An Exploration of why people participate in Second Life social support groups

Article written by Sara Green-Hamann, Kristen Campbell Eichhorn, John.C Sherblom

This article the way people use Second Life social support groups as a therapy.

I. Definitions

Second Life: is a 3D virtual world, developped by Linden Lab, based in San Francisco and launched on June 23, 2003. 

Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): is a process in which human data interactions occurs through one or more networked telecommunication systems. (

Avatar: Visual representation of the user.

II. The study

Observation of two types of social support groups: Alcoholics Anonymous and Cancer Caregivers.

1- How do the sessions go? 

The members exchange information, emotional support with people who do do not live nearby in group meetings. Those are informal sessions in which participants can discuss specific topics of mutual interests, talk openly with others, express their fears, thoughts and concerns.

Second Life can be an emotional support for people with difficulties, mental illness, physical disabilities, they can find confort and security interacting through anonymous avatars.

2- What are the advantages of CMC social support groups according to the two groups interviewed?

According to them, the anonymous, asynchronous, text-based communication and connectivity charecteristics are the most important advantages. The connectivity to a large network of people with different backgrounds but similar experience is also mentioned.

Participants value the information, the relashionships and the sense of togetherness.

3- What are the disadvantages of CMC social support groups according to the two groups interviewed?

According to them, the reduced social presence, the potential for hostile messages, the difficulty in contacting a person for developing a long-term relashionship, the inability to provide tangible support, potential violations of personal privacy and confidentiality and technical problems are the most important disadvantages.

4- What are the differences with the other types of CMC, still according to them?

Forums: "too impersonal, rather useless". "They didn't keep up". "No sense of community or family."

-> "Second Life feels more real than just discussion boards." "Relashionships in a virtual world have an added dimension because of avatars, it gives a feeling of proximity making the experience more intense than simply a textual encounter."

Face-to-face meetings: The biggest difference is the anonymity. "In Second Life, you don't have to worry about being recognized". "People talk about deeper issues more than in real-life meetings". "It's more convenient in Second Life when sick, we can just stay at home and have access to support".

III. Conclusion

Participants choose to use Second Life social support groups because through that communication medium, they can develop intimate, hyperpersonal relashionships with people who care about them and who help them cope with their life circumstances. Second Life provides them anonimity while providing a visual representation of themselves.

Research Question & Class Discussion:

Most Second Life communication is currently text-based and most Second Life social support groups currently use text to communicate, only a few use voice. Do you think changing from text to voice on Second Life social support groups can affect their development and why?

- Everyone agree that using voice chats is with friends only. Text-messaging is enough.

-To use voice chat is a sign that the person is ready to be friends, to be closer.

- Voice chat can also be great for social support groups because it relates immediate emotion.

- Voice chat feels as well closer to reality and participants maybe don't want to refer to reality so they will prefer text-based communication. It is better to use text at first and then to use voice chat later, to feel closer with the members. 

Voice chat can be a blessing to some members but not to others like for introverted people. Some members register to Second Life social support groups for the anonimity and the text-based communication and if those are taken away from them, they can feel bad and unprepared and stop using Second Life alltogether.