Applications and Tools, Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Virtual Worlds and the Military Amputee

Providing peer-to-peer support for the military amputee through virtual world technology is one of those natural “of course” things where the use and the tech matches nearly perfectly. While I’ve written about this before, our project in partnership with Virtual Ability Inc. continues to be both a powerful demonstration of how virtual worlds like Second Life can provide support environments (whether for the military amputee, patient groups, or around specific interest areas) and a source of insight beyond the technology.

The Amputee Virtual Environment Support System (AVESS) was the subject of a brief talk I gave earlier this week on Virtual World Keynote (see the video after the jump). Caleb Booker also gave a nice write-up of the talk as well. While it was a cursory overview, for those of us IN the virtual world industry there are a few take-away points I thought I’d expand upon.

Collaboration and Open Research
Our work with the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center is blessed, in part, because of their belief in sharing the results of the research and opening the doors to collaboration.

AVESS will be a platform that combines a virtual environment built on Second Life Enterprise (SLE) with accompanying Web-side and social media functionality. But just as important, it will be home to a community and as such the mechanics of how it’s being built and the operating governance models are in full consideration that there are existing peer support groups, technologies and associations who might have a future role to play in providing services, information and support.

The take-away from this approach is now part of our standard operating philosophy: while we understand the need to be circumspect about corporate data, we think it does a disservice to both our clients and the industry in general to not advocate for as wide a sharing of data and case studies as possible.

User-Generated Culture
Through this project, I was again reminded how powerful Second Life and SLE can be because of the ability to ‘rez a prim’. Allowing users to generate content is, I believe, THE defining feature of Second Life.

This became clear as we sorted out what AVESS should “be” – what the environment should look like and contain. What became clear, as is the case with most user communities, is that the people who know best are the users themselves. Translating the culture from which a military amputee comes to a virtual environment can be done, but providing that culture the ability to shape the environment and their activities within it is a far more powerful proposition.

And it became clear through our research that as much as people talk about learning curves and the difficulty adapting to a virtual environment these concerns are usually overblown. People may FEAR the learning curve and be worried about whether they’ll figure it out – but in practice it usually turns out to be a completely different experience. The person who says “I’m a technical neophyte” typically finds they adapt quickly.

This extended to the ability to build and create. We were surprised to find members of the client project team rezzing prims on a sky platform we created for them.

Future Research
As we roll out the findings from the initial phases, we’ll be doing a research/trial to evaluate the efficacy of the virtual environment. This, in addition to the protocols, code and insights we’ve gained as we provide support to the military amputee will, we hope, advance a broader understanding of how virtual worlds can be sites for peer-to-peer support, health information and community.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.