Interview: Andrew Campbell – Director of Prometheus Research Team, University of Sydney

(Published earlier today on Metaverse Health)

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the opportunity to chat with Andrew Campbell on a couple of occasions. As Director of the Prometheus Research Team, Andrew is heavily involved in the area of mental health and technology. I’ve always been struck by Andrew’s objective view of gaming and virtual worlds, which he rightly sees as simultaneously providing significant opportunities and challenges.

I caught up with Andrew to discuss his work and perspectives on mental health, gaming and immersive virtual worlds.

DH: Can you describe the main focus of your clinical work?

AC: The main focus of my clinical work is divided into two categories. Firstly, research. My primary job is an academic researcher and teacher in the field of Psychology. I conduct research particularly in the area of Cyberpsychology, which is the study of how technology is impacting human behaviour, both in good and bad ways. Secondly, I am a general practice psychologist who specialises in child and adolescent mental health and behavioural problems. My clinical work to date has been focused on treating children with ADD/ADHD, anxiety and depression, conduct problems, as well as parental counselling and family therapy.

DH: What led your career to the stage it is at today – what got you into the issue of mental health and technology?

AC: In 1997 I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Psychology and Education at The University of Sydney and decided to spend some time in the United States working as a teaching assistant at a few universities. I became captivated with work being done by a handful of academic psychologists in the US at the time who were focusing on how the internet was going to be a revolution to impact human behaviour and society at large.

I read everything I could get my hands on at the time to do with online relationships, virtual societies and even gaming communities that were developing international reputations and new cultures in cyberspace. I asked myself at the time ‘could this be the start of a new movement in human enrichment?’ and set forth to find out the good and the bad (and the down-right terrible) aspects of spending a lot of time engrossed in an online world, be it chat, gaming, shopping, finance, politics etc. Thus, my interests turned toward career aspirations to develop psychological research and an applied track record in the use of information communication technology and the use of other technologies in helping the ‘human condition’.

DH: Arguably the number one and two areas of broader public interest with mental health and technology is gaming and violence and addiction. What percentage of your work is spent dealing with actual or perceived issues in those areas?

AC: To date, my clinical work as a generalist psychologist in child and adolescent mental health has only touched lightly on these issues. I have mainly dealt with traditional mental health concerns of parents over their children, but of those clients I have seen about gaming violence and addiction, I’ve noted that the parents themselves do not know anything about the games their children are playing. They tend to have a view that all games are violent or addictive. Given this, I normally direct parents to learn more about what their kids enjoy about their game in order to learn more about behaviours they may be modeling from the game. For example, two of my client’s parents had no idea that strategic games such as ‘Age of Empires’ actually have huge cognitive and historic learning benefits. The game is akin to modern day chess, with historical lessons of ages past. Other games that promote team play
increase problem solving skills in a collaborative environment, therefore promoting team work and clear communication strategies.

Adversely, some team playing games are based on a violent theme, such as the popular game ‘Counter Strike‘. Overall, through my work I’ve found that parents do have concerns about violence and addiction to games, but really do not have an understanding of games themselves. This is troubling in an age where gaming is increasing in popularity across generations and content is still not regulated well by Government or other ‘watchdog’ agencies. As such, parents need to be cognisant of the types of games out there – their pluses and minus points – and be involved in selecting and learning about the titles with their children in order to curtail negative behaviours related to certain genres.

DH: The issue of technology and its influence on behaviour has been around for decades, with the TV / Film and violence link being hotly debated for most of that time. Before we get onto gaming / virtual worlds, is there yet any empirical agreement on TV/Film and violent behaviour?

AC: As surprising as this may sound, no, there is not any empirical agreement on TV/Film and violent behaviour in contemporary society. Incidents such as the Columbine School Massacre and more recently, the Virginia Tech shooting have led psychologists to argue for renewed policies censuring violent films and TV shows from minors and suggestible personality types. Although games are becoming a popular target for connecting atrocious violent crimes to the perpetrator, TV and Film are still front runners in the causation of violent behaviour in, not just the younger population, but the population in general.

DH: The popular media perception of gaming is that there is at least an anecdotal link between the regular playing of violent games and violent real-life behaviour. From your work, have you seen any evidence of this?

AC: Unequivocally, no! To say that violent games or even violent TV/Film is causation for a violent crime is ludicrous. I won’t go so far to say that violent games, TV or Film have zero impact on violent crimes, but to look at it as a sole causation does not address the pathology of the individual to begin with, let alone motive to carry out the behaviour that may lead to a crime. Ergo, playing a violent game is no more likely to trigger someone’s violent behaviour than eating your favourite food is going to motivate you to become a chef! In my private practice, any child who has presented with conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder, or even anger management problems, may or may not have been a gamer – however – all have had pathology and environmental problems that
have led to their disorder that are more consistent and pervasive than just playing a violent video game a few hours a day.

DH: Is there actually an argument that gaming can have an ameliorating effect on real-world behaviour and if so, is there research supporting this?

AC: Yes, a number of studies have shown wonderful results helping people to ameliorate either behaviour or, in some cases, the management of pain. My own research has looked at how biofeedback video games that encourage the player to control a task on a screen using their breathing technique, has led to improved attention and relaxation strategies in ADD/ADHD children. Other research has shown that virtual reality games that are immersive can actually help in the treatment of PTSD. One of the best breakthroughs in serious games has been the treatment of burn victims from the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars. These patients have to undertake pain dressing changes and skin grafts. During these procedures, the patient plays a game called ‘Snow world’ which immerses them in an environment that triggers their subconscious into believing they are in a cool and calm environment that distracts them from the pain of the treatment they are receiving. The research in all these examples is very new, but compelling. It is beginning to influence the game developers in entertainment to consider the market for ‘serious games’. This has already commenced with popular programs such as the Nintendo Wii releasing Wii fit and associated sports programs to tackle obesity.

DH: In regards to addiction and online gaming or virtual world environments, what’s your overall take?

AC: My overall take on addiction is that it is possible in either the virtual world or gaming environments online. What needs to be clarified is what aspects of these activities and functions are ‘addictive’. To say we are addicted to the Internet is like saying we are addicted to shopping – what items are we addicted to? The internet houses many areas of interest. It is obvious to posit that sex addiction offline could also be met online, as could be gambling. But gaming offline vs gaming online has different stimulus effects I would theorise.

Also, virtual worlds – what do we gain in socialising in these worlds that we don’t in our offline world? Is there such a thing as addiction to socialising?! Most likely not, because socialising is part of being human. Therefore, what is the attraction to these worlds that stimulates us highly enough to spend hours online engaging with strangers vs. meeting strangers in the offline world? The answer probably lies somewhere between the functions of pursuing anonymity, creativity, cerebral connections and/or reducing the chance of being socially awkward – all reasons one person may prefer the online world.

DH: If addiction is only quantifiable in a small component of the population, is that component larger or smaller than other behaviours such as substance use, gambling etc?

AC: I think if we look at gaming addiction in comparison to substance use, for example, we can quickly conclude that substance abuse is both physically and psychologically damaging and perhaps more wide spread globally across ages, genders and cultures. But the damage of gaming addiction is growing in certain cultures, such as in Asia where gaming is an accepted pasttime for all ages and genders and thus could be on the rise without society realising it since it is not an illegal behaviour or even an invasive or obviously destructive past time compared to drug taking.

prometheus However, it is psychologically damaging both in psychosocial relationships, employment responsibility and accountability and can even affect our general health to a large degree. You might therefore say that although substance abuse and gambling are faster and
harder-hitting addictions, gaming addiction is fast becoming a contemporary societal problem that is slow to build in destructiveness,
but easier to ignore.

DH: For those who do require actual treatment for addiction, what’s your take on the use of online treatment when the issue is related to online behaviour i.e. addressing the traditional view that you can’t use the mechanism for facilitating addiction to treat the addiction itself.

AC: One of the earliest therapies provided online by Psychologist, Dr Kimberly Young, was treatment for online addiction. She began this service, online, in the early 1990’s. Although it has been a growth industry for Dr Young and others who believe in her treatment modality, I personally find it to be flawed therapy and lacking in best-practice evidence. Addiction, be it to specific functions of the internet, gaming, substance abuse, gambling etc, is an extremely difficult pathology to treat, let alone treat well. Therefore, all scientific practice indicates that addiction therapy should be done in a face-to-face or group counselling environment. It requires ongoing resource support utilising mentors, friends and family. It is something that may (but only in very specifically suitable cases) use the internet as a support tool, but in all other regards addiction, especially to internet functions and gaming, should be done away from the primary stimulus.

DH: With growing immersiveness in gaming and in virtual worlds more broadly, what do you see as the mental health challenges and opportunities?

AC: Research right now is looking out how we can harness immersive environments, be they virtual worlds or games, for tackling problems in health, behaviour and education. The challenges we face at the moment are actually not to do with the quality of the environments being delivered to consumers over the internet or through off-the-shelf games, but more through the cost of developing serious games or health purpose virtual worlds by the commercial sector. In addition, we are facing a health professional vs tech industry challenge in trying to have these two expert bodies effectively harness the ideas that are scientifically based delivery of health interventions. In short – the health professionals need to learn more about the tech industry and vice versa. Once this bridge is finally built, I believe we will be entering a new error of technology consumerism – games for wellbeing and ICT for personal health management.

Interview – Prof. Young Choi and Dr. Thomas Furness, HIT Lab Australia

hit_lab3 In 2008, with not a lot of fanfare, the Human Interface Technology Laboratory Australia (HIT Lab) was created. Part of the University of Tasmania (UTAS), its brief is to be a specialist human interface technology teaching and research centre.

Headed in an interim capacity by Professor Young Ju Choi with significant involvement by veteran virtual reality researcher Tom Furness, HIT Lab has an ambitious brief that could position it as one of Australia’s virtual reality engine rooms. I took the opportunity to catch up with Prof. Young Choi and Dr Furness, who compiled the answers collaboratively, to discuss what’s likely to be a hectic future.

TMJ: Can you give a potted history of how HIT Lab got its Australian iteration?

HIT Lab: Attracting Australia’s first HIT Lab to UTAS Launceston was a case of serendipitous alignment of vision and aspiration with a visit to Tasmania in 2006 by Tom Furness – as a keynote speaker at an international conference in Hobart, organised by Professor Young Choi. By way of background, HIT Lab US at the University of Washington was established by Tom in 1989 followed by HIT Lab NZ in 2002 at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

In recent years UTAS has been considering strategic directions and initiatives for the Launceston campus. As part of this exercise Professor Choi was investigating opportunities for cutting-edge, world-class technology for a potential world-leadership, niche technology development. The current UTAS Vice-Chancellor, Professor Daryl Le Grew, was previously VC at the University of Canterbury when HIT Lab NZ was established. He encouraged Professor Choi to have a conversation with Professor Furness during the 2006 conference, and the HIT Lab Australia initiative developed from there.

TMJ: Structurally, how closely do each of the HIT Labs liaise?

HIT Lab: HIT Lab Australia and UTAS (and HIT Lab NZ and University of Canterbury) each have a formal Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the University of Washington and HIT Lab US, which establishes, among other things, a framework for collaboration and cooperation in research, teaching and other endeavours.

The Australian and NZ HIT Lab’s are also establishing an MOA to formalise and strengthen their relationship. Professors Furness and Mark Billinghurst (Director of HIT Lab NZ) are also Adjunct Professors of HIT Lab Australia and have contributed to a number of activities including curriculum development and teaching.

TMJ: A key aspect of the research and learning components at HIT Lab is collaboration across many disciplines, from Architecture to Nursing. How do you envisage this will be managed and do you have buy-in from each of the faculties at present?

HIT Lab: From the outset HIT Lab Australia was established as a trans-disciplinary strategic development of UTAS. The location at the Launceston campus was determined on the basis of plans to develop collaboration in teaching and research across many of the Launceston campus academic schools including Architecture and Design, Nursing and Midwifery, the Australian Maritime College, Visual and Performing Arts, Education and the School of Computing and Information Systems.

HIT Lab Australia has an academic planning and development group to identify and plan cross-disciplinary developments in teaching, research and commercial projects. The group includes the heads of a number of academic schools mentioned above.

A pleasing development for the HIT Lab Australia has been the interest shown in undergraduate HIT units in the summer school and first semesters by students from a range of schools. The units have attracted student enrolments from many schools/courses including Architecture and Design, Contemporary Arts, Arts/Social Science, Education, and Business as well as Computing and Information Systems.

TMJ: What are the key research priorities for HIT Lab in the short and medium term?

HIT Lab: An announcement will be made shortly on the inaugural appointment of Director of the HIT Lab Australia. The Director will commence duties later in the year and will be instrumental in establishing research directions, strategy and priorities. Having said that elements of the research strategy will include:

• a focus on creative design, visualisation, simulation and interactive entertainment

• application of cutting-edge visualisation, immersive virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies to underpin collaborative training & education, research & development programs and commercial development by linking key disciplines and centres in the Launceston Campus

• building international collaboration in research through our partnership with the world-renowned HIT Lab US, University of Washington and the HIT Lab NZ, University of Canterbury, as well as in China, Korea and elsewhere

• research and commercial projects that will help to fulfil the objectives for HIT Lab Australia to develop as an economic engine for Tasmania and Australia

TMJ: Are there significant human interface milestones that excite you in the short and medium term?

HIT Lab: The key driver behind the research agenda of the HIT Lab Australia will be the solution of challenging problems that confront the nation and the world. We just don’t want to work on technology because we can – we want to solve real problems. To this end we will start in Tasmania and Australia then branch out to the world, especially the third world. As for short term milestones, we definitely want to develop new and more efficient ways of generating 3D content for education, training, medicine and entertainment applications. This plays well with the interdisciplinary partners in the venture. In the longer term we would like to spin off several companies that build and market interface appliances that solve the problems above.

TMJ: What are your thoughts on human interface products already commercialised?

HIT Lab: We are just at the beginning of a new era of developing interfaces that deeply couple humans to machine – in an attempt to amplify or augment human capability. New products will follow this theme of looking at the deeper physiological and emotional aspects of design interfaces. In the end, we want to build the ‘Nextant’, or the next sextant, that lets us use our mind for navigating in virtual spaces much like the sextant allowed early navigators to use their eyes and the stars to navigate in physical space.

TMJ: What do you see as the key measures of success for a good human interface for virtual worlds?

HIT Lab: In general, good interfaces should be seamless and transparent. That is, they shouldn’t get in the way. Interfaces and the tools that they link to humans are only a means to an end. It is the end, or application, that is most important – what is it supposed to do, versus what is it! The ideal interface would be one that is so intuitive, that the user doesn’t have to learn anything new to operate it, while at the same time performing tasks that were impossible before, or at least with more efficiency than before.

TMJ: Aside from the neurological / physiological aspects of such interfaces, what do you believe are the key psychological and/or sociological challenges of developing human interfaces with virtual worlds?

HIT Lab: Clearly the greatest challenge is understanding consciousness and how that maps to brain function. There is also a lot going on subconsciously where processing takes place in the background before being brought to the surface. Ideally we would build advanced interfaces that serve both levels, e.g. subliminal interfaces.

TMJ: Using nursing as an example, how do you see HIT Lab’s work making an impact in the next five years?

HIT Lab: One of the key issues in nursing is the time and quality of training it takes to produce a well-qualified nurse. As in other clinical practices, the key factor is practice, and opportunities for practicing on real patients is limited. Virtual humans can take the place of real humans in training and thereby provide a more rich, diverse and intensive training experience for nurses. We want to work with the School of Nursing to develop a suite of training devices that can not only be used for task training but also provide visualisation of processes normally not seen, e.g. how contamination spreads by viewing virtual bacteria or how a drug or injection infuses the body, etc.

TMJ: Immersiveness is something heavily sought after in virtual worlds – is that a key goal of HIT Lab’s work or a secondary objective?

HIT Lab: Presence or the sense of ‘being there’ is clearly one of the more powerful attributes of immersive virtual reality. The feeling of being in a place provides vital hooks to memory, or the ability to retain things that are experienced. In general, a person immersed in a virtual world never forgets it. So in answer to the question, yes, this is a key goal. But the key goal is solving real world problems, even if immersion is not necessary.

TMJ: What are HIT Lab’s markers of success – are there objectives required to be met for ongoing funding etc?

HIT Lab: HIT Lab Australia has been established as a strategic initiative of the University of Tasmania with seed funding to establish the staffing profile, teaching and research staff profile, curriculum development and research program. A condition of this funding has been the development of a business plan which was approved by UTAS earlier this year.

The business plan covers the first five years of operation and establishes a number of key targets and milestones including undergraduate, postgraduate and research higher degree enrolments for domestic and international students. There are also targets for course development, research and commercial project outcomes and so on. Progress towards objectives will be monitored progressively.

HIT Lab Australia has the strong support from the UTAS Vice-Chancellor and Senior Executive as well as from senior academics from a number of allied schools and faculties. Interest from enrolled students, prospective students, colleges and schools, business and industry has been tremendously encouraging and point to long term success of this exciting initiative for UTAS and its Launceston campus.

TMJ: How do you view the virtual worlds sphere locally – are there any developments outside of HIT Lab that interest/excite you?

HIT Lab: The Launceston Campus of UTAS is a great place to begin the HIT Lab since it has not only the Nursing School and Australian Maritime College but also the design element in Architecture and Visual and Performing arts to name a few. The confluence of these disciplines and activities can be enriched by the catalyst and technologies provided by the HIT Lab AU. In the end, we would hope to involve existing local companies as well as develop new start-ups that we spinoff from the HIT Lab and UTAS. Within Australasia, the USA and Europe there are a number of links (beyond the HIT Labs) that we would like to establish involving projects and student exchanges etc.

TMJ: How important is some form of agreement on virtual world interoperability to HIT Lab’s work?

HIT Lab: There will be a time when standards for interface appliances supporting virtual worlds will need to be developed -but not too soon, as these will tend to restrict or constrain the progress of this remarkable technology. This is true especially as new functionality is developed along with growth in supporting technology. For example, we don’t want to be constrained by 8 bit byte standard when in the longer term we will need 128 bits per byte or more to grow the technology. Although standardisation can help interoperability, it can limit the vitality of a technology. Instead of standards, what would be useful is guidelines to give investigators and developers a feeling for best practices and what needs to be considered in the design and human factors engineering of virtual interfaces. Such a foundational understanding would then grow as the science and technology grow. The HIT Lab Australia, along with sister labs in the US and NZ will be the world’s repository for these best practices and guidelines.


A big thanks to Chris Carstens for his help in coordinating the interview responses. Below you can find more detailed biographies:

Professor Young Ju Choi

ychoi2Born in Kwangju, Korea, and Australian by naturalisation, Professor Young Choi was educated at the Australian National University and the University of Adelaide.

Professor Choi has worked as a Computer Science academic in Australian higher education since his initial appointment at the University of Adelaide. Before coming to Tasmania he was Head of Computer Science and Deputy Dean, Faculty of Mathematical Sciences at Flinders University, Adelaide.

He was subsequently appointed as the Foundation Head of School of Computing at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) and served in this role for nearly twenty years. He has published widely in areas including concurrent and distributed computing, multimedia and internet technologies, and eLearning technologies.

He is recognised internationally for his work in international education, especially in China and Korea, including Chair of the Academic Advisory Committee; International Education Network, China; Asia Pacific Digital Multimedia Education Network member; and the ACHEM Computing Curriculum Board, Malaysia.

Professor Choi is currently Interim Director of the Human Interface Technology (HIT) Lab Australia at the University of Tasmania which is linked to the world-renowned HIT Lab US at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA.

Dr. Thomas Furness

furness Prof. Furness is a pioneer in human interface technology and virtual reality. He received the BS degree in Electrical Engineering from Duke University and the Ph.D. in Engineering and Applied Science from the University of Southampton, England. Dr. Furness is currently a professor of Industrial Engineering with adjunct professorships in Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. He is the founder of the Human Interface Technology Laboratory (HIT Lab) at UW and founder and international director of the HIT Lab NZ at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, NZ and the HIT Lab Australia at the University of Tasmania, Launceston, Tasmania. He is also an Erskine Fellow and Adjunct Professor at the University of Canterbury and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania.

Prior to joining the faculty at the University, Prof. Furness served a combined 23 years as an U.S. Air Force officer and civilian at the Armstrong Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he developed advanced cockpits and virtual interfaces for the Department of Defense. He is the author of the Super Cockpit program and served as the Chief of Visual Display Systems and Super Cockpit Director until he joined the University of Washington in 1989.

Dr. Furness lectures widely and has appeared in many national and international network and syndicated television science and technology documentaries and news programs. He is the inventor of the personal eyewear display, the virtual retinal display, the HALO display and holds 15 patents in advanced sensor, display and interface technologies. With his colleagues Dr. Furness has started 24 companies, two of which are traded on NASDAQ at a market capitalization of > $ 2 B. In 1998 he received the Discover Award for his invention of the virtual retinal display.

Interview – DeeAnna Nagel and Kate Anthony, Online Therapy Institute

DeeAnna Nagel and Kate Anthony are psychotherapists and founders of the Online Therapy Institute. The pair have only recently expanded their work to Second Life, but they have extensive experience in working with people therapeutically online. The pair now have a presence on Jokaydia in Second Life. I caught up with them to talk online counselling / therapy.

Lowell: Can you give a brief outline of your professional experience /qualifications pre-Second Life / online therapy?

deanna_inworld DeeAnna: I have a Master of Education in Rehabilitation Counseling and a Bachelor of Science in Mental Health and Human Services. I have worked in the mental health field for nearly 20 years. About 10 years ago I discovered the power of the Internet and began providing online chat and email through a couple of e-clinics. Over the years I have always maintained a part-time practice online and have integrated technology in work settings working with interns, employees and clinical supervisees. I have been training therapists since 2001 about the ethical issues pertaining to technology and mental health. Now 100% of my work life is devoted to either providing online therapy or teaching others about online therapy.

Kate Anthony: I have a Master of Science in Therapeutic Counselling and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and am halfway through a PhD on the topic of Technology and Mental Health. At around the same time as I discovered how powerful relationships over the Internet can be and based my MSc thesis on that. From that, I co-authored the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) Guidelines for Online work (including Supervision) through its 3 editions. I have trained mental health professionals to work online since 2002, have published widely including textbooks, and was recently made a Fellow of BACP for my work and DA and I are both past-Presidents of the International Society for Mental Health Online (ISMHO).

Lowell Cremorne: What was the event that led to you realising the potential of virtual worlds for counselling interventions

DeeAnna Nagel: There was no single event for me; just a realisation that virtual world settings offer another level of sensory experience that could enhance the therapeutic process.

kate_inworldKate Anthony: I realised this in 2001 after speaking at a conference about Telephone Helplines. The Keynote speaker was head of BTExact Technologies, and he referred to the future of virtual worlds, and avatars specifically, being part of the future of health care. Most of the audience was laughing at the concept -– I wasn’t. I went on to work with him and his team to explore the concept and write a white paper on the topic (Anthony, K. and Lawson, M (2002). The Use of Innovative Avatar and Virtual Environment Technology for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Available online at

Lowell Cremorne: Your Online Therapy Institute offers consultancy including advice on marketing counselling services online, but it seems you’ve carefully differentiated your SL consultancy to avatar familarisation etc. Would you agree that virtual worlds as an actual intervention mechanism are not evolved enough yet?

DeeAnna Nagel: The potential for therapeutic intervention in virtual world settings is already available – but not necessarily cost-effective for the private practitioner. Second Life is not encrypted and while we could offer therapy using secure methods such as a Sky Box, we have chosen not to. Proprietary software is being developed by companies and institutions for use in SL and other virtual worlds, and at some point private practitioners will be able to provide secure and encrypted services. Until that happens, we can, as you say, utilise our SL office as a way to meet people who want to provide an avatar representation and for other educational and consultancy opportunities.

Lowell Cremorne: What do you think needs to occur for people to be able to trust in-world therapy?

DeeAnna Nagel: Security including encryption is paramount. In addition, virtual world platforms need to be less cumbersome and be able to run on different platforms without the constant risk of technological breakdowns.

Lowell Cremorne: A common component of media coverage of virtual worlds is addiction – for the small percentage of people who may have a definable addiction, can the cause also play a role in the treatment? What I’m getting at here is whether in-world therapy for those addicted to virtual world interaction is a sensible treatment option or a damaging option.

DeeAnna Nagel: This should be taken on a case-by-case basis- I do offer online text-based therapy via chat and email to people who identify with Internet addiction. I think working with addicts inworld allows the client to experience a healthy relationship online and offers a way to model use of technology in appropriate ways. Technology is such a part of our social and vocational fabric now that people need to be able to integrate back to using technology but in healthy ways with appropriate boundaries. The work becomes about establishing and maintaining healthy relationships just as we have done with face-to-face clients for years.


Lowell Cremorne: Rapport-building is key for successful therapy – how best is that done online?

DeeAnna Nagel: Consideration should be given to the disinhibition effect. Online, people are less inhibited and likely to disclose information due to the person’s sense of anonymity. When working therapeutically, on the surface, this can be a plus in establishing rather quick rapport, but therapists also have a responsibility to prepare clients about disclosing personal information too quickly and then helping the client modulate the emotional intensity throughout the process.

Kate Anthony: The concept of “presence” is also important here – where is the client and where are you during the process? Most of my trainees agree post-training that the therapeutic work takes place somewhere between the two pieces of hardware (including mobile hardware) in Cyberspace. The mutual journey – and the rapport that goes with it – seems to take place in a nebulous arena, but actually the understanding by both client and counsellor as to how it exists for them facilitates the rapport.

Lowell Cremorne: How much real-world identification do you believe needs to occur prior to therapy commencing?

Kate Anthony: I think it essential for the client to be able to verify identity of the therapist, but this could be done via a third party – such as a professional organisation. Opinion varies widely from a client-identification point of view. Purists prefer to work with whatever the client is offering, subject to some legal identity checks in some places such as the client possibly being under age. The argument there is that the psyche that the client presents, via avatar or text, is a valid psyche to work with. Other practitioners prefer to make several checks as to how the client exists offline (we feel the phrase “real-world” is outdated, incidentally, so prefer to refer to online and offline). Personally, I feel that with a robust intake form and assessment procedure, further identification may simply get in the way of the therapeutic work which often depends on uniquely online societal norms (such as disinhibition and the perceived anonymity).


Kate Anthony (L) and DeeAnna Nagel (R)

Lowell Cremorne: Is confirming real world gender / age / cultural identity important for good therapeutic outcomes online?

DeeAnna Nagel: Yes- as with face-to-face, the person’s identification is important to determine if the work between therapist and client is a good fit. Cultural differences should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

Kate Anthony: Yes, particularly with regard to age and informed consent.

Lowell Cremorne: What issues / mental health states would you feel uncomfortable dealing with online?

DeeAnna Nagel: For the most part, I am comfortable working with people online that have issues I am comfortable working with face-to-face. As long as I feel competent about the clinical issues and have the proper training, most mental health interventions can occur online. For me, it is difficult to work with someone who is obviously intoxicated or obviously decompensating and showing signs of delusional and irrational behavior- but this is whether the client is face-to-face or online. Certainly, when working via distance, the client’s geographical resources should be determined should crisis intervention become necessary.

Kate Anthony: And that exact point is how I train upcoming online mental health professionals– that with the Internet it is simple to explore a clients alternative crisis interventions based on their geographical location. Other concerns are working with people who are in a relationship that involves domestic violence. Safety issues for the victim come into play if he or she is using a computer that the perpetrator has access to and may be monitoring with a keystroke program.

Lowell Cremorne: Whether it be in a virtual world or via more traditional online methods, do you find you’re less likely to run into personal boundary issues, or is it just as much a challenge?

DeeAnna Nagel: For me, the boundaries are not blurred. I have always maintained boundaries in person and online but with the advent of social networking, I am consulting with more and more professionals who are struggling with this issue. What to do if a client friends their therapist on Facebook for instance and many times the dilemmas are ethical in nature- with regard to either confidentiality or dual relationships.

Lowell Cremorne: Are you aware of any formalised professional associations for online therapists to communicate and if not, how do you see the momentum developing so that this occurs?

Kate Anthony: There is the International Society for Mental Health Online (ISMHO) as mentioned, and more recently ACTO-UK (Association for Counsellors and Therapists Online – UK) – an organisation for UK based online therapists. The latter is holding it’s first conference (online and offline simultaneously) in April. Our fear is that many small organisations will crop up here and there with narrow ideas – what the Online Therapy Institute strives for is a global agreement as to how each of these associations can work together to disseminate knowledge and stimulate growth of the field to the greater good of online work, whether in virtual worlds or via other modalities.

DeeAnna Nagel: To that end we have developed the Ethical Framework for the use of Technology in Mental Health that offers Best Practice standards regardless of the practitioner’s geographic location.

Lowell Cremorne: What are your plans over the coming year for your Second Life work? Have you considered other worlds?

DeeAnna Nagel: We explore other worlds as they appear, and not always necessarily in an obvious way. For example, the Online Therapy Institute has a strong interest in the prevention and treatment of Cyberbullying, and a virtual world such as Club Penguin, for example, could be instrumental in that aim. Plans for the coming year is to explore those platforms that meet the Institute’s requirements for safe and secure client-therapist interaction, and continue to develop training for conducting therapy in virtual worlds.

Interview – Raph Koster, Co-founder and President, Metaplace

If the virtual worlds industry has elder statesmen, Raph Koster is definitely one of them. It’s a term he probably dislikes, but the reality is he’s had a direct involvement in some key milestones from text-based worlds (MUDs) through to the present day. After spending some time with his latest project, Metaplace, we took the opportunity to ask Raph some questions about its development as well as discussing some wider challenges and opportunities for virtual worlds. If you ever doubted that Raph Koster was a content creator to his core, pay particular attention to his response to the final question. 😉


Lowell: Let’s start with your baby, Metaplace. How’s it progressing?

Raph: It is going well — we are expanding our closed beta now, and we’ve had a lot of big changes going in and more to come as we accelerate towards opening up. Among recent changes have been the addition of a tool that allows you to select models from the Google 3D Warehouse and bring them into your world with just a few clicks. This has led to a huge explosion in the variety of things found in people’s worlds.

Lowell: Content creation is key to Metaplace – what excites you most about what Metaplace has to offer in that regard?

Raph: I think what is most exciting isn’t so much the power of Metaplace – that’s there for sure, and it’s hugely exciting and fascinating and great things can be made. But I find special attraction to the ease and simplicity, the fact that we’re unlocking very complicated stuff for a lot of people who don’t know how to 3D model, or script, or code. So I think for me, it’s the lowering of barriers that is most exciting.

Lowell: 2009 is being touted as the year of the avatar – what’s your take? Has the avatar gained enough traction to be a true aspect of popular culture?

Raph: I think avatars became commonplace a while back. They have morphed into profile pictures and gravatars and they’re simply everywhere. So I don’t know what “year of the avatar” means except to say that something ubiquitous has become universal.

Lowell: Back in 2007 you were quite emphatic that the games industry was overlooking the power of the web as a platform – do you think there’s any greater level of insight now or is there still a significant blind spot there?

Raph: I think it is evident that the game industry has caught on. EA now distributes on Steam. All the consoles have web browsers now. We have now seen multiple games conceived and developed on or for the web jump over to consoles. Web integration in the form of sharing achievements, exposing APIs, posting to web services, and so on, is becoming far more common. I think the pace of these developments is simply going to increase.

Lowell: Where do you see Metaplace gaining its market share from?

Raph: We can’t be all things to all people, of course, and as a UGC platform, it takes a while for every possible use to come to fruition. I would say that from the get-go, we’ll be a highly social, creative place with great ease of use, and anyone familiar with casual virtual worlds and “building” sorts of games and worlds will feel at home. But I also expect users to take us in many directions over time — that’s the beauty of enabling user-created content.

Lowell: Although Google Lively was only a competitor in the broadest sense, what lessons if any have you learnt from their experience and what do you think Google have taken away from the experience?

Raph: Well, I can’t speak for Google! To me, Lively always seemed aimed more at the IMVU-like, avatar chat sort of space. I do think it validated some of our choices — the decision to use Flash, for example, which has so much penetration and doesn’t require a download for anyone, or our emphasis on user-created content.

Lowell: The mainstream media have latched onto sex as a challenge for worlds like Google Lively and Sony’s Home. Have you started to formulate how Metaplace will deal with ‘vice’ issues?

Raph: We’re definitely not a kids’ world. In our Terms of Service we explicitly allow users to make worlds about anything, as long as they do not violate the law. But we also give them complete control over their world — nothing should be in there that the world owner doesn’t want. It’s a lot like having your own webpage, in that sense.

Lowell: As a writer, has anything recently in virtual worlds stood out for you as high-quality writing?

Raph: To be honest, I don’t think that writing has ever been a huge part of social virtual worlds. It’s had far far more of a presence in the RPGs, where it is really starting to get much better.

Lowell: Can you give an estimation of when you think Metaplace will have its full launch?

Raph: We expect the open beta launch will happen later this year.

Lowell: Aside from avatars, there’s some further momentum around virtual goods. What approach to virtual goods will Metaplace likely take in the coming year?

Raph: We will have our marketplace available, with all goods free at first. I am looking forward to seeing the amount of user-created content grow on there, and eventually outnumber our own creations. Metaplace is somewhat unique in that our virtual goods aren’t necessarily just pictures, but can enable unique behaviors and interactivity.

Lowell: Do you agree with the premise that in the near future we’re likely to see more significant regulation and legislation in regard to virtual worlds? If so, do you think we’re likely to see an initial
overreaction by governments?

Raph: It’s inevitable that more legislative or at least legal attention be paid to virtual worlds. And I also think that it is likely that there will be misunderstandings of what is fundamentally a new medium. A lot
of people in mainstream media made fun of the U.S. Congressional hearings on virtual worlds that were streamed into Second Life — and that just indicates a lack of familiarity with them.

So sure, there will probably be mistakes made. But there are industry groups working to make sure that policymakers understand the industry better, and with the rise of the Web as a common medium pretty much everywhere, I think we are seeing that the learning curve is not nearly as high as it once was.

Lowell: You recently blogged on the issue of losing virtual world history – can you see there ever being enough common goodwill to establish some sort of universal timeline / history?

Raph: Well, I know of several projects – the most active right now is probably Bruce Damer’s at And the MUD Wikia project, which attempts to capture the early text-based history of virtual worlds, seems to be off to a good start at

Lowell: After spending my first few hours using Metaplace, it occurred to me that it’s ideally suited to having a MUD-format area – is that likely to be something driven by Areae or perhaps something created by the Metaplace community?

Raph: If you mean games, or collaboratively built games, our tools certainly enable it. Right now, we’re focused on providing somewhat more fundamental building blocks. There’s a lot of sorts of games! But many of our current users certainly enjoy making games, and more power to them!

Lowell: Business seems to be latching onto virtual worlds as a cost-saving, virtual meeting platform – does this offer any opportunities for Metaplace? Do you see the platform as having appeal for enterprise?

Raph: Honestly, I am not a huge fan of pursuing the enterprise market. I am more interested in the mass market, and the ways in which they can take virtual worlds to all sorts of new places. That said, if enterprises want to use Metaplace, we won’t stop them. But it’s not a target for us, we’re a consumer service.

Lowell: Leading on from that, there’ll only be widespread business acceptance of virtual worlds when easily quantifiable ROI can be established – do you think that’s likely to occur in the near future?

Raph: It’s difficult to say. Many of the ideal uses are around difficult to quantify usecases. Do virtual worlds fully replace face to face meetings? I am not sure they really do – going clear back to the text worlds, we have a tradition of user conventions, player luncheons, clan gatherings, and so on, to get virtual friends to meet face to face. There’s no doubt in my mind that virtual conferencing is then a value add, but it might not be quantifiable enough for a business right now.

Over time, as more of the web comes to include virtual places, as I believe it will, I think the value will become more evident.

Lowell: Getting totally away from virtual worlds, you’re a musician so I’ll ask a more obvious ‘desert-island discs’ question: what five albums couldn’t you live without?

Raph: I would trade five albums for a guitar in a heartbeat.

Interview – Lee Hopkins, Business Communicator and PhD Student (Part 2)

Continuing on with our discussion (Part 1 can be found here), we discuss brand identity in virtual worlds, get deep into a discussion of virtual world PhD research and talk about governmental cluelessness.


Lowell: One of the more controversial aspects of business in virtual worlds is brand identity. For regular virtual world users, the overt imposition of brand awareness initiatives can cause some backlash. For business there’s a nearly automatic skepticism of the potential for gains combined with a concern for loss of brand control. How do you see this impasse being solved and which companies to date have done the better job in that regard?

Lee: Fabulous question. Next (laughs). Actually, the whole ‘control’ thing is being played out across social media in general, not just SL, as we all know. What was interesting about the corporate entrance into SL and subsequent backlash was that the corporates just believed that ‘if you build it they will come’, which of course we know just doesn’t work in this new era. When you are the only player in town – the only newspaper, the only tv station, the only record company – there is little choice but for people to come to you, but these days YouTube has usurped TV, iTunes has usurped the record company and many bloggers have audiences far bigger than even the ‘big’ newspaper empires. So these days it is a question of, as Janet Jackson famously sang a couple of decades ago, “What have you done for me lately?”

We are all tuned into radio WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) and unless I can add value to your life you are highly unlikely to pay me any attention. Having said that, I am aware that we are culturally empowered to take that view. I’ve just finished reading Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’, where he points out that many cultures have less ‘open’ relationships to authority. Some cultures are very hierarchical and reverent, and so the mindset that we enjoy in the West, where freedom to challenge authority and demand ‘a fair suck of the savaloy’ is not a globally-shared mindset.

The challenge that corporations face when considering any sort of social media initiative is the thorny question of ‘ROI’. For years, any investment of time or resources by a company has needed to be measured against financial yardsticks to see if the reward is worth it. But social media itself is about relationships, not immediate sales or column inches in the business press, and so measuring the true influence of social media can be tricky, with lots of arguments from both sides of the fence.

We can measure largely inconsequential things, like visitor numbers, repeat traffic, keyword analysis, and so on, but the longer-term relationship nature of social media defies such simplistic pigeon-holes. A more nuanced approach needs to be taken, looking at not only how many people have visited but *what they thought*; not only who is talking about us but *what they are saying* and if what they are saying is positive or negative. We need to consider how influential those who talk about us are in their own communities.

All of this content analysis requires time and resource, for which the pure ‘numbers-focused’ senior management teams and boards have scant regard. But slowly that is changing, in the same way that the climate is changing: inch by inch but getting ever-so-slowly faster and faster.

Companies that are ‘doing it right’ are those who are wise enough to not treat their virtual world markets as comprising a bunch of socially-inept idiots but, as decades of academic research has proven, socially-skilled, highly-networked early adopters. In Second Life’s case we could argue some psychographics as a result of the published demographics Linden Lab releases. Start here for a great place to begin your journey into the adoption of innovation

Here’s my take on the average Second Lifer:

One – they are intelligent, because you have to be to be able to learn how to navigate your avatar around the world. I would hazard a guess and say that they are more likely to have finished high school and perhaps also have completed, be undertaking or are contemplating tertiary studies.

Two – they have strong characteristics of patience and perseverance, because if you had a short attention span or limited patience you’d never get past the bloody Orientation Island!

Three – they are time-rich, because they spend an average of 50 hours a month in-world.

Four – they are cash-rich, because to get the best experience from SL you need a fast broadband connection, a fast computer and a powerful graphics card, none of which are cheap.

All of these would suggest that the average Aussie battler, with two kids and a mortgage and a poorly-paid job, is unlikely to be a dedicated Second Lifer. That is *not* a blanket generalisation, but it is less likely that such an individual would have the time and money freedom to engage in Second Life for so long without detriment to their immediate social relations.

Now, as for the companies that *are* doing it right, you could number them in several ways. Obviously there are the IBMs and Sun Microsystems and their like, who use Second Life as test beds for their own customer service initiatives, for meeting places and so on. I know of one IBMer who mentioned that each year around nine man years of productivity were saved by holding meetings in Second Life or other virtual worlds, rather than hang around waiting for teleconferences and webinars to start and finish and being unproductive in those five-minute periods.

Microsoft also announced that it was making significant savings by holding product launches in-world; once the initial design and build costs of the virtual space were paid for, all subsequent launches were practically free. When it comes to smaller, lesser known enterprises, then I guess I must point to my ‘other’ industry – academia – as it is the one with which I have most recently engaged.

I recently attended the second Australian Virtual Worlds Workshop in Melbourne and was stunned by the number of academics who were keenly interested in virtual world developments. It was slightly disconcerting and incongruous to see those who – when I was at high school I would have labelled ancient, decrepit and clothed from op-shop rejects – being passionate about a technology that by rights only ‘young-uns’ should be into ☺. The fact that I am now one of those ancient and decrepit people has nothing to do with it! (laughs)

The take-up of virtual world technology in order to find new ways of reaching out to children is surprising and to me really encouraging about the state of innovation in the day-care system we call ‘primary and secondary education’. But it is not just primary and secondary educational establishments who are engaging with the 3D virtual world, of course – major tertiary institutions are also using the space for traditional and non-traditional work, for research and for skills-based training. As you would know, the training of nursing staff in important life-risking procedures and practices is something that usually cannot be undertaken (sorry for the pun) on ‘live’ patients. Having a virtual patient to practice on is invaluable.

I am looking forward to working with some organisations on helping less-able bodied individuals develop entrepreneurial skills, principally through designing and launching their own businesses in Second Life (or another platform if a better one comes along).

I’m also going to begin researching the whole social media environment to see if academia can make better day-to-day use of it. Both projects begin early in 2009.

Lowell: Which leads nicely to the fact you’re currently doing a PhD – can you describe the overall topic of your research?

Lee: My research started a couple of years ago and has progressed much, much slower than I either anticipated or would have preferred.

I began with the idea of taking two SMEs (Small to Medium sized Enterprises) into Second Life, working with them through the marketing and philosophical issues about whether they should be there or not before, if acceptable to them, helping them ‘go into’ the space. I wanted to see if there *was* any value for SMEs in the virtual space. Although I believed there was, I wanted to put ‘real business numbers’ around my intuitions.

Alas, my innovative and principal contact at one SME left the company and the company itself had no interest in pursuing the research; the other company found its real world business ‘take off’ so that it had no time or space to consider a virtual environment – all hands were needed ‘on deck’ to cope with the sudden surge of interest globally for their product.

So for a long while I have twiddled my thumbs, read lots, written far too little, and annoyed my supervisors by not handing up potential drafts of academic papers for publication.

But with the new projects coming along early next year all should move along at a far more cracking pace…

Lowell: What methodological approach are you taking for your doctorate?

Lee: This is where I get to talk all ‘academic’-like ☺.

I am using an auto-ethnographical approach based on Kozinet’s idea of ‘Netnography’ and which I have taken one stage further and labelled ‘Autoethnetnography’ (see this and this for more background). The idea is that I not only spend my time in-world, but that I document my time, my feelings and thoughts (the ‘autoethnographic’ component) online (the ‘net’ component).

However, I have yet to completely decide on my methodological approach for the two projects next year – ‘The Exciting Adventures of Penny and Isabella’ will figure into it somehow! ☺

Lowell: How easy have you found it to review the literature on the area given its relative infancy as a research topic?

Lee: Second Life itself is a growing area of research, but its antecedents have a long history in the man-machine interaction landscape. Remember that Sherry Turkle was talking about the psychology and sociology of life in a virtual world a couple of decades ago, so too was Howard Rheingold. Add in the ‘traditional’ virtual reality literature on haptic interfaces (‘sex gloves’ as we probably most think of those early experimenters) and you have a literature that starts to become quite ‘weighty’.

If you then add in any of the business literature, such as marketing, marketing psychology, public relations, branding, inter alia and you start to become overwhelmed with choice.

Whereas two years ago ‘Second Life’ as a search term returned little result in the academic search engines, nowadays that body of literature is growing at a cracking pace.


Lowell: Moving beyond Second Life, what virtual worlds have caught your interest recently?

Lee:Twinity looks interesting, as does VastPark. Sun’s Wonderland platform is, of course, worth watching and I have no doubt that Roo Reynolds and his fellow metaversian rascals at IBM have something up their sleeve ☺ I was recently taken with how simple ExitReality is but how visually powerful it could be. Of course, ExitReality and VastPark are good ol’ Aussie innovations, so it’s nice to be able to talk about something great that *hasn’t* come out of the sun-drenched plains and hills of San Francisco.

I have a *very* strong suspicion, a belief if you like, that Second Life will not be the ‘killer app’ it would like to be. I remember the early days of the web when the company I worked for, Digital, owned and ran ‘AltaVista’. It was the number one search engine around and nothing was ever going to replace it.

Of course, along came Yahoo! and ‘AltaVista’ joined the ranks of ‘Whatever happened to…’. Naturally, we all knew that *nothing* would ever knock Yahoo! off the top perch of the search world, you could guarantee it. So along came two Stanford programmers and a couple of their mates and the rest is history, as they say.

So I strongly believe that something will come out of ‘left field’ and knock Second Life for six, while at the same time bringing scalability and simplicity of use to the masses. And if anyone has a time machine that could put me forward five years to see who ‘won the race’, then allow me to return so I could invest in them, I’ll be your best friend! ☺

Equally, if anyone has a time machine that can transport me back to the early 1980s so I can pick up some cheap Microsoft and Apple stock, then bring me back to the here and now, I’ll reward you with a few thousand shares in them.

Lowell: In the Australian context there’s still a fairly low adoption rate by business of virtual worlds – what do you see emerging as the game-changers that will provide some more momentum?

Lee: Nothing at the moment, I’m afraid. I spend a lot of time talking with businesses about social media, which is still a long way from their thinking but they are slowly beginning to understand that they need to pay attention to it. Second Life and 3D virtual worlds are so far off their radar as to not even be blips.

Even though Australians as individuals are recognised worldwide as important early adopters — and Forrester’s latest report, ‘Australian Adult Social Technographics Revealed’ asserts that Australia is the perfect launch pad for global brands launching social media initiatives, to which I agree. We can see this when we look at Second Life’s demographics (we are 52nd in the real world population ranks, yet 11th in Second Life, showing that we are ‘punching well above our weight’), the business community in Australia is highly conservative. Add into the mix the reality that most CEOs are ex CFOs (Chief Financial Officers, aka ‘bean counters’) and we see a business environment where fiscal economics are the determinants of business strategy, not environmental nor human economics.

I don’t forsee any takeup by corporate Australia of virtual worlds any time soon, not until the marketplace is demanding it and their competitors are doing it and showing some success. It never ceases to frustrate yet at the same time greatly amuse me that Australian businesses love to talk about ‘competitive advantage’ yet never actually want to do anything to give them it ‘until others are showing that it works’.

Lowell: Educators have led the way with virtual worlds. What’s inspired you in the education sphere?

Lee: The work of Jokay Wollongong and Lindy McKeown in particular stand out here. They are pushing the envelope of what academically can be done with 3D virtual worlds. Being around them, even virtually, is intimidating – what they have achieved, what they are doing, where they are going… all is phenomenally impressive and make me feel like a complete slacker! ☺

Lowell Cremorne: Can you name the presences in Second Life you keep coming back to?

Lee: Sure, but bear in mind that often I don’t visit these places for a month and they’ve moved location, which is really frustrating. It would be nice of SL automatically updated one’s SLURL picks, but that may be a database too far.

I most often frequent my own two properties, the beach hut retreat of the Better Communication Results empire or the Better Communication Results office. Otherwise:

ABC Island
Dedric Mauriac’s shop – great tools
Hydro Homes – great offices and houses
Market Truths – great research on SL
Just for Him – men’s clothing and accessories
Crucial Creations – great Italian design work for female shoes in particular, but clothing in general
Influence Hair – the best hair for women in SL, IMHO
ALady Island – absolutely gorgeous female skins
Lindy McKeown (aka Decka Mah)’s teaching and action research island in SL

Lowell: Prediction time – what do you believe will happen in virtual worlds over the coming year?

Lee: The revolt against Second Life will continue, in that landowners will increasingly be less likely to pay for increases in land rental, especially since other, cheaper alternatives will become more plentiful. Additionally, the lack of scalability of Second Life will start to bite harder. Again, I hold to my prediction that someone will bring something out of left field, so we will all have our breath taken away by its simplicity.

But the learning we have all undergone in Second Life will not be wasted, not in the slightest. Part of my reasoning to companies for becoming involved with virtual worlds like Second Life is based on history: we thought we could take the ‘language’ of print and put it on the web yet technology (dial up, online reading styles, for example) showed that we had to adapt our communication styles to fit this new media. So too with 3D virtual worlds; we cannot just take the existing communication paradigms of the 2D online world and expect them to work equally well in the 3D environment – we need to take into account the spatial environment and visual and non-verbal characteristics of the other ‘players’ in the conversation and of those who are adjacent to us.

We have barely begun to figure out how to communicate effectively in this new communication landscape that allows everyone to own their own tv station, their own radio station, their own newspaper and magazine… we are some considerable way off from learning how to communicate effectively when you add in individual- and machine-controlled movement, three dimensionality and non-verbal, non-textual clues into the mix!

Lowell: Back to Australia again, what’s your take on our Federal Government’s grasp of social media more broadly, and virtual worlds more specifically.

Lee: There is a great movie that encapsulates it all in just one word: “Clueless”.

Bless ‘em, they are trying, but Governments are driven by politicians who look for short-term gains to keep themselves in positions of power, not technocrats and innovators who look to the longer-term for societal gain.

Change will, as always, be driven by the zealots, the ranters, the ravers, the ungentlemanly shouters from rooftops, the inconsiderate individuals who refuse to take a relentless and increasingly strident and often-times dismissive ‘No!’ for an answer.

Interview – Lee Hopkins, Business Communicator and PhD Student (Part 1)

Lee Hopkins is one of Australia’s more high profile Second Life residents who makes a living talking and consulting on social media and business communication strategy. On top of that, Lee’s immersed in completing a PhD with a virtual world focus, so I took the opportunity to nail Lee down for an interview.


Lowell: Lee, you’re best known for your consultancy work in regard to social media – is that what led you to explore Second Life initially?

Lee: It all started with Shel Holtz (a business communication expert from North America) mentioning it on ‘For Immediate Release’, the industry podcast for business communicators. He and several others became excited about the arrival of yet another channel of communication that the corporate world had to get its collective head around. This was all about two years after blogging just started to get going, so I am guessing around 2006 was when Second Life came across my radar.

Shel and his podcasting colleague Neville Hobson had been right about the growing importance of blogging and then podcasting, so I figured I’d grant them a ‘three out of three’ about Second Life as well. I joined up and started developing my own experiences and understanding of it as a direct result of them.

Lowell: Can you recall that first experience with SL? Did it click for you right away or did the infamous orientation experience put you off?

Lee: That first experience was a nightmare. Let’s not forget that this is Australia, so our broadband is a lot worse than our North American, European and even Asian friends enjoy. It was slow, my computer’s graphics card was struggling, I didn’t understand why no matter how far I flew, land kept being built and populated in front of me faster than I could stop and buy it.

And Orientation Island! Argghh! I reckon it’s actually gotten worse, not better. I had no other virtual world to compare it to, not being a gamer or anything like that, but I don’t recall being frustrated by it. Well, not *overly* frustrated, anyway. It was such a new experience, and the interface so slow and clunky, that I must have found *something* worthwhile enough to make me stay. Probably its novelty for me.

Lowell: What in SL led you to become a long-term user?

Lee: Goodness, that makes me sound like a heroin addict! (laughs) – “Second Life becomes my home”, confesses 50-year old cracker. I guess that I became convinced of the power of 3D virtual worlds to bypass some of the normal ‘static’ and reach out in new ways to people. That sounds confusing, so let me give you an example:

My wife is a nurse and, let it be understood, considers the computer the spawn of the Devil. She hates them with a passion only reserved for me when I do something wrong (you know, like when I breath or something – every husband reading this will understand). She resents the amount of time I spend ‘playing’ (as she calls it) on my computer rather than doing something useful – and this is before we even start talking about Second Life, and remembering that I don’t play computer games. For me, the PC is about work and networking with colleagues around the globe.

Yet, when I showed her Second Life (albeit a movie on YouTube about it) she instantly understood and said, “I can see how this would be perfect for business and the health system”. After I picked up my jaw from the floor and reinserted it, I passed out. On coming to, I asked if I had heard her correctly – the woman who believes the PC is the work of the AntiChrist *instantly* and intuitively saw the value of 3D worlds like Second Life. To this day I still haven’t quite recovered…

As for what keeps me in Second Life, it is a combination of things. One, the belief that the 3D virtual world will grow to be the force that the pundits proclaim it will be, that it will become a part of our everyday web experience within a few short years. Two, and following on from point one, that I need to keep abreast of developments. Not necessarily so that I need to live and breathe it (I have, after all, other work that I need to get done in order to pay the bills), but enough to be able to speak knowledgeably and confidently about Second Life from a business perspective.
Three, that I have discovered parts of myself I never knew I had, or rather have uncovered parts that had lain dormant and only hinted at their presence.

For example, when I was in the RAAF many years ago I was based for a while in Penang, Malaysia. Whilst there I found a great tailor who made clothes to my design for next to nothing. I loved designing clothes, taking what in academia we call a ‘bricolage’ approach – that is, like a magpie, just stealing bits from here and there to make something different than just the sum of the parts. But I had forgotten about all that shortly after returning to Australia, where cheap tailors and fabrics were not so easily accessible as they were on the streets of Penang in the mid Eighties. So when I found the vast array of clothes to be had in Second Life, my love of clothing re-emerged and I said to myself, in the words of a great quiz show, “Let’s go shopping!”

Let me whisk back to my childhood. One of my favourite toys was ‘Action Man’; not today’s ‘only does one thing and so you need to buy loads of them’ rubber toy, but a UK version of ‘GI Joe’ where you only needed the one figure but could buy loads of different outfits and accessories – guns, tanks, planes, helicopters, knives, grenades, mortars, etc. – to help you live out your boyish killing and war fantasies. Fast forward to today and in Second Life you can have the one ‘toy’ that you can kit out with all manner of accoutrements – my personal favourite hobby at the moment is looking like the robot from that seminal 1970s show ‘Lost In Space’, complete with “Danger, Danger, Will Robinson!” voice. I also found a ready and easy way to create my own adult Barbie and, like many males in Second Life I’m sure, created female alts and dressed them in skins and clothing that our ideal lovers would look like and wear.


Now, I also combined my female alts into my business operations. (Steady, boys!). We all know that ‘sex sells’: there is tons of academic research to show that men AND women prefer to look at attractive women than attractive men; the gaze lasts longer, and so on. We also know that beautiful people in general are more likely to be attributed as honest, trustworthy, smarter, faster, harder working, and so on. The reasons why are for another day, but the shocking truth is that the beautiful people are given luxuries and access that we ‘common folk’ can only dream of. So I created my two female alts to be my in-world business representatives. By hooking them up with’s fabulous and comprehensively pre-scripted artificial intelligence engine, and attaching an ‘anti-idle’ script to the alts, and then making a cup of *really* hot tea, I can be fast asleep and my two alts can be in-world, talking with other avatars and generally being my Customer Service Representatives, even while admitting in their profiles that they are mere robots.

They will also soon appear in a comic series, ‘The Exciting Adventures of Penny and Isabella’, the first issue of which will hopefully be published in three days’ time. I don’t want to give the plot away, but in essence the girls and I are a business communications consultancy that solves real business issues through the power of social media.

The final, and arguably most important reason, why I stay in Second Life is that my PhD is focusing on it, but you’ll no doubt ask me about that in a minute…

Lowell: To some the social media link to virtual worlds is intrinsic. To the broader public though, how would you explain the power of virtual worlds from a social media viewpoint?

Lee: If one accepts that social media is all about the new-found technologically-empowered individual able to engage globally in conversation and dialogue with others of similar interests and passions, then the 3D virtual world is a mere extension of that.

Instead of an often non-linear and time-interrupted conversation that occurs, say, over an email exchange, the technology of social media allows us the choice to engage either in real-time conversations or time-interrupted ones. It also allows us to choose between text, vision, audio or any combination of them. In addition, it allows us to enjoy that conversation either in a one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-many or many-to-one mode. 3D virtual worlds like Second Life allow us to take that freedom one step further and inject aspects of our personality into the stream, through our sense of dress, or the environment we prefer to be seen in, our real or imagined gender, and so on.

We also have the freedom (and with it the responsibility to safeguard that freedom) to say what we think – which means calling someone a ‘tosser’ for having adult-lingerie Barbies if you want.

Click here for Part 2 of the interview (this will be available from 9am AEST on the 18th December 2008)

Interview – Nathan Organ (AUGrid)

Back in February this year we interviewed Steve Sima, founder of the Openlife grid. Since then another Australian has set up a grid based on the Open Simulator architecture. This one is called AUGrid and has been set up by Norgan Torok (RL: Nathan Organ) and we caught up with him for an interview this week.

Lowell: Can you tell me a little about your background and how you got into virtual

Norgan: I discovered Second Life around a year ago, after resisting for a while I finally logged in and started exploring. I found it fascinating but had to look into this “game”and work out just what it was about. After realising quickly just how great and diverse the culture and people in
there were I had to explore more. As with most things i encounter I looked deeper and deeper into it. Until the interoperability announcement I considered SL a closed system. The interop test showed me the light into OpenSim and its great possibilities.

Lowell: What was the impetus for you setting up AUGrid?

Norgan: Two things inspired me to do AUGrid. Firstly, the interoperability of OpenSim and Second Life opening up that user base to a wider world of virtual worlds. There was concern that Linden Lab would make Second Life a closed world for a while there. Secondly, my own work supporting 1000 hours for autistic kids and my work with EnGeneIC who develop novel cancer treatments, and my
yearning to help support these admirable causes. AUGrid is focused on providing exposure and services to these causes as well as the education sector.

Lowell: Are you personally hosting the grid or working in conjunction with

Norgan: For the moment i am personally paying for co-located servers, with a view to reselling regions servers to help bring money back into the project. Reactiongrid have been helping with supply of cost effective servers to run the grid on. My training and experience in network design and operation helps me manage the topology of the grid servers and plan for growth. We also get support form various developers and sub-communities within the OpenSim project and in return I share my knowledge and experience in networking and my work in OpenSim with the community at large. AUGrid has also set up its own dedicated PayPal account to more easily manage any donations or funds coming in. With
these funds I hope to bring in extra resources to help expand the project and donate services to schools and charities.

Lowell: How far along the development path is AUGrid?

Norgan: AUGrid follows the core development path of OpenSim. I have been busy
talking with the core development teams and some people from Microsoft who have been helping AUGrid along with feedback, advice and techniques. This project and many others on OpenSim are a 2-way development structure where the users and various groups contribute to each other and the common code. This is how I am able to setup AUGrid confident in the fact that the OpenSim community is there to help as am I to help them. As I mentioned before I try to keep the
code quite new, which can bring in new bugs and cause some down time but also pick up the improvements as they are developed.

Lowell: Compared to say Second Life, what would a new resident see on your
grid? Is it a similar experience at this stage?

Norgan: The experience is quiet similar to Second life for general navigation and user experience, in fact you use the SL viewer in many cases to log into AUGrid. There are also other viewers with extra features like building higher height and megaprims allowed. The LLFunctions script
implementations are two-thirds the way through with new ones being added every day, so the scripting and building environment is similar also. The real difference is the flexibility on the server side. For example, we can play with gravity and I have setup an experimental sim that has moon gravity; but really that’s just the start. With some projects using RL integration of robots and information fed in from hardware and external databases, the possibilities are almost endless. This is
the real power of the OpenSim platform – using a modulated approach to the code design, you can create and integrate your own modules on the server. An example of some of AUGrid’s technology is the data center that monitors RL servers in real time. It actually pointed out a problem with one of my DNS servers which I was able to investigate and correct as a direct result of seeing the server in-world.

Lowell: What have been some of the biggest challenges to date with the grid’s

Norgan: Biggest hurdle is the code management and avoiding downtime. Rapid development code is always a task to handle but for the most part the core systems are very stable. We try to explain and notify of any bugs and issues as they asrise and why there was any downtime to help the
users understand how the system works and just how quickly things can change.

Lowell: What are you plans for AUGrid in the coming 6-12 months?

Norgan: To expand the grid onto more servers, which is why we have started taking donations, and allow a more powerful grid for better in-world experiences. The topology of
AUGrid is designed in such a way that it can be easily scaled up and this has been done because i have grand visions for AUGrid. Aside from the obvious expansion of the grid the biggest thing will be to provide free or low cost regions to educational and medical projects, allowing them a powerful platform on which to teach and learn. Ideally, the grid will pay for itself and allow donations of regions to schools and charities.

We have started toying with the idea of medical and education hubs and once we acquire more servers i will be setting these up so when users visit in-world they may more easily get to those areas and projects they are interested in.

Lowell: What differentiating factor do you believe you have over other grids, including Australian ones like Openlife?

Norgan: The differing factor is AUGrid’s primary focus on real life support of charities and good causes and it’s non-profit business model. As well as a true aussie flavour while travelling around the grid with many and varied parts of aussie culture on show. Triple X Industries sim is
a great example with an Aussie pub and amazing aussie shop fronts and areas. This is one of the big helpers to establishing AUGrid’s content – I don’t know what I’d do without him. We also have an accurate representation of Brisbane’s Southbank with much more coming along.

Lowell: For people wanting to check out AUGrid, how do they best do that?

Norgan: Thanks to TheCritic we have an SL Launcher that can be downloaded from a
link on It works for Windows, Linux and Mac and allows the user to quite easily launch their existing SL Viewer to connect to AUgrid, among others. There is also a Hippo Viewer made for OpenSim that with a quick shortcut modification can be used on AUGrid allowing the extra features like higher build height limits and larger prim sizes.

Interview – David Rolston, Forterra CEO

Forterra Inc is a private virtual world provider with a focus on health care, education and homeland security / disaster preparedness. One of their press releases a few weeks back caught my eye – Forterra has been awarded a Commercialization Pilot Program (CPP) by the US Army for medical training simulations of combat scenarios. So I thought I’d have a chat with Forterra’s CEO David Rolston (via email) about Forterra’s take on virtual worlds.

Lowell:: Can you describe a little of Forterra’s history and whether virtual worlds have always been its focus?

David:: Forterra has been around for a decade already. Initially the company was
known as, and made one of the first social interaction websites (which still exists as About two and a half years ago made an important change. Our board decided there were promising opportunities in other areas. We spun off a company called Makena Technologies that was licensed to work in the entertainment area, applying the software to creating social worlds for MTV, Coca-Cola and other consumer environments. At the same time we redirected the mainline company to work on enterprise applications and other professional usage, and renamed it Forterra Systems.

Lowell:: For those who haven’t heard of OLIVE, can you give a little of its development history?

David:: As a starting point for the new company, Forterra took the existing software which was built to execute 24 hours a day, seven days a week with millions of users. The software was used very heavily in large-scale, multi-player environments, but it was there for a specific task, namely running So our first job was to extract a reusable platform from that which would allow a customer to quickly build an enterprise oriented virtual world. That platform is now Forterra’s flagship product OLIVE (On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment). Applications developed using OLIVE allow users to sit at their PCs with a network connection, log on, and appear in an interactive, virtual environment represented as a fully animated avatar. We have the best 3D audio in the industry and have been told by our customers it sounds just like being in a real meeting. Through a choice of simple keyboard, mouse or game controller interface, users are able to navigate through realistic environments, access and deploy equipment, drive/fly vehicles, don personal protective equipment, and communicate with one another. As a scenario is executed, the results are captured by a built in session replay system that support debrief, so users can learn from the simulation exercise.

OLIVE’s distributed client-server architecture enables simulations to easily scale from single user applications to large scale simulated environments supporting many thousands of concurrent users. Working with the OLIVE platform, customers can create realistic virtual world content and plug-in functionality to meet a wide range of simulation needs. An API layer enables customers to reuse existing content, integrate with third party applications, and leverage third party tools. The open
nature of the OLIVE platform allows customers to create powerful multi-resolution and multi-fidelity federated simulation environments.

Lowell:: Is the user interface similar to other virtual world platforms like Second Life?

David:: There are some similarities between the OLIVE user interface and that of Second Life in large part because some of the features and navigation are similar. We find Second Life users are comfortable navigating and communicating in OLIVE within about 10 minutes because of these

Lowell:: There are also some graphical similarities to Second Life – does OLIVE have any code that’s similar?

David:: No there is no code that is common or similar between OLIVE to Second Life. The graphical level of OLIVE is more realistic and business oriented then Second Life in large part because the majority of our 3D content has been professionally developed.

Lowell:: You’ve recently announced that you’ve been awarded a Commercialization Pilot by the US Army for medical training simulations of combat scenarios – can you explain a little more about that?

David:: The initial Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards that were granted to Forterra by the US Army have been very successful. We have successfully demonstrated our technology through a phase I and II award, and as a result have been awarded a Commercialization Pilot Program. This program funds the development of features so the software can be used in Army production usage and in the commercial markets. Using the OLIVE platform we developed an application with realistic virtual emergency departments, operating rooms, reception areas, and even entire health-care facilities have been built to support a wide range of training applications, including first responder and trauma training. In the U.S. military, the contemporary operating environment requires combat medics to use their skills in team-based medical combat scenarios for effectively treating trauma patients on the battlefield.

Lowell:: Do you have plans for OLIVE to ever be interoperable with other platforms?

David:: Absolutely. The first level of interoperability we have achieved already is for 3D content to be imported or exported to OLIVE using standard content file formats like Collada. We have several partners who are able to migrate their Second Life content and import it into OLIVE. The next levels of interoperability will include how avatars and even the client software will be interoperable between virtual world platforms, but these two are more in the future.

Lowell:: What sort of technology do people need to use OLIVE?

David:: Today we have a PC only client that runs on either XP or Vista. Our customers are enterprises which have overwhelmingly adopted PCs as their main compute platform for users. However Forterra is working on support for lower end PCs since a typical deployment must run on laptops or desktops that are 1 to 3 years old. We also have excellent support working behind or through firewalls so enterprise IT groups can control who gets access to the virtual world.

Lowell:: What do you see as the key benefits of virtual world-based training?

David:: There are many benefits. First geographically distributed learners can meet virtually for either individual or team training and practice their skills many times before applying them in the real world. For certain types of jobs such as being a soldier or oil rig worker our software saves lives because of the hazards of their jobs. For other jobs such as a sales person the skills and confidence they gain practicing before applying their craft on real customers makes them more effective. Second, OLIVE includes 3D record and replay so teams can conduct after action reviews to pinpoint where learners should improve their performance. Lastly, with the physics and simulations built into OLIVE we can enable interaction with objects that supports a wide range of support and manufacturing type of training around a product or process.

Lowell:: What does OLIVE cost? Is it a scenario-specific cost or can people purchase the software and create their own scenarios?

David:: We offer a Software Development Kit that allows customers or partners to develop their own scenarios. Forterra offers three types of developer programs that include a developer license to OLIVE, documentation, support, and different levels of training and developer services. We
offer a Basic and Enterprise production license to OLIVE that allows small groups to deploy inexpensively with the ability to scale up to 1000s of concurrent users. We offer the option to license industry specific pre-packaged content packs such as a medical and meeting pack as well as plug-ins to standard business systems or integrations. These content packs and plug-ins help customers get into production more quickly and less expensively but with the ability to develop on top of those offerings to meet specific needs.

Lowell:: What plans for future developments does Forterra have?

David:: There are several exciting development areas we are working on. First we have rolled out a virtual collaboration application that shares MS Powerpoint, streaming video, and SCORM elearning content to distributed audiences. Later this summer we will expand the collaboration suite to include any MS Office document type, white boards, and meeting management. We are also wrapping up a new terrain standard we pioneered called Paged Terrain Format that allows importing any legacy terrain database. Later this year we will support extensions of our API for AI middleware vendors so we can provide voice recognition and responses with NPCs. This supports high volume individual training scenarios.

Interview – Skribe Forti

Skribe Forti is an Australian Second Life resident who’s got an established track record in machinima that we’ve covered previously. Last week we finally caught up with Skribe to talk a little more about the power of machinima.

Lowell: Can you give a potted history of your involvement with Second Life and more broadly your historical online life?

Skribe: I’ve been in SL since Jun 2006 and technically I’ve had a net presence since 93, but I’ve been mucking around on MU*s and BBS since 82-83.

Lowell: Can you also give a brief overview of your involvement with film production?

Skribe: I’ve been making films since I was 8yo. Before that I used to star. Dad was a home-movie buff =). I then worked as kid on some of the local tv productions both in front and behind the camera. That was when we used to make stuff in Perth. I went to uni, did film and writing there, and soon after graduating started my own business.

Lowell: What led to your passion for machinima?

Skribe: The fact that it is the best of both worlds: live-action and animation. You can inspire the performances from your actors like in live-action, as well as tell the range of stories you can in animation. And it is comparatively cheap compared to both.

Lowell: Can you give a basic run through of your creative process when creating a piece?

Skribe: For live action I storyboard like crazy because it’s an easy way to demonstrate to cast and crew what you need. With machinima I rarely storyboard. I find it too limiting. I know what I need from a scene and I like to be able to experiment to find the best way to achieve that. It’s very easy to experiment in machinima. Much harder with live-action or even animation because of the numbers of people – and budgets – involved.

Lowell: Do you work in any other virtual worlds beside Second Life and if you do, which ones?

Skribe: I have, but unfortunately I’m unable to reveal which ones.

Lowell: How do you perceive the role virtual worlds play in your overall life – are they a dominant aspect, a ‘work role’ aspect or just a minor part?

Skribe: Almost purely work, but I occasionally socialise too. I have a great group of virtual friends and enjoy chatting when I’m able.

Lowell: Do you find you come into conflict with other people in-world? And if so, why and how do you deal with it?

Skribe: Not generally. We had a griefer on set once who started hassling the lead actress. I hear he’s still in orbit =).

Lowell: One of our regular questions: three locations in Second Life that you keep coming back to?

Skribe: Conference Island, Alt7 and Greenies.

Lowell: You’ve done quite a bit of work with business – have you met much resistance to the idea of business in virtual worlds from those you approach?

Skribe: Definitely, but there was resistance to the internet initially too. I remember being told back in 94 that nobody would make a cent off the internet. Business is always conservative. It is after all their money. The owners aren’t in it for charity. They want to see hard results ending in fat wads of cash – preferably in their own pockets. What we do in virtual worlds is new and more than a little weird to most so there is bound to be some reticence. But as more genuine success stories emerge, as hard data showing the real benefits are revealed, business will start to embrace VWs. It’s only a matter of time. It’s too valuable a tool.

Lowell: How much of the work you do is coming from Second Life?

Skribe: Most of it. We still do occasional work in other worlds, and we still have clients coming to us for real-world projects, but most of our focus is on Second Life because that is where our client base is.

Lowell: What current projects do you have underway?

Skribe: I have just finished a video tour for a development and media company based in NYC and we’re working on 2 sets of viral videos.

Lowell: What are your plans for the next 12 months?

Skribe: Get monumentally rich. Not die.

Lowell: Any chance of a feature-length machinima?

Skribe: Find someone that is willing to make that sort of investment and a feature-length piece is always a possibility. We have enough stories we want to tell. Finding the funding is always the hard part.

Lowell: Who inspires you in Second Life?

Skribe: My wife. She always finds the best and weirdest stuff.

Lowell: What frustrates you the most about Second Life?

Skribe: The instability. Both with the platform and the management. I can usually deal with the platform problems – it’s new and that is to be expected. It is also better than when I started. The management is a much more difficult problem. There are too many kneejerk reactions to be entirely secure that you aren’t going to wake up in the morning and discover that your business is now banned. While I agree with the Linden Lab decision on gambling, for instance, I found the process unsettling. It came out of nowhere and there’s a small part of my brain that says, ‘it could happen to you’.

Lowell: What are your thoughts on whether there’s an ‘Australian community’ in Second Life?

Skribe: There seems to be but I’m not overly knowledgeable about it.

Lowell: The Telstra presence in Second Life has had a lot of success – why do you think that is?

Skribe: They grok what SL is about. It’s a marketing tool and whoever is the brains behind their project really knows how to make the most of it. The only problem I have with it is the build itself. There’s too much crud and the overall look is hokey. It also has too many breast domes – but maybe that is just me.

Lowell: And ABC Island – what would your critique of it be?

Skribe: No plan. No action. No chance. For a more in-depth critique check out my comments here on The Metaverse Journal or my blog.

V2: Synner Prinz and Bill Hayabusa

As promised a few weeks back, we’re pleased to start a new feature called V2 (virtual two), where two avatars describe their relationship in their own words. The inaugural edition features Australia-based Synner Prinz and US-based Bill Hayabusa:

Synner Prinz

It’s with pleasure I share my journey thru Secondlife with my love….

I’d only been on Second Life a few weeks when I was walking along a jetty and saw this guy swimming around. ‘Wow’, I thought to myself, ‘that is so cool, you can even swim here’. And with that, I jumped in…. ‘hmmmmm, why am I sinking to the bottom of the sea’ I ask myself as I turn a bright shade of red! I make it back to the jetty after much splashing and near drowning and am relieved my silly newbie antics haven’t scared him off….That was the day the most awesome journey began for my love Bill Hayabusa and me, Synner Prinz.

I don’t recall when I lost my heart to him… was it when he took me horse riding on the beach and I held onto him so tightly? Was it when he took me surfing and we splashed, played and laughed together? Was it when he danced with me under the stars and made my heart race and body tingle all over? Or was it the day when the sun was setting and he held me in his arms on ‘Soul’ declaring his love and giving me his heart?

I really don’t know, but what I do know is that through our amazing adventure on Second Life we have been able to share the joys and experiences together such as horse riding, surfing, dancing, motor bike riding, skiing, ballooning, parachuting, ice skating, moutain bike riding, shopping, roller skating, dining, boating, diving, flying, travelled on a spaceship, roleplaying in a 1800’s mid western sim where we married by common law. We’ve lived in a cabin, a castle and now a mansion…. how do you top off a year like that? You renew your wedding vows!!!.

What are we doing now? Basking in love and living as a family with our two dogs in our house with the white picket fence awaiting the arrival of our twins…. nice huh 🙂 You really can live your dreams here and I never want this fairytale to end!

Bill Hayabusa

Heard about Second Life on CNN so came to do some research on social engineering for a small educational company. The idea was to motivate and guide students to excel in public speaking. The potential to improve peoples’ lives is impressive. What I found came as a total surprise. I found that if you allow yourself to become your avatar, you could live vicariously, the life you always wanted. This in turn produces a feeling of accomplishment and happiness never experienced before.

Found love… I was exploring all that can be done in SL, like swimming. The animation and control was impressing me when there she was… A vision of the woman I always wanted for a wife… to spend all my days and nights with. From the moment I saw her (knowing “this is a game… not real”) I fell deeply in love with my dream. Then after a few words, I knew what I wanted… I wanted it to be as real as real can be. I realized it’s the experience that matters most, and wanted to experience this new feeling of love, that I never was able to experience in real life.

Got married…I was role playing a US Marshal in 1897 Tombstone Arizona. I asked Synner to be my common law wife and she accepted. My heart sang and I felt young and full of life. Something I hadn’t felt in years. I thought those feelings I’d remember fondly, but never experience again.
Created a family….. One year later we got married/partnered with a complete wedding at our home we built and friends we had acquired in SL. Then we got the great news of us having twins.
From meeting each other, falling in love, exploring all that SL has to offer, building our dream home, getting married, from conception to the birth of our babies. It’s been a most fantastic experience and now I know beyond a doubt, anything is possible. Like finding your soul mate (grinning/w dimples).

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