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Second hand look at Second Life

  • By Paul Crichton
  • 27 Apr 07, 02:25 PM

I’m too technologically challenged to get involved with Second Life. So I thought I’d do the next best thing, and see what people are saying about it.

Second Life is a 3-D virtual world that blurs the lines between gaming and social networking and has 3.3 million residents. You begin by making a graphical representation of yourself (known as an avatar) and then you can explore the world by walking or flying around, meet other residents, buy land and build a house, and set up your own business - Second Life even has its own currency that can be converted into US dollars. As well as the residents, real world institutions have a presence there, from the BBC to Harvard University. The appeal for many seems to lie in the combination of social networking, fantastical landscapes and having an alter ego that is maybe cooler than you are in the real world. Looking around the blogosphere, it is clear that there is great interest in Second Life from people with mobility issues.

Writing in her blog, Janna explains why Second Life appeals to her; “I have a disability. It sometimes makes it hard to get out of the house and meet people. In the virtual world I am not disabled. I am the girl who is able to run and play like everyone else.”

Similarly, Neils Schuddeboom’s experience of Second Life is also positive. Writing on Aplink he says that, “Literally being able to walk is a very strange experience for someone using a wheelchair in real life for more than 20 years now”

However, Neils goes on to add, “in real life, many people tend to think that I’m mentally retarded, in Second Life I can’t be judged by my wheels, as long as I don’t use a wheelchair. As soon as I do, mechanisms of social interaction work exactly the same.”

Perhaps Second Life can teach us something about the real world and not just the virtual world as well…

They say you should walk a mile in someone’s shoes before passing judgement on them and in Second Life you can. In a blog about “therapeutic escapism” (there is, for example a community using SL to help recover from strokes) Wayne Porter asks, “If it [Second Life] can be therapeutic for some individuals who are ill could it not be used in reverse… to sensitize people to the realities of life with a disability?”

It is possible for characters to have simulated impairments. Called 2nDisability, residents can get just a glimpse of what it must be like to have epilepsy or be visually impaired. Writing about her experience, Rowella James says, “to be honest, some people find it really weird and are a bit freaked out.”

So it sounds like Second Life can be thoroughly liberating, but also tell us something about our prejudices as well.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 10:57 AM on 13 Jul 2007,
  • Iridescent Coronet wrote:

One of the best places in second life for "walking a mile in someone elses shoes" is the virtual hallucination house. An experience dedicated to educating people about the symptoms of schizophrenia, which is probably less understood than physical disability. If the experience gives an accurate account of what it is like to be schizophrenic, I believe a great deal more public money should be spent on research and treatment development. Shizophrenia must, quite literally, be a living hell.

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