A virtual mansion for the homeless

Back in the summer, games journalist James Wagner Au became an “embedded journalist” in Second Life, the 3D virtual world — filing weekly reports about life amongst the avatars. I’ve just recently started reading the archive, and it’s incredibly cool stuff. In Second Life, people are allowed to build almost anything they want — vehicles, clothes, expansive homes. One of my favorite entries is from May, when Au ran into a woman name Catherine Omega, who is homeless in British Columbia, but built herself a huge virtual mansion in Second Life (pictured above). The posting is online here, but here’s an excerpt:

And how’d that make you feel”, I ask her, “Building a virtual home while not having an actual one?” (I apologize to her for sounding all Barbara Walters about it.)

“Oh, journalists.” She emoticon winks again, but she takes a while to respond. “Well, Second Life is an effective escape for most people — I was no different. It’s just that while most people use Second Life to unwind, or hang out with friends, I did the same, but I had more to escape.” To her, she says, the game “[w]as a means to keep busy and give me a means to working towards improving myself. I mean, obviously not as big a help as food banks and stuff, but it’s been very helpful…in terms of [learning programming] skills, but also in terms of just getting OUT. [W]hen you don’t have running water, or money, there aren’t a lot of places you can go. Contrary to popular belief, homeless people aren’t lazy, they just have a lot of spare time.”

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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