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! 😉

Virtual Cultures in Pandemic Times: A New Feature-Length Documentary by Draxtor Despres, Premiering on YouTube and in Second Life on April 2nd, 2022

Second Life filmmaker Bernhard Drax (better known by his Second Life name, Draxtor Despres) will be premiering a new, feature-length documentary on April 2nd, 2022, titled Virtual Cultures in Pandemic Times. I have written about Drax many times before on this blog, notably when he released his previous feature-length documentary, Our Digital Selves: My Avatar Is Me. Drax is a truly indefatigable chronicler of Second Life, who often creates promotional short films (a.k.a. machinima) about various aspects of Second Life for Linden Lab. He is also an insatiable reader, who hosts the popular weekly Second Life Book Club.

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.

The online premiere of Virtual Cultures in Pandemic Times will be happening on YouTube and in the virtual world of Second Life, at 1:00 p.m. Pacific Time/SL Time on April 2nd, 2022.

For more information on the project, and to register for the premiere, please refer to the official website for the film. You can also search Twitter for the hashtag #VCinPandemicTimes for the latest tweets about the film and the people it profiles. You can also check out Drax’s voluminous output over on his YouTube channel (including a playlist of teaser clips from Virtual Cultures in Pandemic Times!).

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, December 15th, 2021: Six Hundred and Forty Days Later

On March 16th, 2020, I began working from home for my full-time paying job as a science librarian at the University of Manitoba. A week later, my library colleagues were all sent home to work and the entire campus was shut down during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Manitoba was lucky to have been spared the brunt of that first brutal and frightening wave; we were unfortunately not nearly so lucky on successive waves. At one time, in May 2021, Manitoba had the worst outbreak in all of North America (Canada, U.S.A., and Mexico), and had to airlift patients to neighbouring provinces and states as our hospital ICUs were overwhelmed.

The New York Times, May 27th, 2021

Today, December 15th , 2021, a full 640 days after I first started working at home, is officially my first day back on campus, the beginning of what is planned to be my permanent return to the office.

Note that I did come into my office on a few Mondays over the summer and autumn of 2021, but I am now expected to show up in person every day rather than work from home. I am the last of the librarians in my library to return to full-time work in the office; our returns have been staggered over the past few months. I asked to be the last librarian to return, because I have several underlying health conditions (obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension, and asthma) that put me at risk of a severe case of COVID-19 if I were to become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Ever since news broke about the Omicron variant in southern Africa, I have been scouring the daily headlines, desperate to glean what updates the doctors and scientists could provide. The news is not encouraging. It would appear that cases of people infected by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant are doubling every two to three days in various countries, such as the U.K.

Even more worrisome, fully-vaccinated people are becoming infected; a triple-vaccinated Israeli cardiologist got Omicron at a British conference, and passed it on to another triple-vaccinated doctor! Even though most of the cases reported to date have been relatively mild, the fact that so many people are getting sick means an additional strain on an already overburdened healthcare system.

I will be receiving my third booster COVID vaccination at my local pharmacy next Monday, and this science librarian is profoundly grateful for the researchers whose pioneering work on mRNA vaccine technology made this possible. TIME magazine has named four of those vaccine scientists as its Heroes of the Year for 2021 (and quite frankly, they should have been named People of the Year instead of Elon Musk!).

Kizzmekia Corbett, Barney Graham, Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman

While my university has made plans for a full return to normal, on-campus classes and other activities starting in January 2022, I believe that COVID still has the possibility of upending those carefully-laid plans! Already I am reading news reports of Canadian and American university campuses with outbreaks (for example, over nine hundred cases at Cornell University), leading in some cases for in-person final exams to be abruptly cancelled, and switched to an online, virtual format. Yesterday, I tweeted:

So I am feeling particularly anxious. Between the recently-concluded faculty strike (which lasted a full five weeks and broke the record for the longest strike in the history of the University of Manitoba), and this rising new wave of the pandemic, I must confess that I am utterly exhausted. Stretched to the limit. Burned out.

Thankfully, my Christmas holidays start next Monday—the same day I get my third booster shot—and I am looking forward to two weeks of vacation. I still plan to continue my December vacation from blogging, even though all the metaverse news and announcements are coming fast and furious! Now more than ever, there is no shortage of things to write about. But I need to take a break.

Stay safe and stay healthy in these challenging and stressful times!

Get vaccinated—and if you are fully vaccinated, get your booster shot as soon as you are able!
(Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash)