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, 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)

UPDATED! SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 Update: March 12th, 2020: Coronavirus Comes to Manitoba

And, of course, not even 24 hours after my last update, where I reported that a coronavirus case in Minot, North Dakota, was the closest to me

Local blog ChrisD.ca, Global News, and CTV News have all reported this morning on the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Winnipeg, which is Manitoba’s capital and biggest city. This presumptive test result needs to be confirmed by Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory, which is also located in Winnipeg. The National Microbiology Lab is among a few dozen in the world that can handle Level 4 pathogens, requiring the highest level of biosecurity.

CTV News reported:

The province has confirmed the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Manitoba.

The case was confirmed at a news conference in Winnipeg Thursday morning with Health Minister Cameron Friesen and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

Friesen said the patient is a woman in her 40s from the Winnipeg region who recently travelled to the Philippines. She is recovering at home and is in stable condition. She had been back in Canada for a few days before the positive test, and arrived at the hospital with a face mask.

The health minister added that two community screening centres will open in Winnipeg on Thursday to screen people for COVID-19.

Roussin recommended that Manitobans practice social distancing, avoid large crowds, minimize contact while in public and disinfect all surfaces.

“Fear and panic is not going to help us,” he said.

Roussin also recommended that businesses cancel all non-essential travel outside of Manitoba and that schools increase desk space between students.

Shared Health said COVID-19 testing is for symptomatic people only. Patients are encouraged to contact Health Links before going to any facility, and self-isolate while waiting for results. People without symptoms should not go to health centres and unless absolutely necessary.

The province was told about the presumptive case Thursday morning. It is tracing who the patient has been in contact with.

I won’t be reporting on any other coronavirus news today, but I just wanted to let people know that it’s here now, too. The waiting is over.

UPDATE 7:14 p.m.: And this evening, Manitoba reported its second and third presumptive cases of COVID-19, both in Winnipeg.

UPDATE March 18th, 2020: If you are looking for all the Manitoba provincial government’s information about COVID-19, click here.