Virtual Worlds


Virtual worlds are 3 dimensional representations of real environments where people, as avatars, interact with other people for learning, socialising, buying and selling etc.
Communication is mainly by typing text, voice communication is available.
Documents (triage form), images (x-ray), interactions (prescribing), and documentation (admission note) can be built in to the scenario design.


  • The main provider is Second Life by Linden Lab, with a free interface but a limit to how much you can achieve before needing to pay real money to purchase Linden Dollars (L$) and then use these for ‘in-world’ goods or services.
  • Open Simulator (OpenSim) is the main open source option.
  • The New Zealand Virtual World Grid (NZVWG) is a New Zealand multi-university (including Otago) supported virtual world based on OpenSim.


Can provide a reasonably realistic opportunity for students to interact with patients, relatives and other health care professionals to deliver care in a safe environment.


A number of medical schools around the world are using virtual worlds (mainly Second Life) to provide learning opportunities for different aspects of their programmes (this is a very small selection).

  • The Otago Virtual Hospital is a local initiative, hosted on NZVWG. Contact Dr Phil Blyth if you have a question about, or you’d like a look around, the Otago Virtual Hospital.
  • The Occupational and Aviation Medicine Unit (UOW) runs an aeromedical transfer simulation, built in Second Life. Contact Dr Rob Griffiths for more details.
  • A short video clip about the University of Auckland facility – the Virtual Medical Centre – can be viewed here.
  • Imperial College (London) runs a respiratory training initiative.
  • The Virtual Birthing Unit was developed by academics from the Otago Polytechnic Midwifery programme. Here is a video about this project.


OVH logo
Have a look at the Otago Virtual Hospital post for a quick outline of how to develop a virtual world scenario.
You have lots of opportunities to do real cool stuff, but it all needs to be coded to make your opportunities happen.

Click here for 7 Things you should know about Virtual Worlds from EDUCAUSE.


  • When there are lots of players (avatars) present the voice option quickly becomes chaotic.
  • The graphics load requires good internet connections and reasonably high spec computing.
  • Orientation to the technology is vital, although the ‘digital natives’ (students) pick it up very easily.
  • Building the scenarios is time intensive.
  • Depending on how you design the scenario, actually running a scenario can be a time consuming.

Second Life note

You will have noticed that there are no links to Second Life on this page.
The Second Life login is in Category 8(b)(iv) of the University of Otago’s Internet Usage Policy. See below.
Your options are:
– access Second Life ( outside of normal work hours, as defined below; OR
– to apply for and receive an exemption from your Head of Division to access any Second Life page, as per point 10 below.

Extract from University of Otago’s Internet Usage Policy:

Blocking Access to Certain Websites

  1. The University will restrict access to certain categories of website and will manage this by classifying websites into three categories:
    • a. Sites that are available at all times, this is all sites except b & c below.
    • b. Sites blocked during normal work hours, which is defined as between 8:30am to 12 noon and 2pm to 5pm, Monday to Friday. These are categories of sites that are very unlikely to have a legitimate work usage and include:
      • i. Auction sites.
      • ii. Dating sites.
      • iii. Gambling sites.
      • iv. Game sites.
    • c. Sites that contain pornographic and/or objectionable material will be completely blocked as far as is practicable.

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