An interview with Burning Man's Director of Virtual Experiences - Features - Mixmag
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Burning Man virtual director: "It’s exciting to have a new way to connect with the global community"

Burning Man has gone virtual — we spoke to Director of Virtual Experiences Colette Crespin to find out more

  • Patrick Hinton
  • 6 September 2021

What is Virtual Burn?

The Virtual Burn is being created by devoted teams of independent technologists who are building six wholly unique virtual experiences that will welcome anyone from around the globe August 22 through September 7, 2021.

Each World is a unique experience, where anyone with an internet connection can explore eye-popping 3D art, meet virtual Burners from around the world, participate in community workshops, dance all night, and endlessly explore.

It’s a great opportunity for anyone who is new to Burning Man culture to come and explore. Experienced Burners are also tapping into these worlds to connect with globally dispersed friends and fellow creators. At the Burning Man event in Black Rock City, we invite all new Burners to ring a bell when they arrive. We’ve recreated that experience on our website — if you’re new, make sure you ring the virtual bell to let us know you’ve arrived!

How did the idea start and how has it developed?

When we were unable to co-create our annual Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert, 2020 became an opportunity for us to invite a much larger audience to Burning Man by pivoting from a physical event to a virtual one. The 2020 Burning Man Multiverse was a remarkable adventure, one that allowed the global Burning Man community to experiment with a new way of filling the void after announcing that the community would not be co-creating Black Rock City in 2020.

In 2020, Burning Man Project supported eight independent teams of technologists as they each created their own virtual rendition of a Burning Man event. The 2020 Virtual Burn received more than half a million visitors — 41% were new to Burning Man culture. This was an extraordinary undertaking, especially as it came to life in just six weeks. What we learned during that initial experiment led to the co-creation of Virtual Burn 2021.

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Participants from more than 103 countries joined the 2020 Virtual Burn. We wanted to make sure that the 2021 experience was even more inclusive and globally distributed. The six licenced worlds with whom we collaborated this year have worked tirelessly to build relationships, integrate opportunities, and encourage participation. It’s exciting to see how many new people are showing up who may not have been able to create experiences at the Burning Man event in Black Rock City. Now they have a new way to connect with the global community — wherever they are and however they choose to participate.

The 2021 iteration of Virtual Burn is less of a reaction to global change; it has become established in the global Burning Man community, resulting in innovative and playful ways for people to co-create and gather on a global scale.

What will the experience of Virtual Burn involve? Will there be a range of music, art and performance on show?

Much like the Burning Man event in Black Rock City, Virtual Burn experiences are being produced by individuals and camps from within the global community. Each World is unique, has its own access points, and offers up a wild cornucopia of experiences — everything from DJ nights and workshops, to interactive virtual art and parties, to performances and art car adventures.

In many Worlds you create and interact with other Virtual Burners as an avatar. One World hosts mind-bending Zoom parties. Another has invited the entire world to live stream their Burning Man celebrations and adventures. It’s astounding how much there is going on all in one week!

We also have a space for contemplation. Traditionally, Burning Man events culminate in a Temple burn. It’s a very spiritual experience. A creative team of artists and digital producers have developed an awe-inspiring Virtual Temple experience that very much replicates what one would encounter in the desert.

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There are six licensed Worlds - what can people expect from these?

Devoted teams of independent technologists are building unique virtual experiences that will welcome virtual Burners from around the globe August 22 through September 7, 2021. Meet each of the Worlds and find out which world is ideal for YOU.

SparkleVerse is a magical online city accessible from desktop computers. Their digital playa is a 2D browser-based map with social features where you can wander through art, music, and experiences co-created by participants.

The Infinite Playa is a photo-realistic digital simulation of the Playa that puts participants at the center of an interactive and social world of art, music, games, talks, performances and so much more. Customize your avatar and cruise our immersive virtual Playa with friends and make new ones, interacting with fellow Burners via in-world text and video chat.

Dusty Multiverse is a high-fidelity 3D environment accessible by mobile devices and VR headsets. Participants can customize their 3D avatar, explore the digital playa, and talk to others via live voice and chat.

BRCvr is an award-winning immersive experience that hosts the global Burning Man community year-round. An inclusive community where cultural, ethnic, sexual and gender identities are celebrated and shared. Visit more than 200 camps and awe-inspiring art pieces. Engage with over 1500 hours of events that foster conversation and connection. Collaborate to create your own camp, art, or events.

Build-A-Burn is an amazing immersive network of browser-based virtual worlds with video chat. Visitors can freely explore the camp metaverse for moments of spontaneity and serendipity. It’s incredibly easy to co-create a camp, add art, and customize your camp or project.

Burn Week Global Live Stream is an around-the-world live stream of artists and change makers. View daily live streams, the Man Burn and Temple Burn in an interactive environment. The FREE GA pass allows you to view daily live streams, the Man Burn and Temple Burn in an interactive environment. The Extended Experience pass includes all of the above, plus you can rewatch the broadcast for 30 days after the event, and have watch parties with friends.

Burn2 is the longest running official virtual Burning Man Regional. Built within the Second Life platform, this vibrant Burner community has been going strong since 2003, hosting 6+ events throughout the year. Come visit during Virtual Burn 2021 – then come back for Burn2’s main event in October, which will be a much larger, week-long echo of Black Rock City, featuring many familiar elements of Home.

The Luminous Lotus Temple is a standalone, multi-sensory, interactive, and artistic immersive destination for connection, community building, and well-being. Virtual travelers are invited to create avatars to journey through the Temple’s symbolic stages of transformation.

What are the similarities between Virtual Burn and the real world Burning Man event? Is there a shared ethos?

The Burning Man Project culture lives year round, throughout a multitude of touch points, locations, communities and civic activities The Virtual Realm is another one of those touch points that shares the ethos…

With that said… Simply transferring an in-person experience online doesn’t cut it. Think back to the turn of the millennium, when we pivoted from music videos as we knew them growing up on MTV to how we now see them online; it was a huge adjustment, especially watching the craft evolve into a digital format.

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It’s a similar crossroad to think we can pivot in-person social events to online experiences in response to the pandemic, and that they would claim the same impact. We are complex creatures with shorter attention spans, multi-screen habits, and now accustomed to simultaneous stimulus. The nature of online interaction is different from film content or in-person. To ensure maximum engagement, impact, and positive interaction, new concepts need consideration.

Through this collective experience, the independent technologists who built the 2020 virtual event can safely say they were successful in creating a new portal for community members to learn what it meant to participate in the global Burning Man community. The in-person 2020 Burning Man event may have been on hold that year, but anyone, anywhere in the world was welcome to participate virtually during what is known in the community as “Burn Week.

You’ve made it free to access - what inspired this?

In the spirit of Radical Inclusion, the six licensed Worlds of Virtual Burn 2021 have come together to give the community a free option to participate.

It certainly has been quite a year and with everything happening this collective gesture is intended to facilitate as many people participating in these Virtual Experiences as possible! With their own structure, access and additional features for you to choose from, each World provides options to boost, donate or contribute to your experience as personally desired. These talented teams of technologists have devoted hours of "sweat equity" to create and build these spaces as rich interactive destinations to inspire community connections and offer delightful art, events and performances for us all to come together this summer in a virtual capacity. Now there is no excuse not to meet up with friends, Burners, and newcomers from all over the world to explore, share and play in the culture.

After you register here, follow the access guide below to get all the details — the devices, downloads, and easy steps you need to take to go adventuring through the six official Worlds, the 2021 Virtual Temple interactive experience, and even our virtual Regional Event. Trust us, it’s easier than playing Tetris with your playa gear or finding your crew on Tutu Tuesday.

For more detailed information, peruse the Virtual Burn 2021 World Access Guide. (You’re encouraged to update your device with the latest operating system to optimize your virtual adventuring!)

There is something for everyone!

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