Feel Good Hit of the Autumn

It’s a couple of years now since I added “go to the Burning Man Festival” to the long list of ambitions that I am destined never to fulfil, alongside “play in a rock band”, “run for President” and “make a living from blogging”. It may be for the best, since I’ve heard that it’s not as good as it used to be. If I ever did go I would probably just accelerate the rot, since I would be there purely to consume the spectacle rather than contribute to the creativity – though if anyone pulled me up for that I guess I could argue that all aesthetic endeavour is the result of the interaction between artist and audience, assuming that I could summon up the energy to make such a case after a few days wandering around stoned in the hot sun, gawping at the freaks.

Legend has it that Philip Rosedale was inspired to create Second Life after a trip to Burning Man in 1999. The man himself has debunked this, but there are interesting parallels between the way that die-hard burners complain that the festival has lost its way, and the general feeling among long-time SL residents that things aren’t the way they were, and are only going to get worse. Philip sort of addresses the question in this post, (which in summary says that what we have now in SL is terribly precious, but in order to move on everything has to be renewed), but his subsequent departure from day-to-day management at Linden Lab can only serve to deepen anxiety about where Second Life is headed.

Anyway, in lieu of actually making the effort to haul my bod up to the Nevada desert, I thought it would be cool to take in this year’s Burning Life. I had heard how great the event had been in the past of course, but I have to admit that I was expecting to be thouroughly underwhelmed.

I’m happy to say that my cynicism was entirely misplaced; I ended up spending about ten times as long as I had planned exploring the many and varied installations dotted around the virtual playa, and still had the feeling that I had barely scratched the surface. For the first time in ages I felt a real sense of the creative possibilities offered by Second Life, unsullied by the crass commercialism that too often clouds the grid experience.

The best part though was that there were other people around; friendly people who were willing to exchange opinions about the art and the music, or just have a chat. I know that Burning Life isn’t unique in that regard, but it is unusual to have so many agreeable types gathered together in such a small area.

After a couple of hours I was in such a good mood that even the drawbacks of the platform started to seem strangely endearing. The latest iteration of the SL viewer is far too heavy for my elderly box, obliging me to run it at the lowest graphics setting to avoid the sensation of wading through treacle. The short draw distance meant that each new installation loomed up in front of me as if emerging from a dust storm, greatly enhancing the verisimilitude of the experience.

If there was a disappointing aspect it was the music; in my imagination Burning Man is always soundtracked by Queens of the Stone Age, but try as I might I couldn’t find any robot rock on the many stages scattered around the site. Maybe I should rectify that next year with my own build.

I took lots of snapshots of the festival, but due to the aforementioned graphic limitations most of them are pretty poor; have a look at the Burning Life Flickr stream instead.

Sadly, due to my tragic inability to understand the relationship between SLT and GMT I missed the climatic burning of the Man by twelve hours:


There’s always next year I guess…

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