Understanding Virtual Worlds

The Obama Team Officially Gets a Second Life

Community, Education, events, Marketing, Second Life, Virtual Worlds on July 17th, 2009 5 Comments

President Obama's Ghana Speech

Since even before entering the White House, the Obama administration has used a multitude of social networking and communications tools, such as Twitter, YouTube, and of course, blogs in order to better interact with the public.

The administration has been slowly starting to add virtual worlds to this list.

Last week, when President Obama spoke to a live audience in Ghana, his address was streamed to audiences in the virtual worlds of Second Life and Metaplace. After the speech there was a virtual discussion, led by a panel featuring Kenton Keith, the former ambassador to Qatar, and African historian Professor Tim Burke. Guests were also treated to the musical stylings of Derrick Ashong, also known as DNA, who rose to YouTube fame during the presidential campaign.

Obama's Ghana speech in Second Life

This event was announced by CBS News and organized as an official White House event by the U.S. State Department. It was documented by award winning journalist and machinimographer Bernhard Drax (aka Draxtor Despres in SL). We at Sand Castle Studios were privileged to be able to work on this project with Drax. You can see some of our photos from the event and behind the scenes, here.

The event was meant to facilitate discussion and offer an opportunity for everyone to take part, not only in the event itself, but also in the message. In the machinima, the avatar of William May, Director of Innovative Engagement Worldwide for the U.S. State Department explains further how they used these new technologies to establish reach. Underneath all of this, the event was also sort of a test run to see how this mix of virtual worlds and social media might be used and how effective they would be.

The mix obviously blended quite well, because it was one of the most tweeted, facebooked, and SMS discussed events since Obama took office and quickly became viral even topping the trending topic list on Twitter.

The impact of the event didn’t stop there though. Excerpts from Drax’s machinima were presented yesterday in Washington, D.C. by Scott Sechser (AKA Scott Linden in SL) in front of military and civil members of the administration. Present for the presentation, was White House deputy Chief Technology Officer, Beth Noveck.



Novek has since announced that she will be hosting her own virtual event in Second Life this coming Monday, July 20th. The event features a simulcast of Noveck presenting her new book, WIKI GOVERNMENT: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful. Following the presentation, Noveck will take these kinds of virtual events one step further, by allowing questions not only from participants there in person, but also from those viewing the presentation in Second Life!

No one knows yet what the future holds for the Obama adminstration and virtual worlds, but what we are sure of, is that they are actively seeking out, researching, and testing these opportunities.

It will be interesting to see the Second Life community’s response to these types of progressions from the US government. Already there has been some criticism from the “residents” of Second Life about these events. Avatar Crap Mariner voiced his disapproval in a blog post entitled, “Obama wasn’t in Second Life and Metaplace… just the manipulation machine that put him in office.” Writer Tateru Nino who has written for some of the most prestigious and well-read blog sites about virtual worlds including Second Life Insider, Massively, and New World Notes said, “Anyone can stream a video. We could have a famous political figure every week… Showing a video of a President in your house doesn’t mean that the President was there.”

What these residents seem to be missing is that we all should have an invested interest in the US government or any government for that matter using these types of platforms as a means to connect to the public.

Virtual worlds like Second Life offer a prime opportunity to engage using two-way channels of communication and by providing a collaborative environment in which people can come together on all levels, to form innovative solutions that can actually make a difference.

At this time, many organizations are not aware of the power of virtual worlds and like all new platforms it will take time for them to be completely adopted by the mainstream. During this time, organizations will begin to dabble in these platforms. You can not expect them to dive head first into something that is completely unfamiliar to them. In order to ensure continued growth, we must encourage, not criticize, their efforts in order foster these relationships which eventually will lead to the full on engagement that we are seeking.

These beginning steps by the Obama administration give us hope that soon we may all actually be able to take part and have our voices heard in an open government that is a true reflection of democracy.

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5 Responses to “The Obama Team Officially Gets a Second Life”

  1. Draxtor says:

    Gianna, I thank you for writing this thoughtful post! It is indeed a mystery to me why many SL residents dismiss an important event like this so quickly. Only continuous recognition from the outside world and serious engagement by serious folks, be it the public or private sector, connecting the physical and the virtual realm, showing proof of added value, can lift our beloved platform above a mere playground for letting off creative steam after a hard day at the office. SL residents need to decide what they are trying to achieve with their tendency towards protectionism – why are they sooo afraid that evil corporations or slow bureaucrats are ruining and attempting to control their world if they only think about signing up for an SL account. It does remind me of a 5-year old, who struggles to be independent but ultimately wishes to be rescued by Mommy :) Nothing wrong with that for a kid, he/she has plenty of opportunity to develop but I am not sure if SL and/or its residents have the TIME :)

  2. Maggie Darwin says:

    What this writer seems to be missing is the critics *do* have a vested interest in their government, but have already seen that the intention of the current administration’s use of new media is not to “connect to the public” but to try to manipulate that public and pump more air into an already rapidly deflating hero cult. The cult worked fine as long as it was only a political campaign, but now the promise-making department must run in parallel with a promise-keeping department, and both the ends and the means involved with that are not looking so rosy as the picture on the box.

    • Gianna Borgnine says:

      Hi Maggie! Thanks for commenting. My point wasn’t so much that the critics don’t seem to have a vested interest in their government, but more that instead of criticizing these types of events, you should use them as a platform to say exactly what you just said above and be heard not only by the people, but also by that government. No matter if you approve of the government or not, when *both* sides gather at these types of events the results are transparency. I think that is what we (the people) all want.


  3. For more on the event Gianna mentioned, where both Beth Noveck and Scott Sechser/Linden discussed the potential of virtual worlds and serious games, visit http://www.usip.org/events/next-generation-simulations-and-serious-games-peacebuilding. It was an on- and off-line event at the US Insitute of Peace in Washington DC, called “Smart Tools for Smart Power: Simulations and Serious Games for Peacebuilding.”

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