In 2014, Greg Edwards took photos of all of the work on the Burning Man Playa, and then set out to create a 1:1 scale 3D model of Black Rock City all in virtual reality (BRCvr). He showed a demo on the Google Cardboard to the Burning Man Board in 2015, but VR was still in the early days of VR and before social VR had been deployed to mobile VR headsets or to 2D clients. But after Burning Man announced on April 10, 2020 that the in-person gathering at Black Rock City was cancelled, but that “We are, however, going to build Black Rock City in The Multiverse. That’s the theme for 2020 so we’re going to lean into it. Who’d have believed it would come true? We look forward to welcoming you to Virtual Black Rock City 2020.”

I had a chance to talk with Edwards to fill in the gaps between his initial prototype of virtual Black Rock City VR from 2015, and how he started playing around with it again after a text from his friend on April 3, 2020 asking what other models they could play around with in AltSpaceVR. Greg’s 1:1 recreation of the Burning Man playa and Black Rock City is simply put one of the most impressive worlds I’ve seen in VR yet. It’s not only a meticulous to-scale recreation of BRC, but he was able to create a toolkit in AltSpaceVR that would allow Burners to create their own world in the months and week before (and actually during) Burn Week. There were somewhere between 80-100 worlds linked from the BRCvr 2020 World event in AltSpace when it finally opened up at around 8:12pm PDT on Sunday, August 30, 2020. And at the time of the recording of this interview on Thursday during Burn Week, there were between 120-200 worlds with the number of people doubling each day.

The Microsoft team at AltSpaceVR has a lot of Burners on staff, and so they’ve been an instrumental technological partner for Greg and the BRCvr team, and this event has been a fusion of the AltSpace community helping the Burning Man community help get ramped up on building worlds and holding events in VR. I hope to catch up with more of these AltSpaceVR community members after Burning Man is over, but it’s been pretty amazing to see the level of participation, creativity, and serendipitous collisions that I’ve been able to have over the past five days of Burning Man. It’s not only a technological achievement to have a world this massive run smoothly on an Oculus Quest, but it’s an accomplishment of the radical self-reliance principle of Burning Man to empower the community of Burners to get ramped on a set of optimized assets from Edwards and the worldbuilding tools from AltSpaceVR to be able to make these spaces for theme camps, party spaces, private rooms, art exhibitions, and landmark staples of the the Burning Man culture.

Edwards says that he’s currently planning on leaving these worlds up throughout the course of the year so that the Burning Man community can have some virtual spaces to continue to gather and connect to each other throughout the course of the year. It’s pretty uncanny timing that the theme of this year’s Burning Man was “The Multiverse,” and there are 8-9 other officially-sanctioned virtual Burning Man platforms that attempted to recreate different aspects of Burning Man. See this post from Evo Heyning for more context, and you can find the links to the other Burning Man Multiverses on the Kindling site.


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Music: Fatality

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