UPDATED! Burning Man Returns As a Virtual Event on Various Platforms from August 22nd to September 7th, 2021

Black Rock City at Burning Man 2016 by Kate Shay on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Sadly, this year’s real-life Burning Man festival has, once again, been cancelled due to the continuing global coronavirus pandemic. Instead, events are happening on various virtual world platforms, as follows:

  • BRCvr (in AltspaceVR for VR and desktop users) returns from last year to capture the spirit, culture, and principles of Burning Man in VR. Join thousands of participants, visit over 200 camps and art pieces. Engage with 1000+ events in a cutting-edge space cultivating conversation, connection, and community.
  • Build-a-Burn (on Topia) is a network of browser-based virtual worlds with spatial video chat. Freely explore the camp metaverse for moments of sponteneity and serendipity. It’s easy to create a camp, add art, and customize everything. Anyone can easily create a unique experience to delight fellow Burners.
  • Dusty Multiverse is accessed on mobile phones and VR headsets. Burners enter as 3D avatars and can explore the environment, art, and performances and talk to others via live voice chat.
  • The Infinite Playa is a photo-realistic digital simulation of the Playa that puts you at the center of an interactive & social world of art, music, games, talks & performances.
  • SparkleVerse is a magical online city. Our digital playa is a 2D browser-based map with social features where you can wander through art, music, and experiences co-created by participants.
  • Burn Week: Global Live Stream (on PORTL) is a global streaming event featuring daily regional broadcasts, the Man Burn, and  the Temple Burn all in an interactive environment where you can broadcast yourself, join or create a camp, and start video watch parties with friends.

Tickets for all these events can be purchased here. Prices range from pay-what-you-can (for Build-a-Burn and Sparkleverse) up to US$88 for an unlimited pass for the Infinite Playa experience. TechCrunch reports:

There have been few illusions for attendees that a virtual event is any substitute for the real thing, but organizers have tried to get creative when it comes to the social web experiences so that attendees can reclaim some of the camaraderie. While the organization won’t be setting up an official presence, some camps have already committed to hosting an unofficial return to the desert…

Most of the creators behind last year’s experience are back this year, including a few VR-centric experiences and a handful of livestreaming and Zoom-based apps designed to spice things up a bit. This year’s apps include the VR-based BRCvr, interactive chat platform Build-a-Burn, 3D world Dusty Universe, “photo-realistic” simulation The Infinite Playa, video chat Sparkleverse and livestream platform Burn Week.

This year, the apps have a reserve ticketing system set up for “early bird tickets” and they are all charging different prices based on the experience type. The most aggressive pitch is from Infinite Playa, which is offering tickets ranging from a $16 two-hour pass to an $88 unlimited pass. Others are adopting donation-based pricing tiers, while the Burn Week livestream is offering a free stream to all viewers alongside a $29 “extended experience.”

See you there!

UPDATE May 14th, 2021: I forgot to mention what is probably the longest-running of the virtual extensions of Burning Man, BURN2, which happens in Second Life! Although their major celebration usually happens at a different time of year from the real-life festivities, there should be some events happening during the Burning Man festival, so be sure to check it out. Just search for “BURN2” under Places in your SL viewer. (Thanks to Spiffy Voxel for the reminder!)

UPDATED! Drug Culture in Social VR and Virtual Worlds: Some Explorations on 4/20 of Its Expression and Representation in the Metaverse

Photo by GRAS GRÜN on Unsplash

I have a confession to make: I have never smoked marijuana. (And no, I haven’t been tempted since my country, Canada, legalized cannabis three years ago.) When it comes to drugs, I am an utter square, a clueless noob, a babe in the woods. Instead of associating with the druggies in high school, I hung out with the kids you used to hang out in the library (which might explain why I became a librarian, come to think of it).

In fact (aside from my prescription medications (which I take for a list of ailments that only seems to grow longer the older I get), the only recreational drugs I have ever (ab)used are caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco (and the latter consisted of a mere handful of cigarettes smoked during my gay bar days, in a failed effort to look cool).

So I am probably the least likely person to write up a blogpost examining drug culture in social VR and virtual worlds. However, since I am (at least, by my own account) somewhat of an expert on social VR and virtual worlds, I thought it would be interesting to explore and examine those places in the metaverse which celebrate getting high. Why not?

So fasten your seatbelts, and let’s take off! 😉

Second Life

A natural starting point for our explorations is the venerable virtual world of Second Life, where there are no shortage of places featuring drugs (and which, no doubt, people have visited while high).

A quick search on “420” under Places in the Search menu pulled up Commune Utopia, a bohemian, hippie commune since 2011. There were only a few people hanging around, dancing to the music and just chilling out:

Commune Utopia in Second Life

A similar, laid-back vibe pervades the Free Spirit Farms hippie and bohemian community, The notecard you receive upon arrival states:

The idea behind Free Spirit Farms, is to surround ourselves with like minded people who consider themselves, or are free spirited, bohemian, modern day hippies.

Cool, man. However, it would appear that there were only a grand total of three avatars on the entire sim—hardly a Woodstock in the making!

All alone at the spawn point of Free Spirit Farms

One nice thing about Free Spirit Farms is that (if you join the Free Spirit Farms group for free), you can set this place to be your home location in Second Life, unpack boxes, etc.

A keyword search on “drugs” under Places threw up the usual inner-city crime roleplay sims, plus the aptly named Little Brown Mushroom, an absolutely deserted nightclub with a trippy 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s music list and a suitably druggy theme.

A Very Strange Tip Acid Experience Amusement Park was likewise deserted. If there were avatars celebrating 4/20 in Second Life, I completely failed to find them!

So I turned to what I considered my most likely spot to find drug culture in the metaverse:

VRChat

Once again doing keyword searches on “420” and “trip” under the Places menu brought up a few interesting worlds. “Drug” and “drugs” pulled up absolutely zero worlds (which led me to think that perhaps VRChat was censoring the terms). However, a search for “420” pulled up the promising-sounding “420 Forest”.

The 420 forest was nice enough, a winding path through a coniferous forest, lit by green fireflies, leading to a cozy central campfire, but like the places I investigated in SL, it too was absolutely and utterly deserted:

The 420 Forest World was deserted

I did find the Create a Trip world, one of many wonderful worlds created by TheArchitect. Create a Trip was certainly trippy in a kaleidoscopesque sort of way (but you’ll need to bring your own music, and your own drugs for that matter):

I was seriously striking out here, people. It occurred to me that perhaps, square that I am, I simply did not know the right people who could direct me to the right places? It also occurred to me that, on this high holiday of April 20th (see what I did there?), perhaps most aficionados of drug culture would be toking out in real life, instead of messing around in the metaverse?!??

Undaunted, I determined to persevere, and I moved on to… where? Where could I go next? I certainly wasn’t going to find any drug culture in Rec Room. AltspaceVR? Sansar? It would be next to impossible to find a 420 world in Sansar, even if one existed. So I decided to put my Valve Index headset back on my noggin, and headed into AltspaceVR. Perhaps the home of the BRCvr virtual Burning Man festival might provide some 420 content?

AltspaceVR

Success! SUCCESS!!! I finally encountered a group of 420 people in the BRCvr world, just in the final moments before they were shutting down for the day, and indeed shutting down the virtual playa in BRCvr completely, in order to build the next virtual Burning Man world for 2021! Here are a few snapshots I took using the in-world camera:

So, as you can see, there were indeed some people celebrating 420 in social VR!

What 420/drug culture worlds have you experienced in social VR and virtual worlds? I’m quite sure I missed more than a few worlds that were designed to feel like a trip, but as I said up top, I am not an expert. Anybody have any drug-themed metaverse locations for me to explore? Feel free to leave a comment below, thanks!

Photo by GRAS GRÜN on Unsplash

UPDATE 9:07 p.m.: Well, this evening I discovered that WOMBO had uploaded a whole whack of new song clips, just to mark 4/20, so I plugged a selfie of my main male Second Life avatar, Heath Homewood, into the app, and, well…I got to see what Heath would look like, stoned! (More info on WOMBO here.)

I am way, waaay too easily amused, folks.

UPDATE April 21st, 2021: I have been informed that NeosVR does have some drug-related content:

Ahh, I see you didn’t find our drug simulators. Neos has various types of object which simulate intoxicants. There’s also a shisha setup and a vape inside Neos Essentials.

And then I had to Google “shisha” to find out what that referred to (seriously, I didn’t know; it’s another word for a hookah). Apparently, NeosVR also has a series of colourblind vapes, which I assume would simulate various forms of colour blindness. Interesting!

Dr. Marie Vans: 14 Reasons Why Virtual Worlds Are Still Better than Social VR Worlds for Educational Purposes

PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus; I have made a single exception for this blogpost. After this, I will be going back on my self-imposed break from blogging.


Dr, Marie Vans (known as Amvans Lapis in Second Life) is a Senior Research Scientist at HP Labs in Colorado, who gave the following provocatively-titled presentation on March 19th, 2021 at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) 2021 Conference, held in SL:

Title Slide from Dr. Vans’ VWBPE Presentaion

14 Reasons Why Virtual Worlds are still better than Social VR Worlds

A year ago, VCARA started the VR Exploder’s Club wherein educators meet up once a month to determine whether and/or which Social VR Worlds we should establish a presence thereon after exploring different platforms together. Whether we used VR headsets or desktop versions of these platforms, we looked at criteria such as learning curve, real-time communication, interaction capabilities, and more. I will describe specific issues that have been resolved in VWs that still need attention in VR.

Drawing upon a number of representative social VR platforms chosen from my November 2019 spreadsheet (which I need to update!), she gave a great presentation on why she thinks that social VR platforms need to pull up their socks when it comes to supporting education, and why these newer platforms should not be so quick to dismiss older virtual world platforms such as Second Life!

Because the following YouTube video of Dr. Marie Vans’ presentation has a absolutely criminally low 56 views thus far, I have decided to write up a blogpost about it! And here it is! (I am going back on hiatus again after this.)

Here is the video of Dr. Vans’ hour-long VWBPE presentation, followed by a question and answer session with the audience. It’s well worth watching the entire thing!

Editorial: Shifting Gears

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Yesterday’s blogpost (and its response) has got me thinking, in the wee hours of this morning, about other people’s expectations, and trying (or failing) to live up to them. Not to mention the expectations which I, knowingly or unknowingly, place upon myself as a blogger. Every blogger has his or her own biases and quirks; God knows I have many. And even a cursory inspection of my output shows how often I have gone off on tangents in my three-and-a-half-year blogging journey.

My writing about social VR, virtual worlds and the metaverse on this blog has been an unusual combination of broad-brush strokes about as many different platforms as possible, combined with a geeky deep-dive into specific worlds (Sansar the first couple of years, and now Second Life). One example of such a deep dive would be my recent month-long coverage of Advent calendar freebies in Second Life, something which my many faithful SL readers no doubt appreciated, but which probably left some of my regular, non-SL audience out in the cold, scratching their heads.

As I have written before, I consider Second Life to be the perfect model of a fully-evolved, mature metaverse platform, where we can see hints of what will happen to newer platforms over time (such as the implementation of an in-world economy where players can buy and sell user-generated content).

But I also expect that 2021 will be the first year where other metaverse platforms (notably VRChat and Rec Room, but also other products) will begin to consistently outpace Second Life, both in terms of monthly active users (MAU) and in terms of user concurrency figures. Over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, VRChat shattered its previous user concurrency figures, reporting over 40,000 users online at the same time. Last weekend, Rec Room hosted 45,000 concurrent players. In other words, depending on the day and time, you can find more people in Rec Room and VRChat than in Second Life.

Both VRChat and Rec Room are now very well positioned to finally snatch the mantle of Second Life for the title of “most popular metaverse platform” (as hard as it is to define what that means). This might not have happened as quickly as some observers had originally predicted, least of all the PR pitch-boys at the corporations building these platforms, but it will happen nonetheless. It’s inevitable. Yesterday’s boasts become tomorrow’s reality, in some cases.

And it is not that Second Life is bleeding users, or that it is in any imminent danger of being shut down; I estimate that SL still attracts anywhere between 600,000 and 900,000 active monthly users (that is, people who sign onto SL at least once a month). It is still a highly profitable platform with a highly committed userbase, and under its new management, the Waterfield investment group, it is likely to remain a profitable cash cow for many years to come. Second Life is not going anywhere.

But, now that Linden Lab has finally shut down its physical server farms and moved Second Life entirely to the cloud, I don’t really foresee a lot of changes or improvements being made to what is already a winning formula—and I don’t see many of SL’s users clamouring for any major changes, either. Over time, competing platforms will no doubt offer advantages which the aging SL codebase cannot be tweaked to provide (the most obvious one being support for users in virtual reality).

And, over time, some of Second Life’s user base will migrate to other platforms, little by little, bit by bit. This SL diaspora will continue to enrich multiple metaverse platforms, much as it already has over the past decade. The seeds first planted by Philip Rosedale and his peers will continue to root and grow in various places, some probably quite unexpected!

All of this preamble is my very roundabout way of saying that I will be significantly reducing my coverage of Second Life in 2021. I will be putting that time and energy into writing about other metaverse products instead. Yes, I know I keep saying that, only to get pulled back by the latest fabulous freebie! Second Life is great fun, and I have enjoyed being your Freebie Queen. But frankly, SL is not where most of the interesting new stuff is happening. It’s happening in places outside of Second Life, and it’s high time I turned my attention to them.

It’s time for me to re-shift my focus to the newer platforms which are seeking to become the next Second Life. It might be an iteration of something that already exists, or it might be something brand new that seems to come out of nowhere and take everybody by storm. Whatever happens, I want to report on it!

I’m sure many of my Second Life readers will be sorry to hear this news. I will still be around, and I will still be visiting various places in-world, but I will largely leave the writing and reporting about SL to the hundreds of bloggers who do a much better job with their focused, deep-dive coverage! And I will continue to take as wide a view as possible—a big-picture perspective—of the constantly-evolving metaverse of which Second Life is a part.

Whichever camp you find yourself in, thank you for sticking along for the ride! No matter what happens, it promises to be an exciting adventure.

2021 promises to be a wild ride!

This change in focus will take effect immediately. Buckle up and keep your arms and hands inside the vehicle at all times! 😉