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Monday, April 18, 2022

The SORBET Project drives residents of SecondLife and other virtual worlds to rethink social distancing and engagement during COVID-19.



COVID-19 has been a very sore spot for all, regardless of what many went through. Some lost their source of livelihood, many lost family members, homes, a sense of security, unity, and many other casualties of the pandemic. However, everyone lost their sense of freedom when the government, per the recommendations of the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), suggested that businesses, schools, and other public venues shut down to encourage social distancing--a set of non-pharmaceutical interventions to prevent the spread of a contagious disease with measurable physical space between individuals. As a result of the shutdown, people everywhere faced the challenge of dealing with being forced to stay home in place of being with family and friends at the mall or their favorite restaurant. 

Many people took up new hobbies and new ways to generate income during the earlier phases of the pandemic; others turned to their expansive collection of books or movies to cope. Others took to the metaverse to regain some semblance of social life and escape the pandemic and the doldrums. During this time, it was evident that SecondLife had regained traction with those familiar with the metaverse while newcomers were roused to start an account and see what the virtual world had to offer. Linden Labs, the creators behind SecondLife, saw the virtual world's economy take a sharp upturn during lockdown periods when no one had a way to engage other than through a vehicle like SecondLife, according to Yahoo! Finance. This positive change in SecondLife's economic data meant that more users logged in or joined the community at that time. 

Naturally, with COVID-19 as disruptive, many would want to either forget the event or talk more about its effects while interacting with many of SecondLife's users. To satisfy the latter, a few groups and places cropped up on the grid. However, one place that I found to be particularly interesting is the location of The SORBET Project. Veritas Raymaker is the leading mastermind behind the project but is the sole owner proprietor of its location in SecondLife. After making this remarkable discovery, I had to tap Veritas for an interview being that this particular location was a part of something that had a real purpose, in my opinion. 

I was curious as to where the idea for the SORBET Project sprouted from, so I asked Veritas for his response to this burning question, and here is what he said: 

"The SORBET Project came about as a virtual research project that a team of mathematicians wanted to start to teach children and adolescents and the general public about social behaviors that are appropriate for the pandemic. The point of this was to rewire the brains of people to believe that these practices were intrinsic to their existence and not feel as if they were another set of directives that they were required to follow," states Veritas. 

When asked why SecondLife was the medium of choice, the response was, "James Gee* had written about something he referred to as projective identity. So, as people familiar with operating as avatars, we understand that 'whatever happens to our avatar in-world, our minds generally take it as happening to our atomic selves,' this can be designed for and made use of in learning." 

He adds, "By using environments such as SL, learners can 'play' and modify their behaviors and subsequently discuss the implications of their personal decisions on the wider community, without negatively impacting the community. for example, they could see how decisions to wear masks/take a vaccination influence the degree of diffusion of the virtual virus among the community." 

Usually, such a project measures the effects of such research longitudinally. Veritas stated that "we have not undertaken any longitudinal studies primarily because our initial work was self-funded (our priority in 2020 was to respond rapidly to the teachers' expressed need to take learning to home-based settings). We were awarded formal funding in 2021 to take SORBET to the mobile platform; however, we will not be studying participants longitudinally because the funding is to develop the app and not to investigate this (pertinent) question [sic].

However, I asked whether there were measures of the project's success or failure, and Veritas provided pages of his research journal. The measurements you will see below are taken directly from the journal, which tended toward many pre-and post-questionnaires.

Leading image of descriptive statistics from the pilot that pertains to students’ responses to four statements on a five-point Likert Scale (where “1” is ‘strongly disagree and “6” is ‘strongly agree’). 

Statements used in the pre-and post-surveys on attitudes to citizenship education. 

As far as a support group for COVID or hangout spot, I felt that highlighting this cool project not only utilized SecondLife as a space to conduct a study but taught students and people about the importance of changing social happens during something as lethal, and life-altering as the COVID-19 Pandemic is far more advantageous and worth the coverage. 

*For reference, James Gee is a retired American researcher who has worked in psycholinguistics, discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, bilingual education, and literacy.


Veritas Raymaker Socials: 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kennethytlim/

Twitter: @thinkermaker 

A personal site for SORBET Project: 

https://sites.google.com/site/disciplinaryintuitions/covid-19-safe-distancing-through-math

Link to In-world Location:

The SORBET Project

Link to the Journal Entry: 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666557321000136

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