Virtual Worlds: Portals to Our Self-Discovery?


I came across this story recently, and it got me thinking about how little we understand about the power of our minds and our imaginations. And it reminded me of why I love virtual worlds: because they provide opportunities for us to glimpse the power of our minds to shape reality–both virtual and physical reality.

Here’s the story:

From New World Notes: Woman with Parkinson’s Reports Significant Physical Recovery After Using Second Life

This is Fran, an 85 year old woman who plays Second Life as an avatar named Fran Seranade, and while that’s interesting in itself, many other senior citizens like her are known to be active in SL. Here is the truly extraordinary thing: For over 7 years, Fran has been afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system afflicting millions around the world, including actor Michael J. Fox and sports legend Muhammed Ali. In Fran’s case, Parkinson’s has made it difficult for her to stand from a sitting position, and maintain her balance while upright. But now Fran reports she’s gained significant recovery of physical movement — as a direct consequence of her activity in Second Life.

Continue reading

Healing Isolation & Facilitating Empathy: The Power of Virtual Worlds


I just read a great blog post on the topic of Caring and caregivers in the 21st century that brought be back to one of my favorite topics, the untapped power of virtual worlds/3D game environments for healing, developing community, and learning. The author of the post, Tateru Nino, notes that Second Life‘s community has included a significant percentage of people who are struggling with some type of disability or illness, or who are caregivers and, therefore, limited in their ability to leave their homes to socialize. However, the main focus is to highlight a “game” called Caregiver Village:

“The Unity 3D based game, Caregiver Village, is a … well, if you’ll pardon the portmanteau, ‘edutainment’ game, intended to help divert and relax caregivers, while teaching them valuable skills throughout an engaging and episodic mystery/adventure, sprinkled with mini-games and sporting connections to Facebook. All of that, plus the Web-site supporting caregivers.”  [read more of this post by Tateru Nino]

Tateru Nino illustrates the power of virtual worlds. People who are “shut in” have new environments, relationships and opportunities open to them. These settings can be especially powerful in giving people options to connect when their current life situation limits their ability to do so otherwise.

I think we are only seeing the beginning of the emergence of virtual worlds and other 3D virtual settings (e.g., games) to address a diverse range of needs. Continue reading

Virtual Reality Improves Social Attention in Autistic Kids


Important new research on one of my favorite topics–the power of virtual reality in changing human experience. I’ve excerpted this from Medscape since you have to have an account there to view this(accounts are free though):

Virtual Reality Improves Social Attention in Autistic Kids: May 24, 2011 (Honolulu, Hawaii) — Virtual reality training may help improve complex social attention in school-aged children with higher-functioning autism (HFA), suggests new research presented here at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2011 Annual Meeting.

Head-mounted virtual reality apparatus

In the pilot program, 18 children with HFA and 20 healthy controls wore head-mounted displays showing a virtual classroom with 9 “virtual avatar peers.” As the participants gave short speeches about themselves, each peer was programmed to start fading and become transparent if ignored.

Although results showed no difference in the preadolescent HFA and control children in number of looks to the avatars, the adolescent HFA children made significantly fewer looks than did their age-matched controls, signifying evidence of impairment that emerges later in life.

In addition, “the social attention of all children was malleable,” meaning the looks improved dramatically for all groups during the fade conditioning session, report the investigators.”