By Casey Lynn
Contributing Writer, [GAS]
According to The Economist, the virtual world Second Life might be a new way to help those with learning disabilities understand (and therefore provide informed consent for) medical procedures and treatment options. A model of the Royal Sussex County Hospital is being built, where the avatars of study participants will, for example, have their virtual blood virtually taken after virtually lying down in a virtual bed and virtually waiting in a virtual waiting room; I can’t help but wonder if there will be virtual five-year-old copies of Newsweek. In any case, this is all with the goal of a real researcher asking real questions of the real participant in order to determine whether their avatar’s trip to the hospital gave them a better understanding of what’s going to happen in the real world.
This is just one of many research projects going on in Second Life about the possible beneficial applications of virtual worlds. This kind of research could be valuable even if it’s in the very preliminary stages. Though I feel like at this point Second Life is becoming more of a research tool than anything else (the amount of new people joining the world has been dropping steadily for some time). Most people I know who are still on Second Life are either: (A) researchers, (B) entrepreneurs (and I can’t imagine the real estate market there is what it was a few years ago either), or (C) looking for virtual sex (possibly with furries or in Gor). Which… come to think of it, sounds kind of like the early days of the Internet. And look what that’s done for our hospital visits! (See: Cyberchondria)