What is Second Life?

Second Life (downloadable at www.SecondLife.com) is a free 3D online virtual world created by Linden Lab that has over six million virtual citizens and a booming economy. In some ways, Second Life functions as a traditional digital social network in which users can interact with one another from anywhere in the world. However, Second Life is unique from conventional social networks in that users create an avatar (a customizable, digital 3D representation of the body) and explore virtual locations, developing virtual friendships and discovering virtual communities.1,2 Unlike real life, Second Life citizens have the benefit of determining how they represent their physical body and their personality, with the opportunity to create a virtual self that can be different from the real self.  

Getting Started in Second Life

To help our participants get started, we created a Quick Start Guide to Second Life.This guide offers detailed instruction in developing the skills to access and navigate in Second Life. Topics covered include how to access Second Life, move your avatar in SL, adjust your camera view, acquire Friendship of another avatar, communicate in SL, communicate with Groups via texting and voice, set the quality of the graphics on your screen, teleport, teleport “Home”, “Search”, set and go to “Landmarks”, access your “Inventory”, change your appearance, create your “Profile”, and Learn more about Second Life.

As interest in immersive virtual environments grows, information is needed on how to navigate in these environments that is tailored to the specific needs of people with disabilities. Although a few introductions to Second Life are available online, this Quick Start Guide offers details and problem solving advice that is not otherwise available. Our research to date has shown that time spent in offering a thorough orientation to this new medium has a substantial payoff in reducing the number of technical difficulties that are encountered once the small group workshops begin. By eliminating these difficulties this self-paced guide helps enhance participants' enjoyment of interacting with others in this virtual world.

Weight Management and Second Life

Second Life’s success and popularity as an entertaining social network and information exchange has sparked the interest of health promotion researchers and educators. Where users share information for social purposes, the virtual world also has potential as a vehicle for educational and/or health-related information in a widely accessible venue.3 Current research has begun to explore Second Life as a site for weight management, basing interventions and programs on existing face-to-face strategies. When compared with face-to-face sessions, the Second Life-based programs may result in better long-term weight maintenance.4 This may be due in part to the opportunity for users to engage in physical activity in the virtual setting, which increases their confidence in being physically active in the real world. Users may also develop social support systems within Second Life that affect their health choices in real life.5, 6, 7

Women with Disabilities and Second Life

The option to customize an avatar’s body is particularly attractive to women with physical disabilities, because it is a unique opportunity to choose how or whether to represent disability.8 There are several virtual spaces or “islands” within Second Life that cater specifically to women living with disability. These islands serve as meeting places for disabled users to connect with other users that have similar real world disabilities, as well as participate in virtual activities that might be challenging in real life. 9,10

Welcome to the GoWoman Island!

The GoWoman Island in Second Life is a virtual space for women to learn about diet and exercise, as they relate to physical disability, and explore commonly shared barriers. 

The program's participants meet in various, scenic locations on the island and attend educational weight management sessions. 

While sitting poolside or wading in the water, Women on the GoWoman Island discuss issues in weight management for those living with real world disability. Women on the island may also find motivation for real life physical activity at the virtual gym or learn real life adaptive cooking techniques in the virtual rooftop kitchen. 


  1. Second Life. What is Second Life. Available from: http://secondlife.com/whatis/?lang=en. (Accessed 13 Oct 2014).
  2. Second Life. Second Life Marketplace. Available from: https://marketplace.secondlife.com/products/search?search%5Bcategory_id%5D=83. (Accessed 13 Oct 2014).
  3. Boulos, M. N. K., Hetherington, L., & Wheeler, S. (2007). Second Life: an overview of the potential of 3‐D virtual worlds in medical and health education. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 24(4), 233-245.
  4. Sullivan, D. K., Goetz, J. R., Gibson, C. A., Washburn, R. A., Smith, B. K., Lee, J., ... & Donnelly, J. E. (2013). Improving weight maintenance using virtual reality (second life). Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 45(3), 264-268
  5. Dean, E., Cook, S., Keating, M., & Murphy, J. (2009). Does this avatar make me look fat? Obesity and interviewing in Second Life. Journal For Virtual Worlds Research, 2(2).
  6. Coons, M. J., Roehrig, M., & Spring, B. (2011). The potential of virtual reality technologies to improve adherence to weight loss behaviors. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, 5(2), 340-344.
  7. Ruiz, J. G., et al. (2011). Using anthropomorphic avatars resembling sedentary older individuals as models to enhance self-efficacy and adherence to physical activity: psychophysiological correlates. Stud Health Technol Inform,173, 405-411.
  8. Stendal, K., Molka-Danielsen, J., Munkvold, B. E., & Balandin, S. (2012). Virtual worlds and people with lifelong disability: Exploring the relationship with virtual self and others. ECIS 2012 Proceedings.
  9. Stendal, K.,et al. (2013, January). Social Affordances for People with Lifelong Disability through Using Virtual Worlds. In 2013 46th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), (pp. 873-882). IEEE.
  10. Napolitano, M. A., Hayes, S., Russo, G., Muresu, D., Giordano, A., & Foster, G. D. (2013). Using Avatars to Model Weight Loss Behaviors: Participant Attitudes and Technology Development. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology,7(4), 1057-1065.