I'd say that I'm sorry for what I'm about to do, but that would be a lie. I'm about to do my best to pull at your heartstrings and open your pocketbook, because this one is important.
At 1 p.m. EST on Saturday, November 14th, Loading Ready Run is going to start the 9th iteration of Desert Bus for Hope, the Internet's longest - and most masochistic - telethon. And I'm asking all of you to watch and donate if you can.
Desert Bus is a game created by Penn & Teller in the mid-1990s as a reaction against moral guardians: to show them what a realistic game would actually look like, they made one where you drive a bus along a desert road from Tucson, Arizona, to Las Vegas. The drive is eight hours, in real time. The bus lists to the right. There are no saved games or checkpoints. If you crash the bus, you get towed back, also in real time. If you finish the trip, you get a point ... and you get to start driving back.
The Loading Ready Run crew plays the game, in shifts, continuously, so long as people keep donating money (which all goes to Child's Play). The cost per hour increases with each hour. Last year, they went for 6 days and 14 hours, raising $643,242.58. This year, they hope to do better. And, while they drive, the group as a whole, along with a lot of other volunteers, do improv, take challenges from the chat, and perform live auctions (which can get truly ridiculous - two years ago, a packet of silica gel sold for $10,000).
That's the event - here's why it's important: all the money goes towards putting video game consoles and games into hospitals for children.
That may not sound like much, but it's more important than you might think. Thanks to my Crohn's Disease, I've been in the hospital a couple of times. One of the biggest problems while there is dealing with boredom - for part of it, you're sick and weak enough that you can't do much anyway. But, it doesn't take long before you'd do anything to deal with the monotony. At least you understand why you're there. You know that it may be boring, but you can't finish healing without it, so there's some comfort. It helps keep you sane.
Well, that's if you're an adult. If you're a six year-old going through chemotherapy, you don't necessarily have that understanding or comfort.
Sadly, I have some experience with this too. Childhood leukemia has struck twice in my family. The first was about 15 years ago with a cousin on my mother's side. The second is still ongoing with a nephew on my wife's side (who happily seems to be coming towards the end of his treatment). Little Sammy isn't old enough to properly understand what cancer is, or how chemotherapy works, or why he sometimes has to have a spinal tap - and two terms that should never be in close proximity are "small child" and "spinal tap" - or why he can't leave until he's stable after each treatment. He just has to stay there and take it.
Imagine being in Sammy's shoes...and then imagine being there with nothing to do but wait. How long could you bear it?
Having a video game console there to play games with makes one hell of a difference to Sammy, and to any kid in his situation. It makes it bearable on a basic level. Happily, the hospital here can provide one. Plenty of others can't. And that's where Desert Bus and Child's Play come in.
I'm going to contribute what I can - my little publishing company, Legacy Books Press, is donating books for prizes and auctions, including two signed copies of the Garwulf's Corner collection, two signed sets of John-Allen Price's Caesar Americanus: An American Civil War, and two copies of Michael Kaminski's The Secret History of Star Wars (I had hoped to do a call-in and perform magic tricks with Magic cards for donations, but it looks like that will have to wait for another year). But that's what I'm doing - what is important now is what you are going to do.
So, I'm asking you to go and watch. Participate in the chat, donate if you can, and tell others and raise awareness if you can't. Help Desert Bus beat last year's record and raise over $700,000 this year.
After all, this matters. It makes a difference to kids who need it in their darkest hours. And this really is for the children.
Robert B. Marks is the author of Diablo: Demonsbane, The EverQuest Companion, Garwulf's Corner, and the co-author of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Agora. His current fiction project is The Eternity Quartet, with Ed Greenwood. He is on Facebook. He can be reached by email at garwulf at escapistmag.com.