I’ve gone on ad nauseam about the benefits of virtual environments in regard to communal support around health issues. In the physical world, one of the most powerful support campaigns of the past 25 years is the AIDS quilt. Thanks to a joint initiative between Startled Cat and Jokaydia, that sucess story has moved into the virtual worlds of Second Life and Jokaydia’s OpenSim grid.
The premise is simple but powerful: ask those who have lost loved-ones to HIV/AIDS to commemorate those lost in a 3D version of a quilt. Like most of these things, you need to see it for yourself to get the power of it, but once you do it becomes obvious. I had a wander around the handful of quilt rooms already created and was impressed to saythe least – the overall build in Second Life is stupendous and easy to get around / navigate.
The launch of the 3D AIDS quilt occurred today and the call is now out for people to contribute.
Their latest project is focused on HIV/AIDS and is titled The Life and Times of Uncle D, which you can get a taste of in this four-minute summation:
This week sees the in-world launch of The Life and Times of Uncle D. It’s occurring on the 1st October at Noon SL time, which is 5am on Friday the 2nd October AEST – you can find out more info here on the TVSWP site.
It’s another example of the power of machinima, and the virtual environments they’re created in, to assist in providing meaning to real world issues.
(For those interested in the use of virtual worlds in sexual health education or in health more broadly, don’t forget to keep an eye on sister-site Metaverse Health.)
For many, the Christmas / New Year period is a time when there’s more regular social contact with people. It’s certainly been the case for me and it’s emphasised a well known virtual world conundrum – personal boundaries. Over the past month I’ve had the occasion to discuss virtual worlds with a handful of people who have no experience with them at all. In each case, the issue of virtual sex would arise – no surprise there. What did surprise me in its regularity in being raised, was the belief that real-world personal boundaries shouldn’t apply in virtual worlds.
One friend, who’s got a postgraduate education, said to me “if you can’t get immediate and free sex in Second Life, why would you bother?”
It’s not an uncommon opinion by any means. It actually sits on the opposite end of the continuum from “virtual sex is wrong / funny / worthy of ridicule”. In the middle is a limited amount of work being done by health professionals and educators on promoting sexual health, particularly in Second Life. Until there’s further work done in the area of establishing the ‘normalcy’ of sexual expression online (with the usual caveats around unacceptable behaviour / child pornography / extreme sexual violence etc), opinions like my friend’s will continue to hold sway. Some would argue that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and there’s still not enough evidence to determine whether acceptable online sexual expression if harmful, beneficial or both.
There’s obviously some appeal in a different set of personal boundaries, it’s just defining the groundwork for alternate approaches that’s challenging.
On the Linden Lab blog, Pathfinder Linden has written on the successful World AIDS Day initiative in Second Life, run by the Karuna organisation. He’s coined the phrase ‘Ecosystems of Support’ and it’s very fitting for initatives like this.
Over the past six months, there’s been a significant momentum build in regards to health and virtual worlds, and certainly support networks are pivotal within that development. The challenge is convincing the wider circle of health professionals, individuals seeking help or support and their families / friends that virtual worlds offer another option that can make a real difference.
There’s another new health project in development in Second Life – Karuna. It’s The focus is ‘HIV / AIDS education, outreach and support’ and it’s scheduled for launch on December 1st, World AIDS Day.
Partners in the project include AIDS.gov and the University of North Carolina Center for AIDS research, Community Outreach, Dissemination, and Education Office (CFAR). A centrepiece of the initiative will be a Garden of Experience where those dealing with HIV/ AIDS will share their experiences via photos, video, music and poetry.
The agenda for the 1st December (in PST / SL time) is:
10-10:10 – Story to Live By (Jenaia Morane)
10:10-10:20 – AIDS/HIV Support & Experience (Ricken Flow)
10:20-30 – Health in Second Life (Pathfinder Linden)
10:30-10:40 – The HIV/AIDS Pandemic (Ellechim Fizzle)
10:40-10:50 – Karuna: The Grant and the Vision (Carolina Keats )
10:50-11:00 – Questions and Answers
11:10–11:45 – Tours of Karuna
11:45–1:00 – Lunch break
1:00–3:00 – Story writing workshop and posting of stories
5:00-5:15 – Closing Ceremony – Candle of Hope is lit
6:00–8:00 – Dance with live DJ
8:00–9:00 – Music: Live performance by Cylindrian Rutabaga
Complacency is one of the key challenges with HIV / AIDS education, particularly in the developed world. Projects like this will hopefully garner some significant mainstream media interest and heighten the awareness of the issue amongst ‘at-risk’ populations – which is pretty much the whole population.