Amid the worry and scurry, hue and cry that has accompanied the transformation of Burning Life (an official Linden Lab mega-fest) into Burn2 (the extension of Burning Man into the metaverse) I will take the following position:
The question of course, is “a good thing for who?” Most commentary on this has been concerned with what the change signals from Linden Lab and how it affects hopeful residents who were eager to try for a parcel this fall. There hasn’t been a lot of discussion of what it means to Burning Man and the virtual burn itself.
Burning Man has a unique culture (and it is this culture that makes it very attractive to yours truly). Similar to SL itself, it’d be easy to focus on some of the more sensational sex, drugs and rock and roll aspects of Burning Man, but this would miss the point entirely (as it would in SL also).
The real coolness, the fierce core of burning culture, can be found in the Ten Principles. They lay out a vision of a community that is composed of creative, independent individuals who don’t hang on the sidelines. This culture invites you in and encourages you to express yourself. It celebrates generosity. It expects well being and responsibility.
Burning Life Needed to Change
There are two principles that are particularly germane in examining the BL to B2 transformation. First up is principle #3.
Decommodification. In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
Sponsorship comes with strings attached. Corporate logos next to a charity’s name on signs and Tshirts is bankable good-will and high quality public relations. The sponsorship is not extended altruistically. That’s why Burning Man has decommodification as a core value – to defend the idea that true gifting is unconditional and without thought of reward. But wait… let’s check out the header of the website for Burning Life, 2009… and ouch. Second Life logo, upper right – the price of corporate sponsorship.
That isn’t to say Linden Lab couldn’t have provided support for Burning Life if they wanted to. It’s just that such support should have been provided no strings attached, as is expected of all contributors to Burning Man.
Moving on to our next principle…
#4 – Radical Self-reliance. Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
It’s really no surprise that Burning Life was huge (34 sims in 2009), with enormous participation from builders and artists and hordes of SL residents flocking to attend. I mean, it was FREE. It cost nothing to get there, nothing to build there, nothing to exhibit, nothing to perform, nothing to attend. Free. Free. Free.
TANSTAAFL. There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.
Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Well, not really free – because it was a Linden Lab event, subject to their constraints (PG), rules (no megaprims) and oversight. Still, it was a pretty good deal – except it wasn’t really Burning Man, metaverse edition. It was SL Birthday, desert edition.
It’s not like Burning Man in the actual world is free. You pay to get in and you pay to exhibit. You pack your car / truck / trailer with desert camping gear, water, food, propane and enough sunscreen to drown an elephant. Add all the stuff you want to build with once you get there. You are expected to be entirely self sufficient in the heat and sand and pick it all up and take it out when you’re done.
That’s partly why the culture is what it is. You work hard to go to Burning Man. You invest in the event and you earn being there.
So, What’s Next?
If bigger is seen to be better, then Burn2 will be seen to be a huge step backward, at least in the short term. It seems reasonable to assume that many were participating in Burning Life because it was free and a short term hit can be expected.
On the other hand, Burning Man in the metaverse is now free of Linden Lab and Second Life. There is nothing to keep it from spreading out into Blue Mars, InWorldz, Rezzable, Reaction Grid or even Open Sim servers dedicated to the burn.
Achieving a truer reflection in the metaverse of actual burning culture necessarily requires an event that takes a bit more work and investment to make happen. If the birth of Burn2 ultimately results in the emergence of a more altruistic, more self-reliant virtual community, I will count it a tremendous advancement.
Second Life® is a trademark of Linden Research, Inc.
Burning Man is a trademark of Black Rock City LLC.
Raven Haalan is not a trademark of anyone at all.
Also posted at: ravenhaalan.com