Note: this was originally posted on my thesis blog, A Better World in Second Life (I changed the name and url). Please go there for my recent posts about Second Life.
Tonight I met up with Delia Lake, who I met at RootsCampSL, in Better World Island, where she runs the Center for Water Studies. The goal of the center is to "highlight stressed habitats" and to construct slightly realistic and slightly fantastic versions of those habitats, mixing animals and vegetation from around the world that can thrive in the same environmental conditions to create a truly magical place that feels simultaneously alien and familiar. There are moose and birds and other woodland animals walking all around the place, and you can even hear the sound of the birds as they fly overhead.
As Delia -- who is an environmental activist and life coach in real life -- took me around I noticed how focused on water the site was. We were on the edge of Better World Island and as we talked I could see all kinds of fish in the semi-transparent water. That was when Delia asked me if I'd ever gone underwater. "No," I replied, and we immediately waded in and the water quickly rose above our heads. Even though they were entirely computer generated, the sights were beautiful. Schools of fish swam past, sharks swaggered by, and orcas slowly swam in the distance. I think I found it so pretty because it was all the work of human hands, collaborating together to make this an attractive space in order to call attention to the beauty of the real world, and to save it. There was something loving in the the detail of the place, like the stripes on the fish, and the swaying sea vegetables.
Delia asked me if I wanted to ride an orca. Who could say no to that? I soon found a killer whale, clicked on it and selected "sit here," and I was whisked away. Delia followed suit and away we went.
The more I talk to people in SL the more I realize that the attraction of the place is in how strangely real your interactions are, both with avatars and with the environment. I couldn't get over how, as I walked through this habitat, I gained sympathy for the real habitats of the earth. This is what SL activists have known for a while now: that the immediacy of your experience in SL can contribute to the passion you can feel for political and social ideas in real life, and can encourage you to pursue them with more passion and energy.