Fighting Cancer in Second Life

Raising Real Money to Fight Cancer, in a Virtual World

A virtual good deed with very real effects

Each year, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life events raise millions of dollars to fight cancer. At more than 5,000 Relay for Life events in more than 20 countries around the world, participating teams spend up to 24 hours walking courses, lighting candles to honor both survivors and those who’ve been lost, and building community to raise awareness of the fight against cancer.

An event with one of the best records of fundraising isn’t able to point to its location in the real world, though. Instead, the virtual world of Second Life plays host to the many teams involved in Relay for Life of Second Life. Coordinating the 200-plus teams and the more than a thousand avatars that show up to participate is no easy task. A small team of people donates a large amount of time and effort to pull the event together. This year, that effort is being overseen by a woman known in Second Life as Nuala Maracas, the virtual relay’s event chair.

More than 1,100 people attended the 2016 event, which raised $233,000—more money than all but 13 other events. (Not bad, in a field of more than 5,000.) “They all come together behind their screens for 24 hours to do this one event,” Maracas told Good Turns recently. “There’s still a real person involved, because there’s a real person behind the computer screen. Everything is exactly the same, except that it’s your avatar walking around.”

“We have castles! It’s like a Small World ride, we have anything you can imagine.”

Maracas (whose real name is Beth) was inspired to get involved in the Second Life relay in part by the death two relatives: an uncle who died of cancer, and a cousin who passed away from leukemia at the age of 35. Beth also attends her local Relay for Life in the physical world, and has been raising fund in Second Life for more than ten years, since the event was conceived in 2005.

The Second Life relay has an advantage over real-world events, Maracas notes, not only because the virtual world can bring people together no matter their location on the actual globe. Most Relay events are held on a local school track, and feature whatever tents, balloons, and other decorations the teams care to contribute. The virtual world has few constraints on location and decoration, by contrast. “We have a little more interesting track when you walk around in Second Life,” Maracas says.”We have castles! It’s like a Small World ride, we have anything you can imagine.”

You can check out some of the Relay camps on the virtual relay’s Flickr pool. This year’s event will be held July 15 and 16, but “relay season” kicks off on Sunday, March 5, to generate interest and register teams, and runs to mid-August. Special events will include an introduction to the relay committee, highlights of upcoming events, early fundraising, and a healthy dose of virtual parties and live music performances. Given that you can participate from the comfort of your personal computer, there’s no excuse for not getting involved. So if you’re interested in becoming part of this high-impact good turn, gather a few friends and register your team on the Relay site. And don’t forget to tell us about your experience once you’re through.

(Image courtesy of Wildstar Beaumont)

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