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Virtual Gitmo: Human Rights in Second Life

Video blogger Bernhard Drax talks about the "Gone Gitmo" project, a re-creation of Guantanamo Bay in the virtual world Second Life. Bernhard Drax, better known as Draxtor Despres in SL, has carved out a niche as a virtual reporter specializing in international issues and human rights. Looking like a caricature of a curious NPR reporter, Draxtor showed up at a recent protest in SL's Virtual Israel where Palestinians and Israelis debated who was at fault for the bloodshed in Gaza. Draxtor talked with iWitness about his work and in particular a report he did on the "Gone Gitmo" SL site that has drawn international attention.

Second Life (SL) is an interactive three-dimensional virtual world with about sixteen million users around the world. Using digital tools, one can create an online persona called an avatar and communicate with others using voice, text chat or even break dancing if that strikes your fancy. To be sure there is a strong element of living out a fantasy life through an alter ego, but there is also a more serious side.

Related Story:

Albania: Getting Out of Gitmo Alexandra Poolos and Serene Fang examine the strange machinations of post 9/11 detention policies and politics.


Michael J L - Toronto, ONT
While the use of virtual reality allows access to otherwise unattainable experiences, people must be careful in how these experiences are allowed to inform their judgment. Most would agree that being allowed to perform harmful actions without experiencing harmful consequences can be detrimental to society. In the same light, people would agree that experiencing harmful consequences without having carried out harmful actions would be unjustified.

Drax made an informed opinion about GITMO by living the virtual life of a prisoner, however, these consequences did not occur in isolation. Had Drax virtually, by his own volition, carried out terrorist acts, and thereby harmed others, he might feel and see the gamut of emotions and inconveniences caused by his virtual acts.

While reasons for detainment of persons may be questionable, and thus debated, I feel that an accurate and informed opinion with regard to GITMO detainees cannot be made without accurately experiencing the actions that may have gotten them there.

Karen Johnson - Barnsley, S Yorkshire, UK
This was shown at MipTV. It's a wonderful creative, visionary approach to teaching and learning. I taught twenty years ago and have been working on educational media since then and striving to find superb ways of using new media. I think this is is a compelling example of a serious game. If I was still teaching today, I would be using it in the classroom. Superb work.

In Second Life avatars gather around the best of human impulses, not only the worst. Cetus Gallery District in SL offers artists and appreciators from around the world a cross-cultural place to experience each other's art & cultural -- the world's first such urban virtual arts district modeled on places like Chelsea in New York, or Portland, Oregon's Pearl District.
Gitmo is headed for history's ash heap of destruction, while the world's art has a chance to stand as testament to the better aspects of human creativity and understanding. Virtual worlds allow us to explore both the dark and the light.

John Fillwalk - Muncie, IN
This is an significant example of how virtual experiences can augment our perception of events harvested from other media. The unique position of our vicarious association with the experience of the avatar can create and impart compelling experiences. I commend the artists and the journalists contextualizing this important virtual commentary.

bernhard drax - pacific grove, CA
thank you Joe for posting this very balanced look at the potential of virtual worlds. it is unfortunate (as i stated in the piece), that the mainstream press tends to dismiss these platforms, but i believe that is slowly changing. in a world of limited resources, engaging with the world, global issues and different cultures without having to travel is hugely advantageous!