NOTE: This was originally published in Tucson Weekly and can be found here.
While the cancelation of events and changes to schedules here in Tucson are relatively new, closures are happening everywhere all over the world and have been for months now. Because of this, people are having to identify alternative means of gathering in groups for activities.
Although online avatars have been a thing for some time now through video games and other casual online forums, businesses have been trying to break into the online space for a few years for professional reasons. And, sure, live-streaming your event (a la SXSW) is also a great alternative, but it’s definitely not as engaging or interactive.
Now, there’s an even greater purpose than just creating your inner self into an online world. With the rise of social distancing comes the rise of the online avatar. For the most part, we don’t even need newly created software. Everything we need is already available to use.
Japan, like other Asian nations, has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for some time now. Schools have been closed, and other ways of learning have been instituted. This hasn’t stopped students from enjoying things like graduation.
In the below tweet you can see students using online avatars in Minecraft to hold a graduation ceremony.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Minecraft has been used for something outside of just being a game. Recently, Reporters Without Borders opened, “The Uncensored Library” in the game so that people from all over the world could share banned news articles from other countries.
VR Chat is another place where people from all walks of life gather in a virtual space. Most of the time it’s silly chit chat, but every so often there are more serious talks. YouTuber Syrmor holds interviews with various people inside the game on sometimes difficult topics.
Second Life has been around for a long time but still has a strong group of hardcore users, some of which have experienced shopping, selling, dating, marriage, divorce, pride parades, and more. There’s even an American Cancer Society Relay for Life event scheduled in June.
Then there’s World of Warcraft. While technically it’s not meant to be anything other than a Role Playing Game, because of this it can really be whatever you want it to be. Hardcore role-players have known this for years, and you can find them on many of the roleplaying servers that are provided for play. Others, though, have found different uses, such as teaching their classes.
Of course, not every meeting held in World of Warcraft goes down as expected.
For a more professional take on the online avatar, there’s XPlaneVR, who has made its software available for parties interested in hosting large events, classes, or symposiums.
There are other examples all over the internet if you just take a look. You never know which one might be right for you, and what you may use it for in the future.