A (virtual) world without Parkinson’s


"Since some early human first picked up a stick to use as a cane, persons with disabilities have been at the forefront of technology innovation, so it's natural that they would be doing creative things in virtual worlds too," says UCI anthropology professor Tom Boellstorff, shown with his Second Life avatar.

Steve Zylius / UCI

Fran entered the Phantom of the Opera Masquerade Ball dressed to the nines. Her blue gown swayed with her effortless movements; her necklace glittered when it caught the light. She danced, song after song, never stumbling or faltering in her rhythm. It was a great evening, all occurring in the virtual world Second Life, where Fran often spends time with her friends….



Examining a virtual world without Parkinson’s

Inara Pey: Living in a Modem World

Tom Boellstorff and his digital alter ego, Tom Bukowski (image: Steve Zylius / UCI) Tom Boellstorff and his digital alter ego, Tom Bukowski (image: Steve Zylius / UCI)

There are probably few Second Life residents who keep an eye on blogs and the more well researched media reports on Second Life who are unaware of Fran Serenade’s story.  Now 88 years old, Fran is a keen Second Life resident, who spends time in-world with her daughter and son, enjoying much of what the platform can offer: dancing, Tai Chi, swimming, horseback riding, walking, exploring. All far removed from the physical world, where she suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, which deeply affects her ability to do many of the things we take for granted: such as simply getting out of a chair and walking to the next room.

Fran’s story, and that of Creations for Parkinson’s and their support of Team Fox, the fund-raising arm of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research

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“This is Who I Am”: Why a Woman With Parkinson’s Sees Both Her SL Avatar & Her Physical Body as Real (Excerpt, Coming of Age in Second Life)

Fran Serenade Parkinsons Second Life

Coming of Age in Second Life, the award-winning book by anthropologist Tom Boellstorff, now has a second edition with a new preface, and it tells the inside story of Fran, a woman with Parkinson’s who’s reported significant physical recovery from using Second Life. I was fortunate to first learn about Fran in 2013 from Tom, and even luckier that he’s letting me run a related excerpt from his book: ..