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! 😉

Vanity Goes Vintage! (As Does Moesha!)

The Reface app on my iPhone just uploaded a whole whack of vintage photographs to play with, so I had some fun tonight! Here’s what Vanity Fair looks like in Second Life:

And here is what my Vanity looks like as a vintage model! Just click on any thumbnail to see it in full size:

Not be left out of the fun is my Afro-Canadian model, Moesha Heartsong, who looks like this in her native Second Life (and whom has been through the Reface app before here on my blog):

And here is Moesha in a variety of vintage poses! Once again, you can click on any thumbnail to pull up a full-sized version.

Of course, you can then feed the Reface-d image into WOMBO, for even more fun and genre-bending, history-defying hilarity!!!

My Milkshake
Hollaback Girl

Between WOMBO and Reface, I am having so much fun! It’s helping me stay sane and entertained whilst under pandemic lockdown here in Winnipeg.

UPDATED! Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: Free Gifts from the 2021 Valentine’s Shop and Hop Event

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Steals, Deals & Freebies group yet? I will be posting EVEN MORE news and tips on finding fabulous freebies and bargains in Second Life than I post here on the blog! More information on this brand new SL group here.


The annual Second Life Valentine’s Shop & Hop event officially opens tomorrow, February 5th, and runs until February 17th, 2021. Almost all of the participating merchants in the eight-sim-wide shopping mall have a free gift set out for their customers, over one hundred gifts in total, and the following are my picks for the most fabulous fashion freebies from the event!

All SLURLs in this blogpost should take you directly to the location of the freebie in the Shop & Hop mall, so let’s get started…on your mark, get set, go!

Women’s Apparel and Footwear

Here Vanity Fair is wearing the cute, playful Adore You dress from Candy Kitten, which features a broad, laced-up belt, and comes with a HUD to change the colour and pattern of every part, with six texture options for both the top and skirt! it’s sized to fit Maitreya regular and petite, Belleza Freya, and Legacy female mesh bodies.

The gift from Glitzz is this three-piece set called Woke Up, a lacy pink bra and matching panties and a loose white shirt to wear over top, which comes in the following sizes: Maitreya, Freya, Hourglass, and Legacy.

This fun and fuzzy bodycon dress called Mary is the Valentine’s Shop and Hop present from Rosary (sizes: Maitreya, Freya Perky, Hourglass, Legacy, and Kupra). This curve-hugging dress comes with a HUD as shown below, to change the colour of the dress to any of eleven different shades!

Celestina’s Weddings has an opulent, beautiful jewelry set as a gift, which includes the earrings, necklace, and ring as shown, as well as a matching bejeweled purse!

The gift from Valentina E. is the aptly-named Slinky Dress in lavender (which comes in a Maitreya Lara size only):

From ALTER Clothing & Accessories comes the Berry bare-shouldered ruched dress, in a complete fatpack of 29 colours as shown below (sizes: Maitreya Lara; Belleza Venus, Isis, and Freya; Slink Physique and Hourglass; Tonic Curvy and Fine).

From Envious comes this cute Kisses Love outfit, which includes the cropped sweater, the polka-dot miniskirt with garters, and the lace-up platform boots!

This next casual outfit Vanity Fair is wearing consists of two separate gifts from the 2021 Valentine’s Shop and Hop! The lovely ruffled floral top is the present from the Pixicat booth (sizes: Maitreya, Freya, Hourglass, and Legacy), and the embroidered denim skirt with the optional chain belt is the gift from Tachinni Clothing (sizes: Maitreya, Isis, Freya, Hourglass, and Legacy).

This sexy black top, skirt, and harness (all in one piece) is the gift from Asteria (sizes: Maitreya and Petite; Legacy and Perky; Belleza Isis and Freya; Signature Hourglass).

From the swan pond in the middle of the Deep Static booth, you can pick up a gift box with these Delia Valentine’s glasses, which include a HUD with 8 textures for the frames, and 9 different lens tints:

Now let’s take a look at some of the footwear gifts at the Valentine’s Shop and Hop.

ISON‘s gift are a complete fatpack (21 colours, plus 9 bonus colours) of these mid-heel height strappy leather shoes called Kenya, which come in sizes to fit Maitreya, Slink, Legacy, and Belleza Freya mesh feet. (Note that I had to adjust Vanity’s foot size under the body sliders, to get these to look right on her feet.)

From Gabrielle Hamelin come these black floral platform boots, perfect for stomping on someone’s heart for (Anti-)Valentine’s Day! They come in a mid-heel height, for Maitreya, Belleza, Slink, and Legacy mesh feet, plus an unrigged version for all other feet, so they should fit you!

Baiastice always gives such wonderful gifts at every Shop and Hop event, and this round is no exception! At the Baistice booth, you can pick up these deep red, drop-dead, thigh-high Gio stretch boots (sizes: mid-heel height for Maitreya, Belleza Freya, Slink Hourglass, Singature Alice, and Legacy mesh feet).

The gift from the FashionNatic booth are these Uma boots, to fit Maitreya, Belleza Freya, and Legacy female feet (note: not Slink, but you can always alpha out your feet for these boots). You can tint each of four different parts of this boot separately to one of no less than fifty different colours using the HUD, to match literally any outfit! Very versatile!

Finally, from the Son!a Edge booth comes yet another stunning ballgown gift for which they have become renowned, the Athena gown in lilac, which comes in sizes to fit Maitreya (and Petite), Legacy (and Perky), Freya Perky, and Hourglass mesh bodies. You’re sure to turn some heads in this at your next fancy soirée in Second Life!

Women’s Hair

The gift from Vanity Hair is this fun, piled-high, über-teased Miss Lu updo, which comes in a fatpack of colours:

Men’s Apparel and Unisex Accessories

Etham is giving away a men’s wardrobe staple, a plain T-shirt with a 3/4-length sleeve, which includes a HUD with 8 different shades of black, red, and pink for Valentine’s Day. The shirt comes in in sizes to fit Belleza Jake, Legacy, Slink, and Signature Gianni and Geralt male bodies, and a “classic” fit if your body isn’t one of the aforementioned models.

A&D Clothing has a gift on some John Lennon-style sunglasses with round lenses, with a choice of eight different images for the reflections; these glasses are unisex and resizable.

Kungler’s Jewelry has a rather interesting gift: a set of two Valentine’s rings that can be worn together by one person, or split up, to be worn by two lovers! The rings come with a texture-change HUD, and the sign states that they are “highly editable and Bento friendly” (which means that you’ll probably need to do a bit of work to get them to fit you properly). These rings come in two sizes (regular and large) for either the right or the left hand.

Free Store Credit and Gift Cards

Once again, several stores are offering free store credit and gift cards! Among them are:

  • Addams: L$500 in free store credit (with no expiry date!)
  • Blueberry: L$400 in free store credit (expires in two weeks)
  • Bumblebee: a L$500 store gift card
  • EscalateD: L$250 in free store credit
  • Tachinni Clothing: L$500 in free store credit if you join their group (there’s a L$15 group join fee; the free credit expires February 24th, 2021), plus a gift of an embroidered denim miniskirt with an optional chain belt (sizes: Maitreya Lara; Belleza Isis and Freya; Slink Hourglass, Legacy)
  • ViSion: L$450 in free store credit if you join their group (there’s a L$18 group join fee; the free credit expires February 23rd, 2021), plus a fatpack of panties (sizes: Maitreya Lara; Belleza Isis and Freya; Slink Hourglass; Legacy; Kupra)

UPDATE Feb. 5th, 2021: Daisy Haven told me about yet another store that is offering free store credit. Go to the Mangula booth, and click the sign indicated by the green arrow below to receive L$300 in free store credit (expires February 20th, 2021):

Above the credit gift sign are two free gifts of women’s footwear, no group needed! And on the other side of the wall, there are three gifts especially for people who subscribe to the Mangula group—and it doesn’t take up one of your precious free group slots! The subscribe panel is located right at the centre of the booth, below the red Mangula logo, and it is free to subscribe (and there are many other subscriber-only gifts located at the Mangula mainstore location).

Thanks for the tip, Daisy!

Happy freebie shopping!


In these pictures, Vanity Fair is also wearing:

Photo by Laura Ockel on Unsplash

Dr. Tom Boellstorff’s Research on Virtual Cultures in Pandemic Times: You Can Take Part in a Survey About Your Use of Animal Crossing and Second Life

How are you using virtual worlds during the coronavirus pandemic?
(today’s styling credits for Vanity Fair can be found at the end of this blogpost)

Wagner James Au, of the long-running virtual worlds blog New World Notes, reports on a timely research study being undertaken by Dr. Tom Boellstorff, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine:

The study is led by my pal Tom Boellstorff of UC Irvine, who’s easily among the most preeminent academics with a focus on virtual worlds. (He’s the author of Coming of Age in Second Life, among many other related works.)

“I’ve been conducting various research projects in Second Life for almost 17 years now,” Tom tells me, explaining the genesis of this study. “A couple years ago, I completed a study of disability in Second Life, and after that wonderful research experience moved on to some other projects (I’m actually finishing up a book on the Intellivision video game system from the early 1980s, which is great fun!) But then when COVID-19 hit, I decided to return to Second Life to see how COVID-19 is reshaping online interaction. I was lucky enough to get support from the National Science Foundation that means I have three wonderful graduate research assistants. Until next April we are conducting research in both Second Life and Animal Crossing. It’s a wild ride, setting up research with very little warning, but it’s been a great experience for all of us.”

(I have written about Tom before here, here and here on my blog. You can watch Draxtor Despres’ full hour-long documentary about Dr. Tom Boellstorff’s earlier research on ability-diverse users of virtual worlds, Our Digital Selves: My Avatar is Me, on YouTube. I can recommend this film highly! Drax did a great job.)

According to the webpage describing the research project:

This research project is about how COVID-19 is reshaping online interaction. As many have noted, what we call “social distancing” is really physical distancing. Due to the pandemic, an unprecedented number of people have been socializing online, in new ways. Better understanding these new digital cultures will have consequences for COVID prevention: successful physical distancing will rely on new forms of social closeness online. It will also have consequences for everything from work and education to climate change.

We are a research team using the methods of anthropology to study online social interaction. Anthropologists use in-depth qualitative methods, in particular participant observation, interviews, and focus groups, to understand culture—the meanings, practices, and relationships that make up the “common sense” of our everyday lives. People often think of anthropologists as people who travel to “exotic” or “remote” cultures, but the methods and theories of anthropology can be used to study culture anywhere in the world. That now includes online cultures.

Our research takes place entirely online, focusing on two virtual worlds: Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Second Life. We work as a team in these two virtual worlds to understand how people are using virtual worlds in the wake of the pandemic. Central to the project is that there is not just one way to be online. Virtual worlds are places where individuals interact with avatars in online environments. They have different characteristics than social network sites like Facebook, streaming websites like YouTube, or chat programs like Zoom, though they share some features with all of these. Better understanding how people are using virtual worlds in the wake of the pandemic might provide innovative strategies for preventing viral transmission, by forging new forms of social closeness in the context of physical distancing. It might also help us better respond to the transformed social lives we are all destined to encounter in the wake of COVID-19.

Among the preliminary research findings is the following:

At least some of the time, virtual worlds can be a way to be alone, not a way to socialize. Due to the pandemic, many people are living with family members and roommates, and have less privacy than before. Virtual worlds can be places to get away from this. In other worlds, the pandemic has led not just to social distancing, but what we might term being “socially packed.” Virtual worlds can provide a different kind of “social distancing” to counter this loss of privacy.

Here’s the Animal Crossing: New Horizons survey and the Second Life survey. Each survey should take 10–15 minutes to complete. If you play Animal Crossing or use Second Life, please take part in the surveys!


Vanity Fair is wearing:


Thank you to Wagner James Au for the heads-up!