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What it’ll Be Like Attending Burning Man via Virtual Reality This Year

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Image from BRCvr trailer

Guest post by Party Girl Pearl 

It’s technically been years in the making, but with less than two weeks left before Burn Week it’s also time to finalize 3D models, particle effects, and interactions from dozens of theme camps participating in the BRCvr virtual world, as part of the globally-connected virtual Burning Man in 2020.

Built in AltspaceVR, even during this “build week”, the experience is impressive. I guess the lack of dust makes everything go up faster.

I am fairly new to AltspaceVR and was able to go through their tutorial, customize my avatar, take some selfies, then follow the instructions to access the still-in-beta world in less than an hour.

I landed at the Man so I had no greeter to guide me the way most participants will experience when coming in from Gate during the Burn, so I had to figure out some mechanics on my own.

From the Man, I noticed a map, so I started clicking and ended up teleporting somewhere unexpected. There was no real signage or indication when I landed of where I had arrived at, but I saw the button CLICK TO GET HIGH and, like a good little Alice, I obeyed.

Like a good little Alice, I obeyed.

But then I couldn’t figure out how to get back down.

For virtual real!

The only thing orienting me was the Man, so I attempted to teleport back to a familiar landmark. I suddenly felt like I was having a real Burning Man experience: high, alone, and lost but happy.

The Playa at night…virtually

It was a long walk, even while teleporting. I loved that sense of scale while looking around in my HTC Vive VR goggles.

Something else I noticed, but only subtly so: the ambient sounds were spot on. Whoever did the sound design for this gets a gold star. Even though no one was in the virtual world, I had the feeling that there was a party going on everywhere around me. It was not overpowering, just enough to make you feel like you were in your own camp getting ready for a big night out, or somewhere in deep playa just taking it all in. I could have sat there and meditated right there on that virtual cracked dirt.

When I reached the Man, I walked all the way around but could not find the map where I had originally landed. I did notice some blue portals, and took the one to Center Camp which gave me so much joy. Especially the message on the carpet. I’m not going to give any spoilers, but it was definitely making me chuckle out loud.

Image from BRCvr trailer

Which brings me to the last point. Despite being a technophile and having an audio engineer as a partner, neither of us have been able to figure out how to make the microphone input work. I will definitely need to get this fixed asap as the multiplayer aspect is really what it’s all about, and not being able to talk to anyone would be like being a diabetic in the Chocolate Factory.

If you have a Windows PC and a headset, or own an Oculus Quest, you should definitely make some time to check out this burn universe. Sorry Mac users, you will not be able to get in here (yet), but even non-headset owning PC users can use a brand-new 2D mode to access the world, though I can’t guarantee the same sense of presence as you get when fully immersed.

Connect with me in-world @partygirlpearl.

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