Virtual Worlds Create Access and Connection

By Ali O’Shaughnessy

It’s easy to associate virtual worlds with escapism. I probably make that connection because of my own experience. When I was going through a rough time in middle school, I may or may not have been slightly addicted to The Sims. It gave me a feeling of power and control that I didn’t have in my real life. Hearing Donna Davis, Assistant Professor at SOJC, speak this week opened my eyes to the access and connection virtual worlds can provide to those with disabilities.

Donna Davis along with her partner Tom Boellstorff are currently undergoing a research project called “Virtual Worlds, Disability, and New Cultures of the Embodied Self.” The goal of this research is to explore “the experiences of people with disabilities in virtual world” and “what their creative uses of and adaptions to online social interaction can teach us.” Part of this research study is creating a virtual world through Second Life, a platform where users can create environments and avatars and connect with others around the world. Professor Davis took us on a tour of “Ethnographia Island” where the researchers can gather and share ideas. Watch a virtual tour of the island below.

My favorite part of the lecture was when Davis shared stories about Second Life users that credit the platform with connecting them to a world that is otherwise shut off to them. She told a story about a person that posted their gratitude for the virtual world because they couldn’t leave their house. Someone else commented on that post saying they can’t leave their room. Another said they couldn’t leave their bed. Without this technology, they might be deprived of social interaction. Now, they can walk and even fly around and chat with people in similar situations from around the world. As technology gets better and better and augmented reality becomes more advanced, the access for people with disabilities will only grow.

Technology has so much potential to both foster connection and alienate us. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “technology is distracting us from our real world relationships,” but what if your real world relationships are fostered in a virtual world? What if you have severe social anxiety and the only connections you make are online? What if you are bed ridden and without Second Life, you would be restricted to those that visit you in your home? While considering the implications of these online platforms, we also must examine the positive influences they have on people that crave access to these communities.

I’m going to admit, before I heard Professor Davis speak, I had misconceptions about virtual platforms like Second Life. I thought they discouraged real-life connections and pushed people farther apart. After hearing the stories about the lives that were positively affected by this technology, I’m thrilled it exists to serve those communities and excited to see how it can help those in need in the future. .

To read more from Ali O’Shaughnessy, see her blog at causechangecomms.com.

This Article Has 9 Comments
  1. Aaron De Ocampo says:

    Ali. Thanks for the post! Very well written and it was good to see a video incorporated into the post

  2. Hayden Skoch says:

    Thanks for the post, Ali! I loved your comparison to the Sims. Definitely had a slight addiction myself. I agree that professor Davis’s perspective sheds a new light on the positive benefits of virtual reality and how it can help people with disabilities experience more.

  3. Hayden Skoch says:

    Thanks for the post, Ali! I loved your comparison to the Sims. Definitely had a slight addiction myself. I agree that professor Davis’s perspective sheds a new light on the positive benefits of virtual reality and how it can help people with disabilities experience more.

  4. Great post! I love how you incorporated Sims (the best game). When I was growing up, I had accounts for multiple virtual worlds. Whether it was Sims, ToonTown Disney or Club Penguin, I was always connecting with people through these virtual worlds. I think it’s important to remember that virtual relationships are relationships too!

  5. Morgan says:

    Ali, such a great post and look back on a topic that is often not discussed. The way Prof. Davis uses and navigates her Second Life account is one that I think all of us are unfamiliar with. The building of relationships here is so different than that of what we see in Sims or something like that because of how niche the audience is and how it is implemented, as really an extension or adaptation of real life, as opposed to a game. I definitely had some misconceptions too, as my only other experience with Second Life was Dwight mentioning it in The Office.

  6. Claudia Davis says:

    I also did my blog post on Donna Davis’s presentation to the class. It is awesome knowing that virtual reality is more than just a game for some. Virtual reality is so beneficial to those who cannot have a normal social interaction with people in the real world. I definitely agree that as technology becomes more advanced, the access to more social interaction for disabled persons will only get better. Online gaming really does benefit the medical field which is crazy to think about.

  7. Keeley O'Dougherty says:

    I had a very similar experience as you with Sims in middle school which made me think about how many other teens used it as a coping mechanism during tough times. We all wrote it off as just a fun game where you could make your own little world but I think it was doing a lot more for us than we gave it credit for. Thanks for the awesome post!

  8. Taylin Minnaert says:

    Great post, Alli! I’m glad you shared your own precautions about Second Life because I had the same ones. As you said, it’s easy to make assumptions about something as (still relatively) foreign as augmented reality. However, I enjoyed reading about how your opinions on the matter changed after Donna’s lecture. I completely agree, it’s exciting to imagine the possibilities Second Life will create for the disabled community. Thanks for your insight!

  9. Kelly Thackery says:

    The presentation Donna did was one of my favorites because, as obvious as it would seem, I never even thought about the major role VR could play in a disabled persons life. It was extremely fascinating to hear about all the stories of creation coming from these people it really opened my eyes to that aspect of virtual reality tech where before I just saw it as entertainment only. Great article.

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