As someone who goes to Burning Man and someone who spends a lot of time immersed in the online world, I was curious when I heard about Burning Life 2008. Burning Life is a virtual experience modeled after the Burning Man event that happens in the Black Rock Desert every year. I have had a Second Life account sitting around for a couple of years and decided to log back in to check out Burning Life while it was happening.
Getting to Burning Life was almost as hard as the real thing. After installing Second Life on my Macbook Pro, retrieving my forgotten password, and then logging in finally, I sat and waited while graphics slowly loaded. It wasn’t long before Second Life began freezing my machine completely, requiring holding down the power button to reset. Turns out there’s a known issue with the GeForce 8600 GT that comes stock on the Macbook Pro I bought. The workaround seemed kind of annoying, so I just booted my laptop into Windows XP, reinstalled Second Life and logged back in.
The one thing that I instantly noticed about Burning Life was that there was no restrictions to creativity. People could build whatever they wanted, unconstrained by money and real world limitations. The next thing I noticed was that I was hopefully lost. Without the familiar street layout of Burning Man, I had trouble discerning what was where on the map. Eventually I stumbled upon the entrance, center camp, and the Man while wandering around, but not before finding some interesting spots. There was the giant Lego minifig, Godzilla, people on fire, towering teacups, hamster wheel artcars, some steampunk installations, and the “American Dream” of legalizing pot. Unsurprisingly one of the most common (and often controversial) past times in Second Life was represented at BL by the BDSM camp, Shibari Hobble’s “Burning Desire”. There definitely seemed to be a good bit of variety and people had definitely put some time into their virtual camps and there’s something to be said about that sort of commitment and follow-through.
I’ve long been a proponent of Second Life, as I feel it has several potential usages that could change things a lot. I wish it was used more for education, as I would have loved to be able to walk around a virtual Colosseum, or stood next to a dinosaur created to scale, but that’s a whole other post. I was a bit disappointed with the way the Second Life still is, with it’s lag, buggy scripts, and inability to render everything until you’re close to it. I wasn’t able to see things in the distance while walking around the Burning Life sim so it was very disorienting. I was happy to see a number of people interested in BL, but it seemed like many of them were there just to hang out and dance in Center Camp continuously. While it seemed like a somewhat interesting place, I did not find myself inspired or in awe of the things as I often do at Burning Man.
At one point I set out to find others that had attended both Burning Man and Burning Life to get their opinions. Perhaps I was unlucky or just asking the wrong people, but I wasn’t able to find anyone else that had actually been to That Thing in the Desert. Many said they’d love to go to Burning Man, but quoted financial or geographical problems that prevented them from doing such. I’d be curious to hear what other attendees of Burning Man who attended Burning Life thought.
In my search to find people to hear their opinions, I actually had an odd encounter. While waiting at the gate to catch people on their way in, I ran into someone looking for a place to rez their virtual sculpture. We got to talking and she mentioned she had a sculpture garden near Death Valley. It turned out to be the Goldwell Open Air Museum that we had visited last year. I mentioned that the last time we had been there, we noticed someone working on a mosaic-like couch sculpture and she said that was her! My first “real” world/Second Life encounter.
There were a few things that really amused me about Burning Life, such as the porta potties and the humor accompanied with them. I truly liked the ability to fly around, rather than be constrained to walking or riding one of the slower-than-walking yellow bikes I found. What I really missed though was the sheer number of people and being able to walk around and have chance encounters. There seemed to be about 2-300 people there, scattered throughout the virtual playa when I logged in. Since most of them were interested in just hanging out (and seemingly idling) at Center Camp, I didn’t really get the excitement of exploring with others. But who knows, maybe I’ll drop back in before the event ends and see if I have a different experience.
Burning Life runs from Sept. 27th – Oct. 5th. The official site and more information can be found here. For all the pictures I snapped while exploring Burning Life you can check them out in my Burning Life Flickr set.