Virtual Cultures in Pandemic Times: A New, Feature-Length Documentary by Draxtor Despres Looks at Second Life and Animal Crossing Users During the Coronavirus Pandemic

HOUSEKEEPING NOTE: The RyanSchultz.com blog will be on an indefinite hiatus, as I am working on a brand new project: writing up a proposal for a VR lab for my university library system! More details here. I’ll be back as soon as I can, folks!

Image source: the official website for the documentary

The full-length documentary by Bernhard Drax (a.k.a. Draxtor Despres in Second Life), titled Virtual Cultures in Pandemic Times, has now been released on YouTube, where you can watch it for free! (I first wrote about the film here.)

It’s 1 hour and 24 minutes long, so go get yourself some popcorn, and settle in!

According to the official website for the film:

Virtual Cultures in Pandemic Times is a new feature length documentary by media maker Draxtor.

Since March 2020, Draxtor has been following researchers Tom Boellstorff, Evan Conaway, Chandra Middleton and Sandy Wenger (based in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine) around Animal Crossing and Second Life to find out how COVID-19 is reshaping online interaction.

In the 85 minute film, protagonists from all over the world speak openly about their anxieties and everyday challenges during this global crises and about what virtual worlds and social games mean to them in the context of a pandemic.

Mixed reality interviews and group discussions provide the basis for a sprawling narrative: a mosaic of impressions, shared by people from all walks of life, some well known figures from science, arts and culture, some just regular folks (like the research team itself), trying to make sense of a new age dominated by uncertainty and physical isolation.

Enjoy!

P.S. If you watch the documentary, you can see my main SL avatar, Vanity Fair, sitting in the audience at the Virtual Ability 10th Annual Mental Health Symposium: Mental Health in Trying Times virtual conference, held on April 16th, 2021 (at which I also was a presenter on the topic of acedia). At exactly the 25:10 mark in Virtual Cultures in Pandemic Times, you can see Vanity, busily knitting away… 😉 I’m tickled pink that I made a (brief) cameo in Drax’s documentary!

Screen capture of Vanity Fair (with her animated knitting needles!) sitting in the audience at the Virtual Ability Annual Mental Health Symposium (taken from Drax’s documentary)

P.P.S. Starting at the 1:17:42 mark of Drax’s documentary, in the discussion of social media/networks versus virtual worlds, Drax has an image of my popular list of metaverse platforms appearing on the screen of a virtual television set in Second Life! He even scrolls down the listing! My blog got a cameo!!!

My list of metaverse platforms gets a cameo in Drax’s documentary!

Thanks for the cameos, Drax! 😉

Housekeeping Notice: I’m Juggling

Between the ongoing pandemic, the recently-concluded five-week faculty strike at my university, and now the unexpected war in Ukraine, things have been a little crazy around here these past 3 months (did you know that 14.5% of Manitobans are of Ukrainian ancestry?). Like many of you, I have been glued to the news lately.

Throw in a broken Valve Index VR headset (my unit, of course, died a couple of months after its one-year warranty expired, and Steam has asked me to ship back my headset and cables to be replaced with a refurbished, non-warrantied, headset.) Also, Carlos and I have also—finally!—started working on Episode 1 of Season 2 of the Metaverse Newscast, about which I will be sharing more news soon.

I forgot to mention that after 23 months of working from home for my university, this week I finally returned to my office in the library full-time. (The University of Manitoba has a firm vaccine mandate and a KN95 facemask mandate. Faculty, staff, and students were required to upload proof of vaccination to a special, secure website, and students who did not do so were deregistered from their courses this term. U of M is following the science and absolutely not messing around, which makes me feel much more comfortable coming in to work every day!)

I’m juggling a lot of balls at the moment
(photo by alexey turenkov on Unsplash)

I’m juggling a lot at the moment. All of this is my very long-winded way of saying: don’t expect a whole lot of blogposts from me over the next few weeks. I’ll do my level best to stay on top of all the news and events happening in the metaverse, but no promises 😉

Thanks to my readers and followers for your continued support and engagement! And you are welcome to join the RyanSchulz.com Discord server, with 650 passionate members, representing every social VR platform and virtual world! We discuss, debate and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and all the companies building it, and we’d love to have you participate (or, if you prefer, just lurk and learn!).

Pandemic Diary, February 20th, 2022: Everybody’s Getting COVID-19 (Even the Queen!)

Today is officially day 707 since I first began working from home for my university on March 16th, 2020, and the number of days that I have been back on campus since then is still in the single digits. (I will finally be returning to campus full-time on February 28th, 2022, when all the University of Manitoba Libraries will reopen. The university has a mask mandate and a vaccine mandate, going so far as to deregister those students who have not uploaded proof of vaccination to a special website. They are not messing around!)

Here in my home province of Manitoba, our government has started to lift the public health restrictions that have been in place, despite the still-alarmingly high number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions of COVID-19 patients. A Feb. 11th provincial government news release stated:

New public health orders will come into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 15 that will move all of Manitoba to the Yellow (Caution) level under the Pandemic Response System. Capacity limits will be eliminated in venues such as restaurants, licensed premises, entertainment venues, indoor and outdoor sporting events and casinos, as well as gatherings at private residences. Capacity limits will be removed for outdoor public gatherings but will be limited to 50 people indoors unless proof of vaccination is required. Young people ages 12 to 17 participating in indoor sports and recreation will no longer be required to provide proof of vaccination or recent testing. There are no changes to retail and personal services.

As of Feb. 15, close contacts of a person who tests positive for COVID-19 will no longer be required to self-isolate. Public health continues to recommend self-isolation for people who live in a household with others who have symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 but it will no longer be required.

Many people (myself included) are questioning why the Manitoba government is moving so quickly, and seemingly against the advice of scientists, doctors, and public health experts, in lifting these restrictions. Premier Heather Stefanson has announced that Manitoba will, as of March 15, 2022 remove all mask requirements and all other COVID-19 restrictions, a decision that is also proving to be divisive. Some people are fully in support, while others feel it is still to risky.

As for me, I have essentially barricaded myself in my apartment since the start of the Omicron wave of the pandemic, only venturing out to visit my mother and stepfather (who also rarely leave their life-lease condo), and to pick up the groceries I order online via Walmart, picking a timeslot to avoid contact with other people as much as possible (Sunday mornings between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m.). I have also been wearing an N95 facemask every time I step out of my apartment, and practicing elaborate social distancing as much as possible.

Yes, I am so sick and tired of all this after seven hundred and seven days. Yes, I want this to be over as badly as the next person (although just declaring yourself “over COVID” ain’t going to make it happen!). But I honestly don’t believe that the pandemic is finished with us just yet, not when so much of the world’s population (especially in the poorer, Third World countries) hasn’t been vaccinated yet. There’s still too much chance of the coronavirus mutating again like it did with Omicron, and causing us to shut down all over again.

But I still want to evade the SARS-CoV-2 virus as long as possible, especially at a time when so many other people are getting sick, and Manitoba’s healthcare system is stretched to the limit! Because of my underlying health conditions (obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension, and asthma), even though I am triple-vaccinated, I still worry that I would have a severe case of COVID-19 if I were to become infected.

Today, my mother telephoned me to tell me the news that I have been expecting but dreading: two people among my family in Alberta have developed COVID-19. Fortunately, although both are sick, they are not seriously ill, and are thankfully not experiencing any breathing difficulties. (In both cases, it has been like a very bad case of the flu, with muscle aches and pains. One has a sore throat.)

I know that eventually I will catch COVID-19. My goal in 2022 is to avoid getting COVID-19 as long as I possibly can, so that when I do get it, every single possible healthcare support is readily available to me, including a good supply of anti-viral medications like Paxlovid, just in case I do land up in a worst-case scenario. It is extremely unlikely that I will be in that situation, but I still so worry.

And if that means that I will still be face masking and social distancing long after other people stop (and getting most of my socialization needs met via social VR and virtual worlds!), then that is a price I am willing to pay for my own peace of mind.

Photo by Tai’s Captures on Unsplash

Postscript: My friend John Facetimed me this afternoon and told me that CBC news has announced that Queen Elizabeth II has tested positive for COVID-19. I have seen pictures of the Queen looking so frail recently, so I am concerned:

She reminds me so much of my own beloved grandmother, who coincidentally was also named Elizabeth (she passed away well before the pandemic started). I would not call myself a monarchist by any stretch, but the Queen is still Canada’s head of state, and I wish her a speedy recovery.

Everybody’s getting COVID-19, it seems. It’s just a matter of when, and how bad.

Stay safe and stay healthy!

Pandemic Diary, January 2nd, 2022: A Playlist of Uplifting Music for Pandemic Times

My new playlist for Omicron times

It is now officially 658 days since March 16th, 2020, when I began working from home for my full-time paying job as a science librarian at the University of Manitoba.

Suffering from a wicked case of insomnia, I finally got out of bed around 2:00 a.m. and started working on a playlist of music, using a previous playlist I had created to get me through a five-week strike at my university as my starting point.

I just finished, and I have been listening to these tunes on loop all morning and afternoon, and I am feeling immeasurably better! These are songs about finding strength in the face of adversity, hope, resilience, never giving up, etc. I now share them with you in hopes that they will help you get through this pandemic.

I named this playlist after two of the songs on it: Invincible (by Kelly Clarkson) and Overcomer (an absolute BANGER of a Christian song by Mandisa, with an inspiring video; see below). Yes, I have included a few songs by contemporary Christian artists, which I still listen to even though I now consider myself an atheist (or perhaps agnostic); I hope you don’t mind! You can always skip them if it offends you. 😉

Invincible, by Kelly Clarkson
Overcomer, by Mandisa

Stay safe, and stay healthy in these unprecedented times!