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How Virtual Worlds Technologies Benefit The Real World


Source: Hopecam

Source: Hopecam

Let’s play word association.  “Webcam” – for me, the association is about keeping in touch with family or perhaps collaborating with colleagues and partners on business topics.  “Virtual Worlds” – my association here is 3D, fantasy, escapism and gaming.  While those associations will likely remain that way for quite some time, there have been numerous uses of virtual worlds technologies that go beyond the “neat and fun”.  It’s not an overstatement to say that they are helping humanity.

Take, for instance,  Hopecam, whose motto is “Connecting Homebound Children to LIFE”.  Founded in 2003, this Virginia-based non-profit connects children (undergoing treatment for cancer) with their friends at school with nothing more than a laptop, webcam and high speed Internet connection.  Hopecam has brought this “connection” to over 75 homebound children.  Their web site has an “Our Kids” section that profiles some of these children – and on this page, you can make an online donation to the organization.

Note: I did an earlier interview with a similar, Ireland-based non-profit, Vizitant.

The Washington Post published an article titled “Webcams Allow Students to Stay Connected“, which profiles 7-year-old Becky Wilson, who’s able to virtually attend class at Jamestown Elementary School in Arlington County via a webcam.  Becky, who was diagnosed with leukemia, is a full participant in classroom activities, according to her teacher, Lainie Ortiz:

The webcam has exceeded Ortiz’s expectations as an academic tool. When Becky tunes in for class and has a question, she raises her hand and Ortiz calls on her. During story time, Ortiz will bring the book she’s reading up to the computer, so Becky can see the pictures, too.

At the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, researchers are leveraging a grant from the US Department of Education to “develop an intervention program in Second Life® that focuses on self-esteem, a critical element in health and wellness.”  For women with disabilities, virtual world technologies mean that access to rehabilitation services require nothing more than a computer, an Internet connection and a virtual world application:

“Second Life® allows women with disabilities to experience virtual life as an able bodied person,” said Dr. Margaret Nosek, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at BCM. “They can be who they want to be in the virtual world rather than living by the standards set by others,” said Nosek.

“Second Life® allows them to interact with other women while learning and practicing new self-esteem building skills in the virtual world,” she said.

The program will be available in late 2009 – the Baylor College of Medicine published a news article about this virtual intervention program.

Finally, a BBC News article titled “What it’s like to have schizophrenia” tells the fascinating story of Dr. Peter Yellowlees, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Davis, who is leveraging Second Life to take you inside the mind of someone afflicted with schizophrenia.  Currently on a password-protected island, the purpose of this initiative is to educate people on the condition – there are clear benefits to understanding what it’s like to be afflicted schizophrenia:

“We welcome anything that proposes better understanding.”

“It broadens people’s experiences and narrows the gap between ‘us and them’.”

UPDATE: I published an interview with Professor Yellowlees regarding his use of Second Life.

The next time I login to Skype or Second Life, I’ll be thinking about the wonderful applications of these technologies and how they’re able to deeply improve the human condition.

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5 Responses to How Virtual Worlds Technologies Benefit The Real World

  1. Thanks indeed for commenting on the virtual psychosis environment I have set up in Second Life. The original BBC article neglected to say that we have also set up a demonstration of this environment in Second Life that is not on a private island. It is regularly toured by visitors and is one of the most popular educational sites in Second Life, and can be found by simply putting the word “hallucinations” into the SL place search engine. We have had a huge amount of interest in this site, and many thousands of visitors, so much so that I put a short video clip of the psychotic experience on youtube using my avatar’s name – Nash Baldwin. So if you put Nash Baldwin and hallucinations into the youtube search engine you will find it, along with several other movies of the site made by other people. I have also written quite a lot about this project in my recently published book “your health in the information age” which is available at amazon or from my website – http://www.informationagehealth.com These virtual worlds are really exciting and I believe have tremendous potential as both educational and role playing training environments, and it is great to see you reviewing them. thanks indeed

  2. Dennis Shiao says:

    Thanks for the update and clarification, Peter. I’ll continue to track and follow your work – quite a fascinating (and beneficial) use of virtual worlds technology.

  3. […] people on schizophrenia.  I referenced Professor Yellowlees in an earlier blog posting about virtual worlds technologies that benefit the real world.  I contacted Peter to get some more information about his research and his thoughts on virtual […]

  4. Len Forkas says:

    Excellent observation on the value of the virtual relationships that are created using the webcam technology.

    Here is a clip of Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell visiting a “hopecam” child with cancer name Seejay. During the visit, they connected with his classmates and demonstrated the power of the virtual world that hopecam helps to create

    http://www.nbcwashington.com/sports/football/Campbell_Visits_8-Year-Old_Leukemia_Patient_for_a_Little_Football__Golf_Washington_DC.html

    My son Matt was the first child to make this connection in our area in 2002 when he was under treatment for leukemia.
    thanks for highlighting the value of this idea.
    Len Forkas
    Hopecam Founder

  5. Dennis Shiao says:

    Len – thanks for sharing the video. I found the human connection in the video touching – and then when I take a step back and consider that this is enabled by technology, it brings more meaning to the work we do with technology.

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