#960: How Burning Man’s 10 Principles Got Translated into VR & AltSpace with Athena Demos

Athena Demos is the Chief Cultural & Community Officer for Black Rock Creative and Black Rock City VR (BRCvr). I previously covered BRCvr’s officially-sanctioned multiverse world in AltSpaceVR for Burning Man 2020 with my conversation with lead developer BRCvr Greg Edwards. Demos was a key part of originally connecting Edwards with the Burning Man leadership in 2015 to demo his VR prototype of photogrammetry scans of the Playa in 2014.

Demos helped to coordinate the logistics of a collaboration with Microsoft in hosting BRCvr, and she notes that there were a number of AltSpaceVR & Microsoft staffers who were also Burners, including Alex Kipman. The guiding vision of this collaboration were the 10 Principles of Burning Man, which are: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-reliance, Radical Self-expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation, & Immediacy. Demos shares some of the fascinating backstory of the collaboration between BRCVR and Microsoft, and the complications of navigating the dynamics of decommodification and gifting.

Overall, it’s interesting to see how these guiding principles were translated from a physical co-located festival into a virtual gathering in AltSpaceVR. These cultural principles were embedded into the worlds and within the social dynamics of the gathering, that I think this made my personal experience different than what I’ve seen before. Perhaps this was due to my own relational dynamics of being connecting to a critical mass of participants that made it interesting to hop between different worlds, but there other aspects as well. There was also the ephemeral promotion of trending worlds isolated to this event, nearly 200 worlds created for this event with a consistent design aesthetic and interlinking between then, as well my own experiences of how the “playa magic” or serendipitous collisions and moments of synchronicity played out through the course of the week. Demos also said that she had a more intense experience of these “playa magic” moments virtually, as she was a nodal connection for many of the participants where it made it easier to teleport directly to the worlds without having to navigate 7-square miles of desert.

Overall, this first virtual Burning Man experience within BRCvr in AltSpaceVR was just the first iteration, and there were a lot of artists who have been really inspired to create a virtual world for next year. With nearly 200 worlds submitted, there were many who tried to recreate the essence of their own theme camps, but seeing what type of virtual art was possible and to see what types of virtual interactions were the most satisfying has provided a lot of inspiration for an entire community of people with a rich history of the Burning Man culture that’s guided by their 10 principles.

I was able to talk with Demos on Wednesday, September 9th, which was just after their final day of BRCvr. We talked about the history and evolution of BRCvr, the unique collaboration with Microsoft, but also her fresh insights into the 10 principles of Burning Man after giving a number of talks in VR about the topic, listening to feedback, and meditating on how these principles are getting implemented in VR.


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Music: Fatality