Muslim Voices — Second Life
0:00:06:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: Welcome to Muslim Voices. I'm your host, Rosemary Pennington.
0:00:11:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: For a very long time, community building was something that took place in the real world. You voted, you attended city council meetings, and clam bakes. You shaped your sphere of influence into something that mirrored your hopes, dreams, desires, and beliefs. Well, for several years now, you've also been able to do that online. There are myriad virtual worlds you can immerse yourself into. There's World of Warcraft and Everquest, two fantasy games that allow you to network and build communities with people from all over the place. Then there's Second Life, which can be fantastical at times but which can also mirror everyday things and concerns. A researcher in New York's been exploring the experiences of Muslims in Second Life.
0:00:58:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: On a rainy Monday in New York City, I meet up with Rita King at a diner. It's loud but it's close to the U.N. where she and her research partner will attend a meeting later on. Over quiche and coffee, we talk about Second Life.
0:01:12:>>RITA KING : My first week in Second Life in November of 2006, I met a Muslim woman in a virtual Jewish synagogue. And she told me that her entire life she'd been curious about what goes on during prayer services in a synagogue but felt that if she went into a physical world synagogue, she would be persecuted or make people uncomfortable.
0:01:31:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: King is a former journalist, Carnegie Fellow, and now, CEO of Dancing Ink Productions. She's also a co-author of the three-part study, "Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds."
0:01:43:>>RITA KING : She was able to experience it and she felt that her lifelong curiosity had been sated in that way. And I realized the cultural implications of a medium in which people were comfortable exploring parts of themselves that they simply felt they couldn't in the physical world.
0:01:58:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: Armed with a grant from the Richard Lansbury fund, she and Joshua Fouts dove into Second Life, investigating how Muslims interacted with each other and non-Muslims in the virtual world. What they found over the course of the yearlong project were people looking to engage in tough conversations. In one particular instance, a Muslim woman built a mosque in the program and then invited people from all around the world to debate points of Islamic law.
0:02:26:>>RITA KING : People from 12 countries attended and they had an absolutely civilized and thoughtful conversation that revealed how kaleidoscopic these laws are around the world and what effect that has on women and men and children and people as a whole.
0:02:40:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: King says time and again, the people she encountered were open to discussing virtually anything and everything. And that's not really all that unusual for this particular virtual space. Mark Bell is a PhD student at Indiana University who studies computer-mediated communication. He says Second Life is a place where you can try out new things without getting in trouble for it.
0:03:03:>>MARK BELL: When you exist in Second Life, you can try on different cultures for a very short period of time. Be a culture that's different than your gender, be a culture that's different than your race, be a culture that's different than your species, and try those cultures out in a artificial way that is completely free of repercussions to you, physically or economically.
0:03:29:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: Bell says he thinks the emotional risks of trying on a new way of looking at the world are fewer in Second Life because you have your avatar to shield you. While it is a representation of yourself you've created, it can serve as a kind of firewall between the virtual world and the real world. He also says most people go into Second Life not looking for trouble but actually to encounter other cultures.
0:03:54:>>MARK BELL: By going into Second Life, you're already signifying that you're searching for something other than your usual existence. Some people go in and they build their house and they walk around their house but they quickly realize that there are people flying overhead and castles, and that's a little more interesting than my house. Faced with this overwhelming onslaught of difference and possibility, it's almost inherent that when you go into Second Life, you're looking for something new.
0:04:25:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: And King says that search for something new is broadening the communities we create offline as well as on.
0:04:33:>>RITA KING : People are forming social groups that are global with people that they've met in this medium. In fact, I just went to Brooklyn a couple of days ago to meet Alexis Madrigal, who is a writer for Wired who I first discovered in Twitter and turns out he was just absolutely fantastic. So that's a person that I never would have interacted with in the physical world had I not - had we not first met in another medium. And when we met, he said he feels like he's finding his tribe.
0:05:01:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: There are critics of the program who think the cartoonish look of Second Life somehow makes the interactions people have in the virtual space less real. That because they can't see or touch a living, breathing human being, the interaction means nothing really. King says she's not trying to paint Second Life as a kind of utopian paradise but she does think the critics who are quick to write Second Life off are missing out on the bigger picture.
0:05:28:>>RITA KING : It is not going to make us less human or less aware of the world around us. I think it will make us more aware of the world around us and I think the best function of the space is that it mixes art with utility, creativity with utility, and infuses a sense of creativity because it's user-created content. And when people are working together to create something, it changes. It suddenly isn't about your view versus my view. It's about how can we work together to create something beautiful. And then you fill it with content.
0:05:59:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: For King, Second Life can help us understand ourselves and our cultures a little better. You can find more at King's website, dancinginkproductions.com
0:06:18:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: This has been Muslim Voices, a production of the voices and visions project in partnership with WFIU public media from Indiana University. Support comes from the Social Science Research Council, music was provided by Animus. You can find Muslim voices on Twitter and Facebook or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes. There's also a blog at our website, muslimvoices.org.