For the longest time the virtual world of Second Life received a lot of bad press; mostly as a place to go if you wanted have virtual sex and live out your darkest fantasies.
It is true that if you log into Second Life, or any of the assortment of virtual worlds now available, with the intent to find sex toys, fetishes and overtly sexual avatars, you’ll have no problem finding them. Sex is a part of cultures across the world and when you bring people from across the world together into a virtual space with countless ways to express yourself, it would be more surprising if there was not a virtual sex culture.
That is such a small part of what virtual communities bring to the world that those who focus solely on its vices are missing an expansive cultural phenomenon. These are communities of people for whom country of origin means almost nothing. Friendships, businesses, education, foundations, charities and even marriages happen with minimal regard for political or geophysical boundaries. The virtual platform has become a cultural mecca, launching music careers and giving audience to artists who had not had the courage to share their work before.
It’s a virtual website for artists, with the ability to go beyond the flat page and showcase their art in a three dimensional gallery to people around the world. The website created by Sasun Steinbeck, Art Galleries of SL, features more the 500 virtual galleries. Not only does Second Life boast a huge range of paintings, drawings, photography and graphics, but has given birth to its own form of virtual art, created from elements within Second Life and often not possible to recreate in the physical world.
Hundreds of live music performances happen daily, giving true meaning to the term world music. Performers range from pop/rock, folk and blues singers to jazz and classical musicians, the virtual world giving them a means to expand their fan base, earn a living and even support causes they believe in. Singer/songwriters like Craig Lyons view Second Life as a green alternative to road tours. Duo Appassionato, comprised of virtuoso violinists Izabela Jaworower (RL Izabela Spiewak) & Young Zeid (RL Xi Yang) are regular performers; and SL Musician Joaquin Gustav from Buenos Aires, Argentina brings a blend of Latin American guitar to the scene, enabling people around the world to hear music that they may never have otherwise.
Aside from the bountiful cultural possibilities of Second Life, there is a seemingly endless supply of compassion, warmth and encouragement in the form of virtual philanthropy. From the smallest event fundraising for a local organization, to national and international organizations, to spontaneous support of countries across the world in times of disaster, the world suddenly seems a whole lot smaller.
Japan Tsunami Relief
After the devastating tsunami struck Japan a vast majority Second Life residents immediately turned their thoughts and prayers to their friends in Japan. Relief fundraisers sprang up almost immediately. Funds were raised through individual events and went to the Japan Red Cross, UNICEF, Save the Children, International Medical Corps and more. Linden Labs participated on the Second Life Marketplace, selling special virtual teddy bears called Japan Relief Bears. Content Creators and Designers created special lines of items to directly benefit Japanese relief organizations. A new online organization was created, Project FUR Japan, taking into account the animals affected by the tsunami’s deadly toll. The organization has donated its funds raised to JEARS (Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support); an awe inspiring amount totaling nearly $30,000 USD.
Garden for the Missing
Founded by Second Life resident Ronnie Rhode, this virtual building features four levels and 200 posters of missing persons. Rows and rows of posters of lost children, adults and the elderly, some missing for years and years, remind us that there are families out there still waiting for their return. The Garden for the Missing has been an effort on the part of Ronnie to raise awareness about the plight of well over 100,000 missing persons across the US. She now estimates that about 350,000 people who had no idea the magnitude of the cause now do, because of Second Life.
Relay for Life of Second Life
With the arrival of virtual communities, a new opportunity arose. On July 16th, 2011 more than 3,000 individual cancer survivors, caregivers, family members and compassionate supporters from 95 countries joined together for the 7th annual Relay For Life of Second Life. For several months leading up to the Relay, 140 teams formed and began events within Second Life to fundraise for ACS; by the halfway point, the event reached the $1 Million U.S. dollars raised landmark for its cumulative total since the first virtual Relay in 2005.
The fundraising culminated in the most technologically advanced Relay in the world. Consider the sheer number of personal computers combined with the technology required to create and operate Second Life. Not to mention DJs from around the world streaming music for 24 hours, in-world TV stations joining together to host 24 telethon coverage of the event and the virtual campsites of the teams themselves, featuring stunning design and scripting skills. It was truly an incredible experience.
After the last campfire was packed up and the sites put away for another year, the grand total funds raised for Relay for Life of Second Life reached $373,098 USD and the most funds raised in a single relay season in Second Life.
All this really just touches a small fraction of all of amazing cultural connections going on within the virtual worlds. And it’s not just Second Life; the virtual world called Heritage Key is a remarkable place to explore the history of the ancient world, from ancient Egypt to Stonehenge and the Terra Cotta Warriors. With the technology created by Linden Labs becoming open source, many virtual worlds have come into existence, each with their own share of art, culture and innovation from InWorldz, to Reaction Grid and more.
While the physical world struggles to maintain peace and decide whose rules are the right rules, the virtual world is a step or two ahead, embracing cultures and the uniqueness of individuals while bridging the gap between continents.