Virtual World Wins Local Man Real World Award

Pacific Grove, CA – Bernhard Drax is working his way around this outdoor amphitheater shooting film for his next project. As he moves in for a close-up on a woman in the audience, she doesn't flinch. "She's not aware because I'm actually flying overhead somewhere, and I'm just moving basically my invisible camera," said Drax. You see, Drax is actually sitting in his Pacific Grove home office. The amphitheater is in an online, virtual world called Second Life. And Second Life is where Drax has found a new media niche for himself. "I am a Machinima Blogger. Machinima is defined as film made in virtual worlds or games," said Drax.

Using screen capture software, he films events and gathers interviews then pieces together corporate videos, documentaries and news reports. He gets paid for some of his work and does some pieces for his own satisfaction. He posts it all on You Tube, which is where one story has been viewed more than 40,000 times. It's about a virtual Guantanamo Bay in Second Life created by other machinima producers named Nonny de La Pena and Peggy Weil. When you visit, you see Gitmo from a prisoner's perspective.

This story first caught the attention of Vanity Fair magazine and then an organization called InterNews Europe, which awarded Drax the "Every Human Has Rights" media award earlier this month. He's one of 30 recipients. "I'm proud that I've gotten this award, but it's a signal that this is viable, that this is legitimate, that this is not a game," said Drax.

Acceptance of Second Life as more than a game continues to grow. NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday broadcasts in this virtual world and host Ira Flatow takes questions from the virtual audience. It's also being studied by researchers at USC. Douglas Thomas is the director of the school's Network Culture Project which examines virtual worlds. "If it takes off in the future is hard to know. I think one of the places that we're going to see a lot more expansion is in the field of education. Educators are now starting to take more notice of virtual worlds, not just Second Life, as a way to engage in things like distance learning or to engage in new methods of teaching," said Thomas.

It's this intersection of the real world and the virtual world that interests Drax and where he sees his future as a blogger. "I'm focusing really more on where the virtual world becomes a meeting place, a place for ideas that reverberate outside back into the real world. How can we improve the real world? That's what I'm trying to focus on," said Drax. In the New Year, he'll be filing reports from this virtual world for PBS's Frontline World.