(I originally published this article on examiner.com on April 28, 2012)
Avatars seated around a campfire on the dry caked mud of a Second Life® virtual desert listened in rapt attention yesterday as the legendary M2Danger Ranger recounted tales of the great ships that once plied the Nevada playa during Burning Man festivals of days past.
It was the kind of storytelling that was the only history most humans knew before a few centuries ago. Blogs and videos have been around for only a few decades. Film is only a century old. For a few centuries before film, privileged humans got their history from books, at least those humans who could afford the books and were literate enough to read them, and before that, from even rarer scrolls, parchments, and carved tablets. For the rest of human existence, history came mostly from the tales of elders who had experienced it themselves or who knew the tales of those who had.
This oldest form of history telling is what we experienced yesterday, sitting around the digital flames of that virtual campfire, avatar hands clutching sticks with roasting marshmallows that we could never taste, but with Danger’s tales of great events of Black Rock playa’s past sparking our imaginations. Of course it wasn’t the same as sitting around a physical fire – I’ve lit enough campfires to know the difference – but it was nonetheless real. This is the emerging reality of post twentieth century human life, when virtual and physical cease being opposites and begin in baby steps to converge.
This reporter won’t divulge the text of the stories M2Danger Ranger told yesterday. You need to hear them yourself, while sitting around a crackling campfire. If you want to hear the stories, find Danger at a campfire. It doesn’t matter whether the fire is virtual or physical. You’ll find him there. The stories he recounted told of glorious “ships” such as La Contessa, a great wooden sailing ship that drove around the desert and ended in a great pyre that could be seen for miles, a fiery end worthy of a Viking funeral (you can see a photo of La Contessa here). Another tale was of Temporal Decomposition, a six foot diameter desert ice ball embedded with clock components (see it here) that met its match in the Vegomatic of the Apocalypse (photo here).
A virtual campfire can’t replace a physical one – I love being with friends in the darkness around the warmth of a hot, crackling fire – but that doesn’t make the virtual campfire any less real. The virtual campfire allows us to be with friends we could never meet otherwise and to experience things we could never experience in the physical world. That’s what’s wonderful about occurrences like M2Danger Ranger’s storytelling at the campfire yesterday. It brought both worlds together and allowed those of us present to experience storytelling as humans and prehumans experienced it for millions of years.
Yesterday’s storytelling was part of Burn2’s Occuplaya festival, which continues through Sunday night with live music performances, DJ’s, Lamplighter processions every night at 7pm, and creative exhibits. Second Life members can visit Occuplaya today and tomorrow by clicking maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Burning%20Man-%20Deep%20Hole/126/70/25. Lamplighters will assemble for their procession at 7pm athttp://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Burning%20Man-%20Deep%20Hole/126/70/25. Everyone is welcome to dance and drum with the Lamplighters.