My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Not your father's telemarathon

Picture, if you will, a minigame in a unreleased Penn & Teller video game. In this game, you are driving a bus from Tuscon, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada at 45 mph ... in realtime. It takes eight hours to complete a full run, for a single point. You can't pause the game, and you can't just hold down a button, because the bus veers to the right, forcing you to occasionally make a correction. Even if this weren't the most boringly realistic game ever made, how long would you play it?

Would you play it with three other people in four-hour shifts for 128 hours or more?

That's exactly what the people behind LoadingReadyRun have been doing for three years now. On November 20, the 3rd annual Desert Bus for Hope marathon began. It's in support of Child's Play, a charity that provides toys and other improvements to children's hospitals. They raised $70,423 last year, and as of this writing, they're up to $83,688.38 with at least 21 more hours to go (the more people donate, the longer they'll go).

This is reality television at its finest. Those who so desire can watch the live feed and interact with the "bussers" through a chat. The bussers will agree to do challenges in return for an appropriate donation. Many of those have proved hilarious--renditions of popular songs and musical numbers, funky dances, and in one case, having to go see New Moon several times over. Also, they've been auctioning off some pretty wicked stuff to raise money: art prints, hand-made crafts, video games, signed props, etc. Desert Bus is an impressively entertaining and effective marathon, all for charity.

I don't really get why some people find the packaged reality television on mainstream networks so fascinating. I suppose it's the artificial element of drama amped up by the music producer of the show. But this is far more real, has an interactive element that trumps any call-in line, and the bussers aren't seeing a cent from this. So they deserve major kudos and many, many donations.