Thursday, April 19, 2007

The VT Memorials in Second Life

Since Monday's events at Virginia Tech - which has been my home for the past eight years - all of us here have been trying to come to grips with the tragedy and what it means us personally and for the university that we love so much. Obviously, there are 33 families who are simply trying to make it to the next minute without crying or screaming.

On Monday afternoon (4-16-07), I was in Second Life for just a few minutes, wondering if I should make some kind of memorial... but I couldn't figure out what to do, I was totally drained, and I didn't know if it would be something that others would take seriously. After all, the real-life memorials here on campus are quite touching, and I wondered if some (or many) would object to the "video game" aspect of doing it. But then on Monday night - on their own initiative - some folks in Second Life (Abbey Zenith and Katrina Sol among them) got land on Info Island, not too far from the ICT Library. There, they set up a small memorial with two sculptures - one by Perefim Cao (top) and the other by Darrien Lightworker (below):

Soon, all around those sculptures, SL residents came to leave candles, flowers, teddy bears, and so on. All objects to show their sadness and support for the Virginia Tech community. On Tuesday afternoon, I decided to log-in to see the memorial, as I saw it described on the SLED listserv. I was very touched by what I saw. Evidently, there was a candelight vigil in SL the night before that I could not be part of, but I heard great things about it (except in the blog about it by Prokovy Neva, who wrote a verbose, rambling account that could have been simply left to a few words of regret and support). Prok did get one thing right - that when something like this happens, it's hard to think. Evidently, it impacted him/her too. At any rate, the pictures of the ceremony (by Katrina Sol) can be found on Flickr..

While standing at the VT Memorial site on Info Island, I decided that it needed a backdrop to give it some definition. Since I had "Hokie Stone" in my inventory, I thought a wall with the stone texture would be appropriate, and it would give the area a sense of Virginia Tech. As I put up the wall, I was IM'd by a reporter who was visiting from MTVNews. We chatted a bit, and he posted his story the next day, "Multiplayer: Virginia Tech Teacher Builds Memorial Wall in Virtual World." A different article about it appeared on Hamlet Au's New World Notes, "For Virginia."

I'm just thinking of this now, as I write, but one cannot even escape press in virtual environment! A lot of my colleagues and others I know at VT have been very discouraged with the press coverage (not the lack of it, but it's crushing presence... so much so that we can barely even grieve in peace). I know that they have a job to do, but the openly hostile and accustatory way in which our police and administration are being treated is patently unfair. Sure, questions must be raised, but on the first day? The first week? But in with 24-hour news cycles to fill, and commercials to sell, then one has to have a few different stories to keep people coming back. Every angle they take seems to want to put blame on someone - a group of someones (anyone but the gunman) - for the fact that 32 innocent people died. I have friends who can not even visit the memorials on the Drillfield for fear of having cameras in their face. Ok, enough about the press.

On Tuesday I was having a hard time dealing with the tragedy. Yes, I was terribly sad, but I found that as I tried to take in the enormity of this terrible thing, I could only do so by focusing on the lives of the victims. I cannot grieve in the abstract - I needed faces and stories. So, going back into SL, I began to build portraits of the victims - an idea given to me by one of the memorial visitors. I set to work on Tuesday, but only finished today, as getting all the names and photos took time.

On Wednesday, I worked on getting the bio links up and organizing the photos of those we lost. Then, in the late hours of the night - and into the morning - I had a flash of an idea: that I could set up a vendor to collect funds. Donors, in return, would get a Virginia Tech t-shirt. They could donate at six different levels. Putting all this together took about 2.5 hours, as I was working from home where my computer is slower than dirt.

Today (Thursday), Robin Linden donated land for a second memorial site on a piece of Linden land. There is a map/teleport to it from the Info Island location, but its grid coordinates are : Fame (192,85,29). I don't care for the sim name, but at least the title of the plot is "VT Memorial." At this location, I put up some 'Hokie Stone' walls and the pictures (larger than the ones at Info Island) of those we lost. Additionally, there are places for people to donate to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. Unfortunately, there are already places and groups that appear to be fraudulently raising money or selling items related to the tragedy. As good as SL can be, there are also the idiots running around. I reported one case of abuse to Linden labs, and Robin tells me that they will get on it.

HSMF Update: As of 10:30 PM EST on 19-APR-07, more than $100 US has been raised for the fund! Tonight, I will try to think of ways to further promote it within SL. The goal is to raise $1,000 US ... the record in SL (by the American Cancer Society) is $60,000. It would be incredible to ever reach that!!

A lot of folks have thanked me for building the memorials, but as I close this entry, I want to make it very clear that I did not build them - only parts of them. Even ideas that I implemented sometime came from those who dropped by to visit. The first memorial, and subsequent statues, came from other SL residents who wanted to show solidarity with those of us at Virginia Tech. I cannot express how much it means to me to see such incredible support from the SL community. They have left hundreds (thousands?) of prim in the shape of gifts that show their concern.

I walked around campus today and saw the memorials and signs on the Drillfield, the flowers donated by various people that are filling the chapel, and the signs by university students across the nation. It is humbling to see the outpouring of support; to know how many people care about us. It is great that I can walk around RL and SL and feel such support.

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