For people who have ever thought about visiting Israel, but were dissuaded for financial or security fears, there is good reason to think again. This month Israel joined Second Life, an international online multiplayer game, which lets people visit the Holy Land, without physically having to make the journey.
Founders of Second Life Israel are Chaim Landau, from Jerusalem via New Jersey, and Beth Brown, from Texas. By recreating Israel in the game, they tap into the 11 million people who are registered with the site, founded in 2003 by Linden Labs, San Francisco.
Through Second Life, Landau and Brown hope to change stereotypes about Israel, by letting people visit the country and meet with real Israelis, by way of an avatar they have created. One can also meet Landau’s avatar “Hagibor Shepherd;” and Brown’s “Beth Odets” online.
As a social activist, Landau says: “I was always looking for projects where one could reach out to people, outside the box, in original ways. When I was reading a story about Second Life in the New York Times about a year ago, it dawned on me – this could be a be great way to reach out to a global audience beyond traditional media, and beyond that of websites even.”
In Second Life Israel, online users can meander through the streets of the Old City in Jerusalem, where they’ll find the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Dome of the Rock. They can also sashay along the promenade in Tel Aviv, or join the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem’s colorful marketplace, Machane Yehuda.
Landau also has plans to showcase Israeli technology companies in their own pavilion and expects it could be visited by investors or people looking for technological solutions – of which Israel has so much to offer.
The founders even had a launch party and ribbon cutting ceremony, virtually of course. “The attendance was very good,” says Landau, who adds that they intend to have parties and events on a regular basis.
“It is a dynamic place,” he says, noting that they would like to see Israeli artists and musicians on the site too.
As a peacemaking tool, the options are limitless. “We are presenting Israel beyond the traditional news and are acting as ambassadors of sorts,” says Landau, who recently met someone on Second Life Israel from Japan.
‘Is it safe there,’ the guy asked Landau, who went on to explain that Israel, in general, is as safe as any other western country. “My hope,” Landau shares, “is that they come to Second Life Israel first, and then come to Israel in real life.”
Since opening its virtual doors mid-January, Second Life Israel has had visitors from all over the world. Much of the design is thanks to Brown who possesses the technical skills. Known as the matriarch of the Jewish community in Second Life, Brown was the first user in the game to build a Jewish temple and Jewish neighborhood.
Sharing spiritual worlds is also part of the fun on Second Life. Visiting another person’s mosque, synagogue or church, can break down cultural barriers that exist between people. Landau agrees.
So far the Israel version appeals to people belonging to the three major monotheistic religions, he says. And beyond the religious elements, and far beyond the headlines, are other sights visitors can encounter.
For the adventurous, there is the option of floating in the Dead Sea, or swimming around the coral reefs and the fish at Eilat’s underwater observatory. “One can do anything and everything,” says Landau. “Whether it’s imaginary or real, or a mixture of the two, the possibilities are limited only by ones’ imagination.”