Jacki Morie: “Re-Entry: Online virtual worlds as a healing space for veterans”

January 22, 2009

Speaker: Jacki Morie
Host: The Engineering Reality of Virtual Reality 2009, part of the 21st Annual IS&T/SPIE Symposium on Electronic Imaging

We describe a project designed to use the power of online virtual worlds as a place of camaraderie and healing for returning United States military veterans – a virtual space that can help them deal with problems related to their time of service and also assist in their reintegration into society. This veterans’ space is being built in Second Life, a popular immersive world, under consultation with medical experts and psychologists, with several types of both social and healing activities planned. In addition, we address several barrier issues with virtual worlds, including lack of guides or helpers to ensure the participants have a quality experience. To solve some of these issues, we are porting the advanced intelligence of the ICT’s virtual human characters to avatars in Second Life, so they will be able to greet the veterans, converse with them, guide them to relevant activities, and serve as informational agents for healing options. In this way such “avatar agents” will serve as autonomous intelligent characters that bring maximum engagement and functionality to the veterans’ space. This part of the effort expands online worlds beyond their existing capabilities, as currently a human being must operate each avatar in the virtual world; few autonomous characters exist. As this project progresses we will engage in an iterative design process with veteran participants who will be able to advise us, along with the medical community, on what efforts are well suited to, and most effective within, the virtual world.