Call for Applications: Magic Circles, A Laboratory of Virtual Worlds

VRChat world 5ive Skies, screenshot

Online, September – November, 2024
CAD $1000 + production support for participating projects

Read the full call and apply by July 1, 2024:
research-practice.com/magicc

Not so long ago, the metaverse was being touted as a thing of the future. It was meant to represent the next stage of the internet, upgraded into a lush immersive environment. At the height of the pandemic hangover, in a world fast approaching catastrophe, few ideas could have sounded more appealing. But we all know how it turned out: technology fell short of its promises, financial capital pivoted to artificial intelligence, and the largest impact of this little corporate adventure was a multibillion-dollar hole in the bank accounts of the company formerly known as Facebook. At least until the next hype cycle, transcendence by mixed reality seems to have been taken off the table.

That is not to say that virtual worlds aren’t going strong. Fantasizing together is, after all, an intrinsic aspect of human cultures. Digital media has only expanded the possibilities created by literature, theater, and other kinds of make-believe practices. Since the multi-user dungeons of yore, people have been using shared online environments to explore new forms of identity, sociability, and embodiment. Systems have come and gone. Some are gameworlds that provide users with plenty of opportunities to role play and interact. Others begin as loosely defined play spaces that grow into lifestyles, home to small but loyal communities, pushing against the limits of technology. At times, these virtual worlds operate as platforms in everything but name, complete with a set of tools for personal expression, an infrastructure for content creation, and a marketplace for commercialization. Some, still, became so hegemonic it feels they are still competing for the metaverse crown.

Seeking to investigate virtual worlds in all their wealth and diversity, the Magic Circles laboratory program invites practitioners from different areas to engage in a cycle of online discussions, tours, and experiments. We are looking for projects at any stage of development that explore the possibilities (and shortcomings) of virtual worlds.

Chat server The Palace, screenshot, 1996, thepalace.com/history.html

Support

The Magic Circles program is conceived as a sort of horizontal production residence, through which participants will be encouraged to support and guide each other in their online spaces of choice. Participating projects will receive a CAD $1000 stipend. Ad hoc production support may also be available on a case-by-case basis. Participants agree to be interviewed, provide documentation of their work, and acknowledge the program’s support in their final releases. We are planning to showcase their processes in a small exhibition at the Zentrum für Netzkunst, Berlin, in Summer 2025.

Eligibility

The laboratory is open to projects at any stage of development, and applications are welcome from any profession and part of the world. Examples of eligible projects include:

  • Surveys of in-world ecosystems, economies, cultures, and communities;
  • Development of world-specific interactive content (games, puzzles, automata, Turing-complete computers, Rube Goldberg machines, etc);
  • Creation of in-world artworks and performances of any kind (sculpture, installation, exhibition, theater, concerts, etc.);
  • In-world photography and filmmaking practices (video essays, fiction, experimental, etc.);
  • Pocket and purpose-built worlds in private servers;
  • Development or detournement of control/sensorial interfaces (accessibility hacks, mocap systems, teledildonics, etc.);
  • Archaeology of defunct or discontinued platforms (MUDs, Habbo hotel, Club Penguin, The Palace, etc.).

And some virtual worlds we hope to explore include but are not limited to Second Life, VR Chat, Cluster, Minecraft, Roblox, Fortnite, World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Elder Scrolls Online, Red Dead Online, and what have you.

Marie Foulston, The Grannies, film still, 2022, tigershungry.co.uk/thegrannies

Applications

To apply, please submit 1) a CV and/or portfolio; and 2) a cover letter outlining the virtual world-related project you are currently developing (max 500 words) to the address magiccircleslab@gmail.com by July 1, 2024. If you want, you may also submit additional materials about your proposed project in the form of links in the email body.

About the Program

Magic Circles is hosted by the Department of Film and Media at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, and supported by Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s MetaMetaverse project and the Zentrum für Netzkunst. Magic Circles is directed by Dr. Gabriel Menotti and produced by Dr. Sojung Bahng.

www.research-practice.com/magicc