“Our dreams are a second life.” ~Gerard de Nerval
By Cat Boccaccio.
Everyone faces challenges, be they due to health, age, location, or circumstances. What differentiates us is the way we deal with them. Fran Seranade is the Second Life avatar of a San Diego woman with Parkinson’s disease, wise and vigorous at the age of 86, who has met the challenge and exceeded expectations.
In Drax Files Episode 13, machinima artist Draxtor Despres introduces us to Fran, a four-year resident of Second Life who explores, socializes with friends, and enjoys the fantasy of a virtual world, mostly in the environment created by her daughter, Barbi Alchemy. Shyness and physical isolation can restrict people in the “real” world, and Barbi created “Creations for Parkinson’s” as a safe and welcoming environment in which everyone is free to participate, create, share, and connect with others.
How has Second Life affected and improved Fran’s life? Parkinson’s compromises balance and can prevent mobility, but somehow that changed for Fran in her four years as an SL resident.
Daughter Barbi’s theory involves mirror neurons, which, according to Wikipedia, are neurons “that fire both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting.” Mirror neurons are effectively responsible for our learning as children, by watching and imitating what we see, and developing muscle memory for everyday tasks. She believes that Second Life triggers the mirror neurons “to create new pathways and to connect with the body in newer, healthier, and younger ways.”
Fran identifies deeply with her avatar, delights in the physical freedom she has, and says that her avatar “represents who I really feel inside.” This identification and the possible firing of mirror neurons while Fran is active in Second Life, could account for the drastic improvement in her balance and overall health. Fran at one time could not walk unassisted. Now she can move around free of attendants or walkers, a fact for which she credits Second Life directly: “I know that my avatar can do this, and I know that I can too.” For Fran, the Fountain of Youth exists behind her (beautifully huge) computer monitor.
The word “avatar” originates from the Sanskrit; a loose translation is “the spirit in a different form”. I believe this applies to all of us in Second Life. What ever our age or challenges, we have a core being or spirit, and it is nothing less than a miracle that we can shed our “real” world problems in what Barbi calls “reality, but reality in a different form” in Second Life. And a reality that potentially connects people spirit to spirit, which perhaps is something more meaningful and important than our daily “real” life wanderings. It sounds crazy even to me. But what if?