Burners are madly coding away to create a suite of "Multiverse" experiences in lieu of their annual bacchanalia, but the feds are keeping an eye on whether some of them will just show up at the Black Rock Desert anyway.
It’s that time of year when we would normally be complaining about (or envying) the Burners loading up their U-Hauls, boasting that we can’t wait for the city to “empty out,” or debating whether San Francisco actually does “empty out” during the week-before-Labor Day festival that hates being called a festival known as Burning Man. The Nevada desert gathering would have been August 30 to September 7, to the degree that month names and dates mean anything anymore, but after halting ticket sales early on in the pandemic and holding out as long as they could on the inevitable cancellation, Burning Man announced in mid-April they’d be doing a “virtual playa” with online-only experiences.
Last week the Burning Man Project announced eight different streams, apps, and VR thingamajiggies under their loose theme of the “Multiverse,” and we’ll preview all eight of them below. But first, there is some actual news-news relating to this year’s Burning Man.
The main real-world problem is that the federal Bureau of Land Management is concerned that thousands of Burners might show up anyway, according to an early August report from the Reno Gazette Journal. Scattered Burners did show up for their “Fourth of JuPlaya” mini-Burning Man, and someone tire-tracked the words Black Lives Matter into the playa surface shortly after. So, there has been some activity in the Black Rock Desert, which does remain open and accessible to the public.
But the BLM (Bureau of Land Management, not Black Lives Matter) worries about the possibility of thousands of crashers. "Rangers are going out a little more frequently and chit chatting with people as necessary. Our guys are about education more than anything," BLM spokesperson Heather O'Hanlon told the Gazette Journal. But there has been no communication between the agency and the Burning Man Project — because the latter is currently suing the former, so relations are frosty.
And in a development that might cause us to momentarily reconsider our stereotypes, it turns out Burning Man is in financial trouble this year. It’s mostly just the lack of ticket sales, and they did get a PPP loan (they are not the worst recipient) but they have been reduced to running a crowd-funded donation drive because of their “unprecedented revenue shortfall.”
With regard to those "online experiences" that will serve as a substitute for this year’s Burn, TechCrunch spoke to many of the developers creating them, and analyzed how the short timeline necessitated eight different, unconnected products. The developers (shocker: they’re overwhelmingly male!) have “backgrounds in virtual reality, blockchain, hypnotism and immersive theatre,” and only two of those concepts make me want to puke my guts out. Most will be available on desktop and mobile, though you may have second thoughts about downloading rush-job apps that will get your location data, camera access, and god knows what else, and a few require a VR headset.
The descriptions of all eight experiences as nebulous as you’d expect from Burning Man creators, so our descriptions of them below quote heavily from their official write-ups:
- The Multiverse: The semi-official stream/VR thing promises a “richly photorealistic Black Rock City filled with 2020 Honoraria art installments, sound stages and hundreds of theme camps to explore.” (RSVP required)
- The SparkleVerse: “A 2D clickable mixed reality party map that allows people to go down infinite rabbit holes into rooms, celebrations, performances and beyond.”
- The Bridge Experience: “An XR Universe that brings together three worlds — a water world, a green world, and a desert world — while bringing together the Black Rock City and Love Burn communities.” (Registration required)
- The Infinite Playa: This appears to be some sort of Second Life-type deal, with a very white and heteronormative virtual crowd.
- BRCvr: “A virtual Black Rock City” that requires “a VR headset and AltspaceVR account.” (VR only)
- BURN2: This virtual playa has actually been around awhile, “since the very inception of the Second Life Platform.” (Second Life only)
- Build-A-Burn: A “whimsical 2D Universe” that has “the intention of helping us all foster that authentic human connection during a time when many are isolated.” (needs camera and microphone access)
- MysticVerse: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before — “A fully immersive, interactive 3D experience” and a “visionary expression of a virtual Black Rock City.”
Image: The Multiverse