Cynthia Davidson, Stony Brook University
The virtual playa with installations ("builds") from Burn2 2010
A possible model for maximizing both user engagement through structural limitations and open-endedness of outcome is an annual event sponsored by a Second Life community group, Burn2, formerly Burning Life. Burn2 is a temporary phenomenon, like the Burning Man festival it emulates, but it is perhaps the most eloquent expression of cyborg literacy that Second Life has to offer. For those unfamiliar with Burning Man, it is a real-life annual event that began in 1986 as a small gathering at Baker Beach in San Francisco, centered around a ritualistic fire ceremony in which a tall wooden sculpture was burned. After officials deemed the event a fire hazard, the organizers moved the annual ceremony to the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. The movement to the desert saw a group of 80-100 urban dwellers suddenly thrust into an area of the world without electricity, running water, or the other comforts of city life, and they became dependent on one another to figure out how to cope in the desert. Although the burning effigy is always the focus of the celebration, the weeklong event has evolved into a community-building and dwelling art installation festival:
Art is an unavoidable part of this experience, and in fact, is such a part of the experience that Larry Harvey, founder of the Burning Man project, gives a theme to each year, to encourage a common bond to help tie each individual's contribution together in a meaningful way. Participants are encouraged to find a way to help make the theme come alive, whether it is through a large-scale art installation, a theme camp, gifts brought to be given to other individuals, costumes, or any other medium that one comes up with. (“What is Burning Man?”)
Burn2 is structured by simple precepts and time constraints. Every fall, a set of virtual islands are created with no content whatsoever—these are “the playa,” flat desert land that resembles the desert of Nevada where the real Burning Man festival takes place every year. Participants can claim a plot of virtual playa. They have the opportunity to build whatever they want, within a set of ten simple principles. These are:
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
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.
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience. (Burn2.org, “The Ten Principles”)
Burn2 represents what multimodal composition can achieve when it is truly self-directed, yet community-centered. The emphasis of the list is on building phronesis and ethos, since the development of techne as the build is evident . You’ll notice the last tenet is “immediacy,” which brings us full circle to that desire to erase the technology and get a fully immersive experience through interaction; yet this is a hypermediated experience in which participants will become deeply cognizant of the media they’re working with and of how that media helps them to express themselves--and to see through the lens of that new media.