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  • Writer's pictureJena Ball

A lot has changed since the world "COVID" entered my vocabulary six months ago. Since then, my world has gradually imploded as things I took for granted - walks in the park, coffee at Starbucks, yoga class, cozy dinners with friends - became suspect, even dangerous. Back then, many questioned whether the virus was a hoax - whether it was actually lethal, whether we really needed to practice social distancing and wear masks. Then people began to die. Not just the frail and elderly, but the middle-aged, college students, doctors, nurses, children. Jobs, including my own, were lost and the walls of my life closed in, restricting me to two small rooms and the company of my cats.

I share all these experiences to contrast them with my life in Second Life. A long-time resident, I have been a fan of virtual spaces for education, entertainment, and business for almost 13 years. Since COVID morphed into a pandemic, however, it has become a lifeline - a way to combat isolation, socialize, and network with others.

Which brings me to The Hug Felt Round the World. Reading and hearing about the growing number of people feeling lonely, anxious, and frustrated thanks to the isolation imposed by COVID, I got to thinking. Wouldn't it be great to give people a way to come together to enjoy each other's company and share virtual hugs? Several brainstorming sessions with the folks at FOCUS Magazine (the co-creators of the event) and the basic outline for "The Hug Felt Round the World" was born.

The Hug Felt Round the World will be a 24-hour event featuring a large "hug circle" formed by avatars standing with arms linked. In the center of the circle will be a "Tree of Life" displaying names submitted to us by participants. The idea is that each of those names will be embraced and surrounded by love for 24 hours. Below is my first draft of what the event space will look like.

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  • Writer's pictureJena Ball

It's been almost 13 years now since Jenaia first "rezzed" into existence in Second Life. During that time she has taught me an enormous amount about virtual reality and ignited my creativity in ways I never thought possible. Similarly, living with and through her has catapulted me into relationships - both with myself and others - and environments that simply were not on my radar as a physical being. Why, for example, did creating Jenaia's outward appearance have such a positive impact on my self-esteem? How did crafting a 3D space to tell the story of a person who lived with HIV/AIDS awaken and grow my emotional intelligence? How can spending time with others from around the world in virtual reality be so freeing and supportive?

These are just some of the questions I've been asking myself.

Then two days ago, while trying to explain why Jenaia means so much to me and to my new project, Braided Lives, I realized it was time to let Jenaia speak for herself. That doesn't mean I am going away. There's plenty to do in physical as well as virtual reality to bring people together, help them tell their stories, and heal from the ongoing trauma and stress we've all been experiencing. However, Jenaia has her own unique and powerful perspective that I do my best to pay attention to every day.

An avatar, after all, is the descent of spirit into form - the embodiment of what is best in each of us - and that is how I see Jenaia . When writing from her perspective, I do my best to set my day-to-day concerns aside and ask, "what is the bigger, more compassionate version of this situation or person?" I hope to give you the benefit of her insight, love, and compassion as well. Jenaia is the best of me in both worlds. I hope you will agree.

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  • Writer's pictureJena Ball

One of the biggest complaints I hear about social distancing has to do with the lack of physical contact. People really miss being able to give and gets hugs – a universal and welcome reminder that someone cares.

While I can’t single-handedly flatten the viral curve, I can recommend an unusual but effective solution – get an avatar. It turns out that there is solid scientific evidence to support my claim that hugging other avatars feels real and can have a positive impact on your mood.

According to an article published by Scientific American, “Brain-imaging research suggests that people project themselves onto their avatars.” And the more we identify with those avatars, the more real their experiences seem to our brains.

To test my point, I've been asking others in Second Life what social distancing has been like for them. Then, whenever it seems appropriate, I offer them a hug. Only one person has turned me down. The rest took me up on my offer, and I have to say that it's been both heartwarming and educational. Even if the avatars' arms are pixels, the warmth and care have been real, and I've heard some lovely stories of courage, strength, and determination.

But don’t take my word for it. I've set up a virtual “Hug Station” at my home in Second Life where folks can come to get and give a hug. Here is the SLURL (a URL in Second Life) that will bring you to the station:

If you are not familiar with Second Life, getting an account and an avatar are FREE. You will have to download a viewer (the interface between your computer and Second Life servers), but it's not hard. Here's what to do:

1. Go to and follow the instructions. You will be prompted to download the viewer provided by Linden Lab (the makers of SL), but I would recommend Firestorm. If you'd prefer not to do that, simply follow the links to download the default viewer and log in.

2. To download and install the Firestorm viewer:

3. Launch the viewer, enter your name and password. You will be asked to accept the terms of service and then find yourself in a newbie training area.

4. Go to School: Once you arrive in Second Life you will find yourself in the beginner's area. I recommend going through the tutorial. It's fun and will teach you important skills.

5. Find your search bar (the icon of a magnifying glass) and search for my name - Jenaia Morane. Once my name comes up, click on the Profile button, then the Offer Friendship button. That will send me a message saying you want to connect.

If you are already a Second Life user, I hope you will grab a friend or significant other and stop by for a hug. Take a photo, drop it into my inventory, and tell me how you've been managing during these challenging times.

I'll see you inworld!

P.S. If you're curious about the neuroscience I was referring to, visit:

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