Today, on the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks in the United States, I took the opportunity to visit some of Second Life’s memorials to the event and its victims. These are two very different locations, one a grand monument, the other a more cosy space similar to a large living room with posters, statues, and photographs. I have visited both memorial sites in the past and found them empty. Today, they are staffed, with site owners on hand to converse with visitors.
These spaces provide an interesting insight into the culture of commemoration and grief in Second Life. They are virtual places which exist solely as a space of memorialisation and grief dedicated to an event that took place outside of the virtual world. They are monuments to an event in modern history which has had a significant impact on the way people in Western countries, but in the United States in particular, understand their safety and their place in the world.
Given the cultural significance of 9/11 in the American psyche, and the overwhelming presence of American culture and symbolisation within Second Life, it is unsurprising that memorials such as these exist. It is more surprising that I only came across two dedicated memorial spaces. Second Life allows users to create anything. With a minimal financial investment and some skills in object creation, a resident can easily create a space for others to visit. In this way people who would never be able to acquire the finances necessary to create a place for memorialisation in the physical world are able to create one in the virtual world.
One of the most interesting aspects of these memorials is their similarities. Both rely heavily on patriotic imagery, most notably the American flag. Both contain a list of the names of those who died. Both contain traditional symbols of mourning – candles or flowers. Both memorials appear to memorialise not only those people lost in those attacks but also, and equally importantly, a wound upon a nation. This is the same narrative of loss which is evident in recounts of the September 11 attacks in the physical world.