Elvira Butz, a septuagenarian adventurer who has dived to the Titanic aboard a Russian submersible, trekked solo through the rainforests of Papua New Guinea, and searched for meteorites in Antarctica, spent the final minutes of December 21, 2012, the day the Mayans supposedly predicted the world would end, dancing to “Gangnam Style” at the base of a 30-foot replica of a Mayan pyramid built on the shore of Lake Austin.
Doomsayers and revelers across the globe awaited the apocalypse in bunkers and at parties, but among the more extravagant end-of-days soirees was a fete thrown by Richard Garriott de Cayeux, a video game tycoon, on his 65-acre ranch in the Hill Country.
Servers passed champagne to the dancing partygoers as the hosts, Garriott and his wife, Laetitia, clad in matching, custom-made green feather headdresses, clambered to the top of the pyramid (which is visible on Google Earth) to survey the lavish affair that only a millionaire could conceive and execute.
Garriott, 51, who made his first million after developing the MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) “Ultima” while in his early twenties, has become known for his ostentatious and theatrical gatherings that give his guests a chance to visit a live version of his virual worlds. His first big parties date back to the late eighties when he began hosting elaborate haunted houses. Perhaps his boldest bash was his Titanic-themed party in 1998—he decorated a barge as the doomed ship, loaded it with VIPs in tuxedos and ball gowns, and then made the vessel sink in Lake Austin, forcing his guests, including the then-mayor of Austin, Kirk Watson, to swim to shore.
A few years ago, Garriott and his friend Brad Henderson, a magician, hatched the idea for an apocalypse party. “We thought this date shouldn’t pass without an interactive soiree,” Garriott said.
Tickets cost $1,000 a piece and proceeds benefit the X Prize Foundation, a nonprofit with the stated goal of bringing about “radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.” Garriott serves on the board of the foundation (along with Arianna Huffington, the media mogul, and the Google co-founder Larry Page, among others), which offers cash prizes designed to spur innovative solutions to some of the world’s most complicated problems, including creating oil-eating bacteria and sending a robot to the moon.
“If the world doesn’t end, the X Prize is a perfect cause,” he said.
Many of the 144 party guests—a mix of entrepreneurs, video game developers, and explorers like Butz—flew in from around the country to celebrate the Mayan Apocalypse with Garriott. The invitation instructed attendees to arrive dressed as their favorite adventurer, and there were plenty of Indiana Jones and Neo costumes. Astronaut costumes were another popular choice, perhaps an homage to Garriott’s $35-million trip to the International Space Station in 2008, making him America’s only second-generation astronaut. (His father Owen Garriott completed two missions to space with NASA.)
Partygoers were escorted through four different tents, each featuring various scenes of imagined end-of-the-world scenarios.
A dose of fire and brimstone was dispensed at the Salvation Sideshow tent, an amalgamation of an old-time tent revival and a freak show where a man in a top hat calling himself Brother Wild Willie told people to “repent from your sinfulness, your greed, your lust.” (More than one hundred volunteers acted as characters in the production.)
Philip Reisberger, the co-founder of a new German mobile gaming company, was called up from the crowd to participate in a sing-a-long led by “Reverend Raven.” Reisberger, who described the event as “incredible and surreal,” estimated that he and his identical twin, Tobias, spent $10,000 to attend the party, on airfare from Hamburg, lodging, and their matching Indiana Jones costumes.
Across a walkway, earthly pleasures were indulged at the hedonism tent, a “celebration of the here and now.” The floors of the yurt-like structure were covered with faux fur rugs and littered with bras and panties. A naked woman painted like a zebra lounged in a glass box as actors passed out creamy alcoholic drinks and chocolate-dipped bananas to the crowd, which was transfixed by the elaborate and athletic routine two dancers were performing on the stripper pole that anchored the room.
Some of the food and drink served at the party seemed straight out of Willy Wonka’s fevered brain. Near the transcendentalists’ drum circle, partygoers indulged in meringue mushrooms and brownies.
In the alien tent, men in scientist costumes passed out test tubes containing a neon liquid that Garriott referred to as “alien piss,” which was probably actually only vodka and lemonade. His authentic Sputnik replica dangled from the ceiling of the area, which was run by a group of alien conspiracy theorists.
Outside, a man in a tinfoil hat held court as Jordan Colton, a 25-year-old who is developing a Victorian theme park in Pleasant Grove, Utah, stepped into a metal cage, which was then shocked with a large Tesla coil. Colton, who had permed his shoulder-length brown hair to mimic the style of Frodo from Lord of the Rings, exited the enclosure with nary a hair on his hobbit head displaced by the electricity.
Carlos Reina, who works in social media production in Austin, wore a black feather headdress and an animal-print suit for his Mayan jaguar costume.
“It’s fun to spend some time in Richard’s imagination,” he said. “He certainly has a big imagination.”