This week we build on our June 10 post about virtual worlds and focus on the well-known site, Second Life .
To better understand how Second Life can help share HIV information and provide support to those who are HIV-positive, we continued our conversation with our colleagues from the NIH-funded Health Info Island, Lori Bell and Carol Perryman. Through our own adventures in Second Life, we also learned from two HIV advocates, Felicita Gonzalez from the Bronx AIDS Services and Matt Cox, an Australian and owner of the Planet Positive Group in Second Life.
How can we use virtual worlds for our HIV/AIDS work?
Lori told us about the HIV/AIDS Information Center on Health Info Island in Second Life. This virtual building hosts HIV/AIDS support groups and provides HIV education to the general public. She noted,”consumer health information is one of the most important services we could provide. As more and more people of all ages use the Internet and spend increasing amounts of time online, we want to reach users where they are.”
Last December 1st, Health Info Island held the first virtual World AIDS Day with an online Health Fair offering trainings and support groups with participants whose”real life” locations were all over the world. Carol noted,”The HIV/AIDS Groups (comprised of HIV-positive individuals from all over the world) chose to meet with a nutritionist in Second Life to discuss nutrition and HIV. Members of the Group host social and educational events such as dances, displays, and seminars.”
AIDS.gov adventures in Second Life
Our New Media Strategist, Michelle Samplin-Salgado, volunteered to give Second Life a try, and created her own avatar,”Ellehcim Fizzle.” Michelle met Carol (“Carolina Keats” as she”s known in Second Life) from Health Info Island.”Carol gave me a walking tour of the Health Consumer Library. I saw the potential to gather HIV-related information, learn, and share with others in Second Life.”
On another trip to the AIDS Memorial Garden, Michelle met Felicita (“Lizzetta Zenovka” in Second Life) and Matt (his Second Life name is”HarleyMC Homewood”).
Matt and Felicita gave Michelle a tour of the Second Life HIV Support Network Headquarters . Created by Ethan Kristopher-Hartley (his Second Life name is”Ethan LeSabre”), from the UK, this is a place where groups providing HIV related services can be utilized to hold meeting and/or events, and provide members of Second Life one location to find out about the different group services available that provide HIV related services. There she explored rooms created by Broadway Cares , the Illinois Department of Public Health project, Basuah , and a support group in the UK . Matt is starting a room for his group Planet Positive, a group for HIV+ members and their families.”Second Life is superb at linking people from different countries,” he said.
Felicita and Matt discussed the role Second Life Plays in HIV prevention and support. Felicita said,”People can learn about HIV in the privacy of their own home without fear of being embarrassed to overcome the stigma attached to HIV.” Matt added,”…Second Life is user-generated. Even people who feel traumatized or powerless can do things in Second Life, like build links with other people, raise awareness, and raise funds.” He used chat rooms over many years to support other HIV-positive people.”Now I use this forum,” he says.”This is my way of just being there and “out there” for others who are infected.”
Have you spent time in Second Life? What did you find related to HIV/AIDS? In this peer-to-peer community we are just beginning to understand how they can be applied to our work. We look forward to hearing from you and getting your feedback.
Join us next week for our blog post about…blogs! We”ll be celebrating this blog”s six month anniversary.