearthly excessive feeling of discontent.
It lets you to experience unmitigated and thorough nothingness at play. And the play itself is not about riding the bus – it’s the game playing you being while playing it. You get lots and lots of sundry thoughts, assorted mounts of notions, indescribable contents of feelings and undeciphered sentiments. You notice something, recall the other thing, you long, you pine, you yearn, you crave… You start to think about how your clothes touch your body, how your eyes move in your eyesockets, what shape has your shadow while you sit and play, what’s going on with your hair, what substance is on your lips? You feel yourself happy, sad, lucky, happy again, murmurous, feel nothing, feel something… Was that an involuntarily smile?
You turn into a starfish whose mere existence is unobservable but it’s certainly quite eventful. Leisurely gusts from Parnassus pour upon you – and Weltscmerz of yours slowly seeps out tickling your thighs. Thats poetry hitting you as hard as you could ever imagine – and you don’t feel but it affects you, it changes you. That’s what Desert Bus offers to you.
Desert Bus is our modern-day vanitas – a reminder of futility of things and in the same time a jolly riposte – “ah, screw it! Gonna do it my way with sombre diddle and besoms!”.