The virtual world of “Second Life” isn’t a video game, but I didn’t feel much like playing games on Tuesday (April 17).
Our newsroom was busy covering the tragedy at Virginia Tech (see “Cho Seung-Hui, Virginia Tech Gunman, Described As ‘Loner’ “ ), and I wasn’t in the mood to play or write about my latest console adventures.
I heard about a virtual memorial to the students and teachers killed at Virginia Tech (see “Virtual Memorial, MySpace Pages Help VT Mourners Cope Online” ), so I decided to visit that. Logging in Tuesday morning (at this location), I found a small stand of flowers, candles and a stone heart on a pedestal. A crying statue in black was set off to one side with a note attached from “Second Life” resident Darrien Lightworker (not his real name, of course). The note read: “I never wanted to be remembered for such a memorial, so do not praise me for it; but, I couldn’t just leave flowers. My heart and soul cries out for those that have lost loved ones, and I, like many others, still ask ‘Why?’ ”
I’ve seen mourning in “Second Life” before at re-creations of the World Trade Center and in front of memorial candles. The virtual world lets residents build anything they can fancy from stretchable, combinable 3-D shapes. Adding the right textures can create the illusion of life, repaint the earth or even give substance to a wall of mourning. As I stood there as my “Second Life” avatar at 5:30 p.m. ET, I saw a man in a maroon Virginia Tech T-shirt lowering a gray stone panel behind the memorial. Then he duplicated it, eventually creating a semicircle. I asked him who he was and what he was up to.
In “Second Life,” his name is Milosun Czervik. On the VT campus he’s Ross Perkins, a research associate at the School of Education. “The wall is just my contribution,” he typed in IM to me. “The texture on it is ‘Hokie Stone,’ which is the stone that covers nearly all buildings on our campus.”
He’s a “Second Life” regular. He runs the Information and Communications Technology center designed to provide educators teaching tools for the virtual world. But this week he’d only been in “Second Life” for a few minutes, having arrived less than a half-hour before I did.
“I heard that there was a candlelight vigil in one part of ‘SL’ earlier today,” he said, “but I was with friends here [in Virginia] watching the ceremony and then just walking around outside.”
Physically he hadn’t been that close to the shootings. He said he was in his office across the campus’ Drillfield from Norris House where most of Cho Seung-Hui’s rampage occurred. “We are numb, really. As more names are released, it will get even harder as we learn about the wonderful people we lost.”
Perkins was conflicted about building anything in “Second Life.” “I thought about doing a memorial yesterday, but I had mixed feelings about it,” he said. “Wasn’t sure if I should — if it would be perceived as trite — and really, I didn’t feel like being in ‘SL’ much.”
As I stood and watched, Perkins built his memorial wall. It took him less than a minute. He said he was adding a coding script that would enable people to leave messages. I asked him if he knew how many people had visited the memorial. No one had set up a people-counter, so in a flash, he added one. It immediately tallied the five of us standing there. People were coming and going.
He posed for a picture for me and then hung around for a little bit longer. “Please do emphasize that finding this here is very touching to me,” he wrote as I bid him goodbye. “The solidarity is great.”