My parents were abject failures in attempting to keep me and my sisters from video games. They purported to enforce such a strict regime when it came to our discipline, claiming, in the vicinity of any within earshot, to restrict our television viewing hours, and going so far as to never purchase video game consoles. In spite of this, however, my memories are rife with the prodigious cartoons watched as child, even if retrospect has graced me with the clarity to recognise that they were not that good. Furthermore, whilst they did indeed steer clear of the console market, they saw little apparent issue with allowing their kindergarten age daughters to play DOS games, something they no doubt came to regret later in life.
Aside from copious hours playing Supaplex, and diligently writing down the level passwords each time I played Lemmings in my sister’s diary that I’d appropriated, one such DOS game I recollect wasting numerous hours on, despite its static and insultingly easy level curve, was Fisher Price’s School Bus Driver. I’m not sure of its prevalence back in days of floppy disks, but Google treats it with the contempt it so apparently deserves, like it downed a bottle of scotch and threw out old photographs of what was a dear old flame. To be fair though, this game- no, exercise in patience- is old. Older than the internet. I’m fairly certain it’s even older than I am.
Conceptually, the game is base, as you drive an anthropomorphic bus around, picking children up and carting them off to school for little challenge or reward, in a faithful emulation of the thankless nature of being a real school bus driver. However, in every other aspect the game was a clusterfuck, and you could be finished with a single playthrough in fifteen minutes. That’s all four ‘levels’ done and dusted in 900 seconds.
School Bus Driver for DOS- as opposed to the Commodore 64, which had a notably less eye-violating colour palette- was saccharine pink and cyan. If the title screen didn’t clue the player into how Lovecraftian it was, then maybe the sight of the titular bus driver, driving glacially across the pitch-black abyss of the screen as he stopped and twisted his head toward the player, did. With crosses for eyes, like a sinister clown, he was plainly meant to be emblematic of the dystopian, grotesque nature of whatever plane of reality he existed in. To better mentally accommodate School Bus Driver’s entire premise, I found it helpful to imagine that the setting of the game was limbo, and the driver was actually ferrying the souls of children to the afterlife.
No more was this more evident than in the little cutscene that played when the player directed the bus driver to pick up a child. Like a fat, amorphous blob, they waddled towards the bus, their miniscule stumps alternating adagio, as such deformities became merely representative of the transitory nature of limbs, as they became redundant in death. The driver didn’t look forward either, leering leftward at the alighting children, which meant he was either dealing with some repressed feelings or terribly inept at his job. There wasn’t much difference between each level, either. Level 2 introduced the mechanic of having to pick them up in a certain order, which only proves that even when faced with the prospect of eternal damnation, children are still colossal shitlords.
The game was devoid of anything you could call a soundtrack, only aiding to heighten its static, limbo-like world. The bus didn’t so much as rumble so it drummed, a haunting cadence that accelerated with movement, as if a horror boss was going to jump out and send the children straight to hell. You’re simply forced to sit there, listening to nothing but the drone of the engine constantly, as you contemplate your transient and ultimately meaningless existence. There’s one screen in which the bus dissects a hill its driving over, and even the birds in the sky are aware of the dire extent of their existential ennui, such is the manner in which they hover incessantly. A gigantic deformed pigeon-chicken amalgam fretted to and fro on its perch in a barn, perpetually trapped in a prison it would no doubt have the capacity to escape from if only the game was slightly more isometric. Similarly, the dogs paced backwards and forwards, the superficiality of their existence seemingly forced on them, Glasgow-smiles adorning their little canine countenances, as they no doubt internally scream and plead for eternal rest. A victory theme played when you got all the little crotch dumplings to their final destination, but given the setting, and the fact that you could drive most of the game in reverse, it’s hard to call such a feat a victory. Even in reverse, the bus decided to resolutely make the same satanic drone as before. But then again, you probably shouldn’t question the infallibility of the logic of a game which has ‘Entry of the Gladiators’ playing when you open it.
Level 3 imposed a five-minute time limit on the poor Charonian bus driver, meaning he had only 300 seconds to cart the souls of the babes to school, or the pearly gates, or whatever. Even with a five-minute time-limit, the clock on the “school” was eternally stuck on 9am, lending further credence to the notion that it represented kingdom come. Furthermore, Level 4, whilst maintaining the arbitrary time limit, introduced further obstacles on the roads, exemplary of the meandering and potentially cataclysmic nature of the road to paradise (NOTE: I, a grown 25-year old woman, moderately skilled in the ways of responding efficiently to digital stimuli in games, did absolutely NOT fail this level).
Oh, School Bus Driver. Given your exceptionally ephemeral experience, representative of the transient characteristics of life itself, I’m not sure why I was so enamoured with you as a young child. Such is the infallibility of the naivete of childhood in lacking the ability to comprehend mortality. Regardless, it is an encounter that I can credit, albeit somewhat reluctantly, with aiding in the instigation of one of my chief loves in life.
Until next time.
P.S Oh, and the cows lack ears.