Virtual Worlds

July 01, 2008


Second Life (Part 2 of "We Are Living in a Virtual World")

Screen shot of Michelle Samplin-Salgado's second life avatar, Ellehcim Fizzle

This week we build on our June 10 post about virtual worlds and focus on the well-known site, Second Life Exit Disclaimer.

To better understand how Second Life can help share HIV information and provide support to those who are HIV-positive, we continued our conversation with our colleagues from the NIH-funded Health Info Island, Lori Bell and Carol Perryman. Through our own adventures in Second Life, we also learned from two HIV advocates, Felicita Gonzalez from the Bronx AIDS Services Exit Disclaimer and Matt Cox, an Australian and owner of the Planet Positive Group in Second Life.

How can we use virtual worlds for our HIV/AIDS work?

Screenshot of three second life avatars

Lori told us about the HIV/AIDS Information Center on Health Info Island in Second Life. This virtual building hosts HIV/AIDS support groups and provides HIV education to the general public. She noted, “consumer health information is one of the most important services we could provide. As more and more people of all ages use the Internet and spend increasing amounts of time online, we want to reach users where they are.”

Last December 1st, Health Info Island held the first virtual World AIDS Day with an online Health Fair offering trainings and support groups with participants whose “real life” locations were all over the world. Carol noted, “The HIV/AIDS Groups (comprised of HIV-positive individuals from all over the world) chose to meet with a nutritionist in Second Life to discuss nutrition and HIV. Members of the Group host social and educational events such as dances, displays, and seminars.” adventures in Second Life

Health Info Island on Second Life

Our New Media Strategist, Michelle Samplin-Salgado, volunteered to give Second Life a try, and created her own avatar, “Ellehcim Fizzle.” Michelle met Carol (“Carolina Keats” as she’s known in Second Life) from Health Info Island. “Carol gave me a walking tour of the Health Consumer Library. I saw the potential to gather HIV-related information, learn, and share with others in Second Life.”

On another trip to the AIDS Memorial Garden, Michelle met Felicita (“Lizzetta Zenovka” in Second Life) and Matt (his Second Life name is “HarleyMC Homewood”).

Matt and Felicita gave Michelle a tour of the Second Life HIV Support Network Headquarters Exit Disclaimer. Created by Ethan Kristopher-Hartley (his Second Life name is “Ethan LeSabre”), from the UK, this is a place where groups providing HIV related services can be utilized to hold meeting and/or events, and provide members of Second Life one location to find out about the different group services available that provide HIV related services. There she explored rooms created by Broadway Cares Exit Disclaimer, the Illinois Department of Public Health project, Basuah Exit Disclaimer, and a support group in the UK Exit Disclaimer. Matt is starting a room for his group Planet Positive, a group for HIV+ members and their families. “Second Life is superb at linking people from different countries,” he said.

Felicita and Matt discussed the role Second Life Plays in HIV prevention and support. Felicita said, “People can learn about HIV in the privacy of their own home without fear of being embarrassed to overcome the stigma attached to HIV.” Matt added, “...Second Life is user-generated. Even people who feel traumatized or powerless can do things in Second Life, like build links with other people, raise awareness, and raise funds.” He used chat rooms over many years to support other HIV-positive people. “Now I use this forum,” he says. “This is my way of just being there and ‘out there’ for others who are infected.”

Have you spent time in Second Life? What did you find related to HIV/AIDS? In this peer-to-peer community we are just beginning to understand how they can be applied to our work. We look forward to hearing from you and getting your feedback.

Join us next week for our blog post about...blogs! We’ll be celebrating this blog’s six month anniversary.

June 10, 2008


We Are Living in a Virtual World: Part 1

When the team first started hearing about virtual worlds, we were intrigued--and a little confused. Terms like “avatar Exit Disclaimer” and “in-world meetings” were unfamiliar. Places like Second Life Exit Disclaimer, Whyville Exit Disclaimer, Club Penguin Exit Disclaimer, and Habbo Exit Disclaimer seemed mysterious.

Screen shot of HealthInfo Island on Second Life

HealthInfo Island on Second Life

NIH, CDC, and NASA have been Federal pioneers in virtual space. To learn more, we spoke to Erin Edgerton at the CDC; Andrew Hoppin, from CoLab at NASA; and Lori Bell and Carol Perryman from HealthInfo Island on Second Life--an NIH-funded project.

Our colleagues told us that virtual worlds are computer-based simulated environments Exit Disclaimer where you create your own character--or avatar.

Virtual worlds look and feel like playing a video game, but unlike a video game, you don’t win or lose. They’re places you inhabit and interact with others.

Participation in virtual worlds is increasing at an average of 15 percent per month, according to the Gartner Group Exit Disclaimer. By 2011, they estimate that 80 percent of Internet users will take part in virtual worlds.

How can we use virtual worlds to improve public health?

Screenshot of AIDS and HIV Center on Second Life

AIDS and HIV Center on Second Life

Virtual worlds can provide an immersive experience where users can get health information and practice healthy behaviors. Modeling good health behaviors in the virtual world can help turn these virtual activities into real-life behaviors.

Carol told us, “At NIH we discovered that consumer health information was one of the most important services we could provide in the virtual world. As more and more people of all ages use the Internet and spend increasing amounts of time online, we want to reach users where they are.” There are a number of medical agencies in Second Life, including professional organizations that are looking at it for training purposes, medical libraries, and support groups for people with medical problems (e.g., HIV/AIDS, Asperger’s Syndrome).

Andrew told us that NASA became interested in virtual worlds because they were looking for a space to collaborate with entrepreneurs, volunteers, and students. Once they began participating in Second Life, NASA discovered new uses for this virtual world: training, virtual prototyping, and building new partnerships. Andrew told us that, in a typical week, over 700 people visit NASA’s space in Second Life and spend approximately 650 hours per week interacting in the virtual NASA.

Screen shot of Virtual vaccinations in Whyville

Virtual vaccinations in Whyville

For two consecutive years, CDC has worked with Whyville to promote virtual vaccinations for seasonal influenza. Erin told us the CDC selected Whyville to encourage flu vaccinations “because it focused on science and education, and because of its previous research on in-world vaccinations.” Whyville citizens had the opportunity to be virtually vaccinated--preventing them from catching the “Why-Flu,” which caused red spots to appear on avatars’ faces and made them sneeze while chatting. During the first six-week activity in 2006, almost 20,000 unique Whyvillians were vaccinated.

Virtual worlds, like Whyville, aren’t just for young people. When the CDC introduced the Why-Flu, for the second time, in November 2007, they created opportunities to engage people of different generations. Once Whyville members were vaccinated, they could send invitations to their grandparents, inviting them to be virtually vaccinated. This resulted in nearly 41,000 virtual vaccinations, and over 1,800 grandparents participated.

Another addition to the 2007 activity was a two-way information exchange between CDC subject-matter experts and Whyvillians. At an in-world vaccination party, kids and grandparents talked with a live CDC expert to get answers to health questions and learn more about the CDC.

Venturing Deeper into Virtual Worlds

On July 1, we’ll finish the second part of this two-part series on virtual worlds. For the next two weeks, however, we’ll be focusing our blog posts on National HIV Testing Day (June 27) Exit Disclaimer.

In the meantime, we encourage you to spend some time in a virtual world. It is easy to sign up for a free account in Second Life, Whyville, Club Penguin, or Habbo. Each offers a unique experience and the best way to learn about these worlds is to jump in!

Hope to see you there!

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