Few subjects are more disturbing than HIV/AIDS. First there are the facts. Someone is infected with HIV every nine and a half minutes. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system making the body susceptible to opportunistic infections. An estimated 2.1 million have died of HIV/AIDS, and another 3.2 million people are living with the disease worldwide.
Then there’s the stigma associated with being HIV-positive. Fear, ignorance, and negative assumptions mean that those who are living with HIV are often judged and ostracized. As a result, many people are afraid to ask for information about prevention and treatment. Ironically, this puts them at greater risk of contracting the disease.
I learned this the hard way when I took over as Coordinator of Karuna, the island devoted to HIV/AIDS education and prevention in Second Life (SL). The mandates of the grant* that funded Karuna required that we create a resource library, employ a consumer health librarian, and offer educational workshops. I assumed, as did the authors of the grant, that this kind of resource would be welcomed and embraced by the SL community. So it came as quite a shock to discover that almost no one was interested in the resource we had created.
Fortunately, another part of my job was to collect and share the stories of those dealing with HIV/AIDS. As a writer, educator, and storyteller in my first life I knew that stories have the power to shape and change attitudes, and my experiences in SL taught me virtual reality can be compelling and engaging. Would it be possible, I wondered, to use an immersive, interactive story to allay fears, generate empathy, and debunk some of the stereotypes associated with HIV/AIDS?
The results of our efforts can be seen in the “Life and Times of Uncle D,” an immersive, 3D Story Quest that explores the life of someone who lived with HIV. Participants walk into and experience Uncle D’s life – read his journal, listen to his phone messages, watch his TV, and visit his office. They are invited to share their reactions and submit their own stories using a variety of multi-media tools. These submissions are read and incorporated into the Quest whenever possible, making it an ever evolving and collaborative endeavor that is responsive to the community it serves.
Reactions from both the Second Life and global community have been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. Hundreds of educators from around the world have toured the Quest and brought their students through. Moreover, a variety of groups, organizations, universities doing HIV/AIDS work have expressed interest in finding ways to contribute to the Quest and other projects at Karuna, such as the 3D AIDS Quilt.
It is clear that the Story Quest model is effective not only for education, but for sparking creativity, encouraging integrative thinking, and building community. At Karuna, the Uncle D Quest has paved the way for an active, diverse and growing group of individuals and organizations that are committed to educating the global community about HIV/AIDS and eradicating it from our lives.
For more information about creating Story Quests for your organization, contact Startled Cat Studio.
To visit the Uncle D Story Quest in Second Life, use this SLURL:
For more information about the Quest itself, see:
- ISTE Educators: http://archive.treet.tv/media/iste_012_27oct09_169a.mp4
- The Life and Times of Uncle D Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKCVLwFKxYU&feature=related
- The Life and Times of Uncle D: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-7ZzR6o9hk
- Educators Discover the Uncle D Quest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytecGHIP39o&feature=related
*Karuna was funded for the first 18 months of its existence by a generous grant from the National Library of Medicine written by Lori Bell of the Alliance Library System.