You'd think years watching the human cost of a professional Army would make anyone welcome a break.
As Pixels and Policy reports, Jaque Davison didn't retire from the Army to sit around. He built a virtual world to provide much-needed support to the families of men and women sent overseas.
Building a Counseling Center in the Metaverse
From a NextGov article on Davison:
Davison…thinks the best way to organize and
present information is through visual 3-D cues, rather than static Web
He recently launched the Army Family Support Center
in ActiveWorlds…and selected one of the most familiar visual cues in the world
— the simple sign — to provide links to online information. When
visitors enter the virtual Army Family Support Center, they find
themselves standing inside a circle of signs, each linked to Web sites
Some readers may find this layout familiar – "Landing Zones" in both Second Life and Blue Mars feature entry areas surrounded by signs with text and image explanations of important information. By surrounding his new visitors with images and text instead of a long list of hyperlinks, they can visualize where each path leads.
This visual system also creates the possibility for discussion. Two Army wives may meet while looking at "Olive Drab," an info-poster that explains how deployment affects families. They could easily relay their experiences and troubles, work together to solve mutual problems, and draw strength from a sense of community not present in a passive list of hyperlinks.
Support Through a Virtual Community
Military families deal with the same problems that plague every family, but they are also placed in the middle of an ever-transitioning world. Recent deployments have strained already tense families and current efforts to bring a sense of community to the lives of military families smack of too little, too late.
That's why Davison's idea holds so much promise. If nothing else, Davison's virtual world has the potential to serve as a prototype for larger government projects in providing community and support to military families through the Internet. Davison dealt with the often disruptive problem of distance and frequent moving by removing physical distance from the community equation.
Expanding on Davison's idea seems natural. Instead of merely providing information and a place to chat to families dealing with deployments, why not extend the virtual world to children who have no choice but to move with their military families?
The life of a "military brat" often precludes making long-term physical friendships, but virtual environments solve that problem by keeping every connection networked into a database. Think of it as a Rolodex of avatars.
Given the sacrifices military families make, it seems worth a try.