Real Hope in a Virtual World
October 6th, 2007

A promising dimension of virtual world experience is described in a Washington Post article today: Online Identities Leave Limitations Behind. National Science Foundation social scientist William Sims Bainbridge says we are only at the beginning of realizing how important this may become: “We’re at a major technical and social transition with this technology. It has very recently started to become a very big deal, and we haven’t by any means digested what the implications are . . . .” The WP article is introduced with three people whose avatars are acting for them:

After suffering a devastating stroke four years ago, Susan Brown was left in a wheelchair with little hope of walking again. Today, the 57-year-old Richmond woman has regained use of her legs and has begun to reclaim her life, thanks in part to encouragement she says she gets from an online “virtual world” where she can walk, run and even dance.

Roberto Salvatierra, long imprisoned in his home by his terror over going outdoors, has started venturing outside more after gaining confidence by first tentatively exploring the three-dimensional, interactive world on the Internet.

John Dawley III, who has a form of autism that makes it hard to read social cues, learned how to talk with people more easily by using his computer-generated alter ego to practice with other cyber-personas.

Brown, Salvatierra and Dawley are just a few examples of an increasing number of sick, disabled and troubled people who say virtual worlds are helping them fight their diseases, live with their disabilities and sometimes even begin to recover. Researchers say they are only starting to appreciate the impact of this phenomenon.


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