Transcending Parkinson’s in a Virtual World

Creations for Parkinsons

This video provides a glimpse into what virtual worlds might have to offer through describing the Creations for Parkinson’s project in Second Life, known there as Creations Park. The video touches on a topic I’ve blogged about before, the impact of virtual experience on our physical lives. But just as important, it conveys the sense of freedom that a virtual world can offer someone facing physical challenges or social isolation. Continue reading

The Self, BodyMind, and Virtual Worlds

The World Grid and the Whirled Mind

One of the primary reasons that virtual worlds like Second Life fascinate me is because of what they teach us about who we are, how we know the world, and the nature of reality. One of the earliest experiences that intrigued me was how quickly I came to identify with my avatar, despite the fact that she looks nothing like me.

Body Mapping

I recently came across a post that offered an explanation for this phenomenon happens in the brain. The author, Peter Small, discusses “body mapping” theory and describes how it might apply to virtual worlds: Continue reading

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

Understanding Interpersonal Drama in Virtual Worlds

Drama Free Zone Sign Within a Virtual World

In my last blog post on the emotional reality of virtual relationships I speculated that one of the sources for the drama that is known to occur in virtual worlds might be the absence of non-verbal communication. The findings from a recent study reported in Science Daily offer support for this hypothesis. Continue reading

The Emotional Reality of Virtual Relationships

cataplexia numbers
Occasionally I find a post on another blog that resonates so strongly with me that I excerpt it here.  Here’s some eloquent reflections by Dove Mornington on the topic of emotional interactions in virtual relationships that occur in worlds like Second LifeContinue reading

The Future of Online Therapy: Great Resources

I don’t typically do this type of post, but in this case there are such good resources here that I want to preserve it in my blog as well as bring it to the attention of readers. Click through to the blog post to see an awesome list of resources for professionals interested in doing online therapy:

The Future of Online Therapy: Wrap Up! by DeeAnna Merz Nagel

March 28th, 2011 | The Future of Online Therapy

This past Saturday I gave a presentation on the topic of the future of online therapy at the Psychotherapy Networker Symposium. I thought I would pass along the resources that I offered during the workshop, hoping that you will find these resources and references helpful!

I discussed the resources available at the Online Therapy Institute pointing people in the direction of our main website, blog and social network.

via The Future of Online Therapy: Wrap Up!.

Virtual Worlds as Immersive Treatment Settings: The PTSD Sim

One of the advantages of virtual worlds is the ability to created simulated experiences that can help us learn something about experiences other than our own, as well as providing a an opportunity to help us make sense of our own experience. The  Virtual PTSD  (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) Sim in Second Life is an example of such a place. I recently went exploring there to check the out the “build.”

Welcome to the Virtual PTSD Experience

The experience starts when you transport into the Sim into a reception area in the Visitor Center. The first thing you see is information about how to reach someone if you are in crisis now. This welcome area also has an information desk (complete with pamphlets) staffed by “Ranger Jane” (a bot) who will answer questions that you ask in chat. In another part of the room, there is  an animated diorama that provides you with an overview of what happens in the simulation. This is important, as it will make the entire encounter more predictable and, therefore, less likely to trigger extreme PTSD symptoms while going through the simulation. There is also an option to transport to a Relaxation Room in the event that you start to feel too anxious. This “room” is actually a choice of several very different relaxation environments (e.g., the beach, outer space) so you can choose the one that fits your needs. Continue reading

The Roots of My Interest in Virtual Worlds

Earlier this month @DorleeM published an interview she did with me on Social Work Career Transition Blogger (a great blog for social workers, or those considering a career in social work). While the interview itself focused on social work career issues, the comments centered on virtual worlds. This post is excerpted from one of my comments:

First Contact

I first joined a virtual world because of a client of mine. She was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and had a significant trauma history. As a result she sometime struggled with sorting out her perceptions of interactions and with interpersonal boundaries. She was really involved with Second Life and I didn’t have clue what that really meant–I had a sense that I needed to understand it to be able to help her sort out what was happening. So during our semester spring break I took the time to join Second Life.

I have to say that Second Life (SL)  astonished me. I first just struggled with comprehending it. I consider myself pretty tech-savvy, but it was a few weeks before I could really get my brain around the idea of what it was. In retrospect I have to say that it was months before I really understood SL at a deep level.

Two things were, and are still, intriguing to me:

  1. the unlimited opportunity for creativity there: I walked on Mars, visited the NASA space museum, visited a virtual Van Gogh museum (where you can walk into the paintings), went scuba diving, I went through Virtual Hallucinations, a place where you experience what it might be like to have Schizophrenia (hear voices, experience the visual distortions)—users created those places. Beyond being a powerful medium for experiential learning, it also just became fun place to hang out, meet interesting people from all over the world, and do things together (the way you would in real life). As I explored the world, met some wonderful people there, including some that have become real life friends.
  2. The more interesting aspect for me related to avatars, identity, human relationships, and the nature of reality (simple things, LOL). Some examples:
  • when another avatar would hug me, I–the me that was running the computer– would feel a sense of warmth and closeness. This intrigued me. Or in the middle of winter I would go to a beach in SL and listen to the waves and take in the sights–I was surprised how it provided a little reprieve from the snowy real world. Not as much as traveling there in real life, but more than I expected. As I thought about it more though I realized this made some sense–our brains processes images–that’s how we see. SL is images. The fact that these images aren’t “real” doesn’t mean they don’t affect me and have an emotional charge. After all, isn’t that all a movie is? images and sound?
  • it was interesting to experiment with wearing different identities–you can change your look very easily–when I went as male, people related to me differently–they didn’t reach out as much and other men were more hostile. That observation, by the way, spawned an hour long conversation with a male friend in SL about what it means to be male in the real world and how men relate to each other with subtle non-verbals to tone down some of that hostility.

I really can’t do justice to all the ways in which identity comes into play and becomes fascinating to explore and understand. I had many long conversations about this, but I never got around to writing it down. The person who has done so is Botgirl (@Botgirlq).  Here’s one interesting post from Botgirl’s Blog on The Continuum of Human Avatar Experience to give a flavor of  the nuances of identity as they arise in virtual worlds.

Photo courtesy of Anna Levinzon

Virtual World Emigrants: Embarking for a New World

Like these cats, residents of Second Life are moving to unknown places.

Those who have been following the evolution of Second Life know that the sands are shifting again, this time spurred by news that Linden Labs will be eliminating discounts for non-profit and educational institutions January 2011. The result appears to be a mass emigration underway as Second Life refugees make their way to other grids.

The metaverse has changed significantly in the past couple of years–there are many more places to go. While there are a plethora of gaming worlds, there also has been an increase in worlds similar to Second Life, including several that use the Second Life code as their starting place. This tweet by Cathy Anderson links to a timeline of virtual worlds which illustrates the explosion:

This weekend I began exploring some of these other worlds, specifically those that share the key characteristic of Second Life that made it so attractive to educators, the ability to modify the environment and create truly original content.  It was a bit overwhelming–as the timeline above illustrates, there’s a lot out there!  But as I moved my avatar through one of the other world grids, I had a new appreciation for Second Life, in particular an appreciation for all the content created by its user community; the freedom  to create and distribute content is what has made the platform so powerful and successful. This potential is included in the new grids, too, but a quick perusal of what’s currently out there drove home the reality that those users who are migrating to these grids have their work cut out for them.

I am reminded of what happened when large numbers of people left Europe to move to the “New World” to establish the colonies in the United States: they left behind many aspects of their existing societies and began building their world anew. The new colonies had a more primitive living standard than what the colonists left behind, a trade-off they made because of the freedom and opportunity the new world promised. Similarly, the “starting over” faced by these virtual world pioneers means a return to a rougher way of virtual life.

Living in a pup tent on the sand

Ready to "Rough It" in Virtual Worlds

For those interested in the company of some fearless fellow explorers, there is the Hypergrid Adventurers Club founded by John “Pathfinder” Lester (formerly Pathfinder Linden in Second Life). I have no doubt that members of that group will be the pioneer leaders for the rest of us and will do much of the heavy lifting of settling those new worlds. Having spent only couple of hours exploring on my own, I can see there are real benefits of linking up with a group, just as there were benefits for the pioneers who settled our physical world to do the same.

For my part, the roughing it that comes with exploring these new worlds can feel intriguing–and  exhausting. After spending a couple hours exploring one new grid, I ended the night by logging into Second Life to hear an outstanding live music performance. I’m sure I will go back to explore the new worlds. But unlike the pioneers who established new worlds on our planet, it’s nice to have the option to experience the comforts of the old world at the end of the day.

Photo, Cats in Space, courtesy of WF&DT.