UPDATED! Black Lives Matter: A Memorial and Educational Exhibit in Second Life Looks at Racism and Fascism

I was one of the librarian volunteers working regular reference desk shifts at Info Island in Second Life* when the Virginia Tech mass shooting happened on April 16th, 2007, when an undergraduate student at the university shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others with two semi-automatic pistols. It remains the deadliest school shooting in the history of the United States, and was also the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history, until it was surpassed nine years later by the Orlando gay nightclub shooting.

Within days, a makeshift memorial was erected next to our reference desk, which was visited by hundreds of avatars, who left flowers and teddy bears, and lit virtual candles. Here is an image I took at the time, with the Info Island reference desk in the foreground, and the memorial wall in the background, with pictures of the 32 people who lost their lives that day.

Standing in front of the Virginia Tech memorial on the first day

After a week, the area next to the reference desk was a literal sea of flowers and candles. I loaded up my angel avatar and flew over the scene:

The owners of Info Island set up cubes (which you can see in this picture at bottom right) so people could sit and meditate. Some people stayed for hours, crying and chatting with each other. It was all incredibly moving, and I learned for the first time that expressions of grief and outrage in virtual worlds are no less powerful than in real life.

Virtual worlds such as Second Life have always been home to memorials and monuments to inform and educate people about episodes of terrorism, crime, and injustice. And so it is with the current Black Lives Matter Movement.

Today, I paid a visit to an art installation and educational exhibit intended to inform, educate, and raise awareness of the racism faced by Black people in America. The imposing Ministry of Truth building from George Orwell’s dystopian science fiction novel 1984 sits opposite a recreation of a Nazi concentration camp.

Inside the concentration camp is an exhibit of paintings done by David Olère, who was a Polish-born French painter and sculptor best known for his explicit drawings and paintings based on his experiences as a Jewish Sonderkommando inmate at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II:

Scattered throughout are paintings by Bansky, and deliberately provocative quotes, sculptures, and images, drawing parallels between humanity’s history of racism and fascism, and speculative fiction such as Orwell’s 1984, with what is happening here and now in Donald Trump’s America:

(Here are sources for the Donald Trump quote on the wall in the picture above: Politico, USA Today, CNN).

The Black Lives Matter memorial is just around the corner from the Ministry of Truth and the concentration camp (here is the exact SLURL of the memorial wall; you will arrive at a common spawn point on the sim, just follow the large white signs with the arrows to locate the spot).

A number of Second Life vendors have donated free items, which you can pick up here at the Black Lives Matter memorial. Here my avatar is wearing a Black Lives Matter hoodie from BUNK and a BLM baseball cap by Snapz:

The hoodies come in four different styles, and fit classic avatars as well as Maitreya Lara, Belleza (Venus – Isis – Freya), Slink (Hourglass – Physique), Adam, Aesthetic, TMP/Classic, Exmachina Davide, Signature Gianni, Belleza Jake, and male Slink mesh bodies. The baseball cap comes in one size, but you can click on it to adjust it to fit any head. There are also shirts by Mossu, Blueberry, and Nerdy Princess to fit a variety of male, female, and children’s mesh avatar bodies, as well as some wall hangings and other items for your home.

At a time when mass demonstrations carry the very real risk of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus and developing COVID-19, virtual worlds provide a valuable space where we can gather safely and protest against the injustice, police brutality, and racism currently taking place in America and around the world.

UPDATE June 5th, 2020: Linden Lab has just released the following statement via their official blog:

Social Injustice Has No Place in the Physical or Virtual World

Like many of you, we are feeling a combination of horror and outrage over the history of racism against Black lives. What we continue to witness is deeply disturbing and demanding of immediate social change.

The killing of George Floyd seen on video around the world is only one in a long and unacceptable series of violent and racist attacks and discriminatory behavior directed against people of color. 

We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, all victims of systemic oppression and violence, and with Black communities across the U.S., the globe, and the virtual world in condemning racism and any and all actions that promote division.

Our mission at Second Life has always been to help build a better world, and in support of Black Lives Matter, we will be donating $10,000 each to three charities that are active in helping to fight oppression and injustice including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

How can you help? This weekend, you can participate in the Stand for Justice fundraising effort dedicated to raising funds for Black Lives Matter, Black Visions Collective, Campaign Zero, the National Police Accountability Project, and a Split Bail Fund benefiting 38+ bail funds nationwide. We also highly encourage you to sign petitions, text, call, or donate to show your support, acceptance, tolerance, inclusion, and equal opportunity for all.

Now is the time for us to come together as a community and to stand up for what is right, just, and decent. We hope that you will stand with us in our fight for a better world and in recognition that Black Lives Matter today and every day. 

—The Linden Lab Team

*For a short history of the rise and fall of libraries in Second Life, please see this blogpost.

You Can Take Part in a Research Survey on Your Use of Social VR During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Dr. Miguel Barreda-Ángeles, a Communication Science researcher the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, is conducting a survey on the use of social VR platforms during the coronavirus pandemic. He says:

The aim of this study is to understand how people are using Virtual Reality social networks (for instance, VRChat, AltSpaceVR, etc.) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The knowledge generated can be useful for understanding the role of new communication technologies in health crises. 

The survey is completely anonymous; we do not collect information that could be used to identify you. It takes about seven minutes to complete it. 

If you are interested in participating in this survey, here is the link to get started.

FRAME: A Brief Introduction to a New Browser-Based VR-Compatible Virtual World, by VirBELA

FRAME is a brand new product by the company that brought you VirBELA, a separate browser-based virtual world with VR support, built with open web technology (WebXR) instead of Unity (which VirBELA uses).

When you visit their website, instead of a flat website homepage, you are loaded directly into a three-dimensional space, a tutorial room which explains what FRAME is meant to be used for. You navigate using the mouse and the arrow keys of your keyboard, or you can click on the small VR icon in the bottom right-hand corner and put on your VR headset.

You are invited to create an account, using your existing Google, Microsoft or Facebook credentials, or create a new FRAME account using your email address. After registering an account via email, I got the following welcoming message:

Thanks for signing up for the FRAME beta! Frame lets you quickly create immersive meeting spaces and presentations and then invite others in with a link. No download or install needed – right from a browser on desktop, mobile, or VR.

We encourage you to create your own FRAMES and let us know if you have any feedback if you use it to hold your own meetings or presentations. We have a Discord group where you can ask us questions, give feedback, interact with the FRAME user community, and stay up to date. Check it out!

FRAME is evolving rapidly, and as such you might find occasional hiccups in our service. Please keep in mind that FRAME is still in beta and uses some cutting-edge technology. 

Finally – if you need a version of FRAME with custom features or designs that you aren’t able to build yourself in FRAME, we would be happy to discuss that with you. 

We’re here to help if you have any questions or thoughts, and we can’t wait to show you what’s coming next for FRAME. 

Gabe and Dan,
The FRAME Team

You can browse through the FRAME NEXUS user documentation to get up to speed. There’s even something called the FRAME ACADEMY to help teach WebXR, with online lessons and projects, and even hands-on workshops!

If you want learn more about FRAME, I invite you to visit their website, join their new Discord server, or follow the project on social media via Twitter and Facebook.

I will be adding FRAME to my ever-expanding list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds.

Teooh: A Brief Introduction

I swear, they must be running out of names for new metaverse platforms! (I kept typing in “Teeoh” instead of “Teooh” when searching for this one, or while writing up this blogpost.)

Teooh (currently in beta) describes itself as follows in their FAQ:

On Teooh you can create virtual events and monetize them by selling tickets. Your guests can attend as an avatar and hear speakers, socialise and network with others. All this through their laptop and mobile phone. In short, if the Sims did paid events Teooh would be it.

Teooh appears to offer several different kinds of virtual spaces for your event:

Here’a a one-minute promotional video to give you a feel:

Here’s a longer, twelve-minute video showing you a bit more of the platform:

There’s precious little technical information about Teooh on their website, and no pricing info available. All the individual customer use cases in the “For Customers” drop-down menu point to essentially the same text and images, repeated over and over for each case. Someone really needs to put some more work to this new platform’s website.

From what I can tell, this is primarily a service for desktop and mobile devices. TechCrunch reports:

Teooh won’t be available in VR, instead focusing on mobile and desktop platforms, hoping to pitch an alternative to teleconferencing software like Zoom that is more bespoke for meetups where participants can single out and chat with individual users in a virtual environment.

So, I would classify Teeoh (damn, I mean Teooh!) as a virtual world with mobile support. And frankly, I think that a nonsense word like Teooh is a terrible, terrible name for a product. (In my opinion, it ranks right up there with Twinity and Beloola for stupid platform names.) The company behing Teeoh needs to reach out to a professional branding consultant and change it.

If you want more information on Teooh, you can visit their website, or follow them on social media: Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube (and the link to their Twitter account from their website is broken, another sign that somebody is not paying attention to details).

It would appear that Teooh is now taking applications from parties who are interested in using the beta platform for their events; the application form is here (just click on the button “Apply for Batch #2”).

Thanks to Neobela for the heads-up!