The Anglican Cathedral of Second Life

Virtual Reality – where to from here?


A first experience of Second Life usually results in initial confusion, then curiosity, then brief enthusiasm as you work on your appearance, then inevitably boredom as you ask the obvious question, ‘What is the point of all of this?’ This is usually why most never return, contributing to the statistic of 1.4 million log ins in over the past 60 days but more than 10+ million members.

Chris, who is relatively new to SL notes on her blog

Wandering about the empty landscape of the Learn4Life island is …well, frankly, boring. There’s a limit to how much I can amuse myself without company in any life, real or virtual, and so far I’ve only encountered someone there twice.

Right now SL is principally a social networking site and one that is quickly loosing its appeal.  Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life have much grander plans than novel social networking.  They see it as the next stage in the development of the internet. But the challenge for Linden is how to get their virtual offering from the present cloistered environment into one where it is simple, secure and ubiquitous.

On the 10th the October IBM announced:

IBM and Linden Labs today announced they will work with a broad community of partners to drive open standards and interoperability to enable avatars — the online persona of visitors to these online worlds — to move from one virtual world to another with ease, much like you can move from one website to another on the Internet today. The companies see many applications of virtual world technology for business and society in commerce, collaboration, education, training and more.

As more enterprises and consumers explore the 3D Internet, the ecosystem of virtual world hosts, application providers, and IT vendors need to offer a variety of standards-based solutions in order to meet end user requirements. To support this, IBM and Linden Lab are committed to exploring the interoperability of virtual world platforms and technologies, and plan to work with industry-wide efforts to further expand the capabilities of virtual worlds.

“As the 3D Internet becomes more integrated with the current Web, we see users demanding more from these environments and desiring virtual worlds that are fit for business,” said Colin Parris, vice president, Digital Convergence, IBM. “IBM and Linden Lab’s working together can help accelerate the use and further development of common standards and tools that will contribute to this new environment.”

IBM and Linden Lab plan to work together on issues concerning the integration of virtual worlds with the current Web; driving security-rich transactions of virtual goods and services; working with the industry to enable interoperability between various virtual worlds; and building more stability and high quality of service into virtual world platforms. These are expected to be key characteristics facing organizations which want to take advantage of virtual worlds for commerce, collaboration, education and other business applications.

I consider this to be the beginnings of the virtual internet.

This presents the church and not for profits with an excellent opportunity through assisting in what I call back room and front room operations.

Back room

This is the mechanics of being a church or not for profit (nfp): the administration, the financial operation, the logistics etc… I believe considerable savings can be made through making use of virtual technology. One of the key tools in running a church or a nfp is meetings. Quite often those involved live away from the main office resulting in minimal contact due to the costs associated with travel. One of the benefits of staff and volunteers being located in one space is the casual communication that occurs in the lunch room, hallways etc… what if those staff and volunteers were ‘together’ in a virtual office space? So available is a virtual work environment perhaps accessed through an active window on your computer screen, where you can interact with colleagues wherever they may be.

Front room

This is the interface with the public: donors and those we seek to influence. The perennial challenge in relating externally is to be relevant and attractive. The virtual setting provides the ability to offer somewhere between telling a story and actually experiencing the story. So two quick examples: the first is the development of a virtual Bible world which is presently being worked on by the Bible Society in New Zealand (of which I am Chief Executive). People enter the Bible world and walk amongst virtual representations of key Bible stories. So they can climb the Mount of Olives; explore old Jerusalem and so on. The second example is building a virtual representation of a missional need. So say if a mission organisation wanted to raise awareness and funds for a project in Nepal, they could create a virtual Nepalese villiage, highlight the need, and provide a method to make a donation or get involved.

As this new technology emerges we as a church need to ask, ‘How can this assist us in what we are seeking to achieve?’ A question I am committed to exploring over the coming years.

Mark Brown


Author: Mark Brown

CEO of The Bible Society in New Zealand.

3 thoughts on “Virtual Reality – where to from here?

  1. These are important and meaningful words for me, Una. I am an educator and a follower of Christ. I have been intrigued with the future of SL and what expectations and opportunities will emerge if what Mark describes and cites above come to pass.

    I find myself as Scot Jung in SL looking substantially different than I do as Scot the middle aged college professor. Yes, I find that I am not willing or able to “be” someone that I am not in RL. I actually take comfort in that while at the same time ponder the implications for SL and my own identity formation and behaviors.

    Am I as shy around new people in SL as I am in RL? Will the risks I take in SL in meeting and engaging others in conversation affect the way I meet and converse with others in SL? Will my openness about sharing who I am spiritually in SL translate back to RL?

    I wonder if in the next iteration of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the man by the side of the road might very well be one of those “damaged souls seeking solace” that Una describes in her comment?

  2. I have suspisions as to whether SL will be very successful as long as a browser-independent application has to be run to use it.

    For instance, the computer I would prefer to attend the services on is from work (laptop). I do not want to load SL on a work computer – that would be like playing solitaire at work (a popular way for people to waste time at work since about 20 years ago; of course maybe now it’s replaced by blogging, etc?)

  3. I came into SL seeking a virtual world where I could act out a life as a different character from the real me. In the event it seems that, although my avatar is completely different from my rl appearance, the personality remains the original me, but perhaps less inhibited.
    I can do things here that I can’t in rl, but more important, I can meet people and form relationships, real relationships in which feelings are not unknown. I’ve had much pleasure but shed real tears too. It is possible to experience joy and sorry through sl, fall in love even.
    More relevantly it is possible to share God’s love with those we meet. It seems there are many damaged souls seeking solace through sl. A simple thing like a hug can be very therapeutic.
    Of course there is a part of sl which is questionable (to put it mildly), but that part of our world is populated by people that Jesus died for and we should be among them.
    I am in that world and find myself having frequently to question what is right and wrong in a virtual world. It is the same question actors in a drama must answer, is it right to commit acts on stage that we regard as wrong in real life? If so all our passion plays are sinful.
    I look forward to entering the promised virtual Bible world, although I have been privileged to visit in rl the present day Holy Land.
    What I would really like to see is transparent technology, so that we can concentrate on the message and not the medium.

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