Monday, 5 November 2007

Virtual Vietnam War Memorial

Two months ago I posted a piece about the planned recreation of the Vietnam War Memorial, including the famous Wall, in the virtual world of Second Life. Meme Science have been working hard since then to bring the idea to fruition. It will open to residents on November 7th 2007 at 4pm EST (1pm Second Life time; 9pm GMT) to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the dedication of ‘The Wall’ that took place in Washington DC in November 1982. The build takes in all of the key components of the real world site: Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall, the 3 Soldiers Statue, the Vietnam Veteran’s Women’s Memorial as well as much of the surrounding parkland. You can see an introductory movie here.

My guide on the walkabout was Evian Argus (in Real Life Robert Egan) of Meme Science who graciously gave me a wealth of information about the site, both real and virtual. It was a bright, sunny Autumn day in Second Life when I went to have a look around, and the drifts of dead leaves added a poignant metaphorical touch. This was particularly evident at the Women's Memorial, where leaves floated down around the statue.

As I arrived the introductory movie started to play, and as the images unfolded a voice began to read out the names of the dead, to a backdrop of Jimi Hendrix. When the site actually opens this voice will continue on to read all 58,223 names. The technology behind this has used "text to speech" software from Cepstral, with human overrides where it was necessary. The Reading of the Names in Second Life is timed to correspond with the Reading of the Names that will occur in Washington DC. The web site: will help support the project by video streaming in the live dedication given by Colin Powell on November 11th at 1pm EST that will be held in Washington DC. The video dedication will be rebroadcast at The Wall in Second Life within hours of the live broadcast.

Our first stop on the walkabout was the 3 Soldiers Statue, constructed from over 500 prims. Evian explained that they had investigated the use of "sculpties" but eventually decided to use basic primitive shapes to realise the sculpture:

Next we came to the Women's Memorial, where autumnal leaves fell constantly on and around the statue:

And finally, The Wall itself:

Even in the virtual environment of Second Life, the stark black granite, with its densely-packed rows upon rows of names is a sobering and affecting sight. I did not discover how the wall textures were created (Evian was not sure), since the particular granite used in the real life Wall was specially chosen for its highly reflective qualities and would therefore be very difficult to photograph effectively. Whatever method was used, it was crucial that the names be clear, legible and without distortion - and this Meme Science have achieved very effectively.

At either end of the wall you will find a Search facility. By following the simple instructions you can quickly whittle down the 58000+ names to the one you are looking for, and you will be given the exact position of that name, and guided to the right spot by a large indicator arrow:

Meme Science and their partners have constructed a dignified and respectful recreation of the memorial. They will continue to work with the site, through hosted events, educational events and other activities.

The Vietnam War was fought between nations that are not my own, around clashing ideologies that I do not share, and that resulted in the deaths of untold thousands on all sides. I have no sympathy for those who sent these young men and women into what I believe was an unjust and unwinnable war. But I have great sympathy for those whose lives were blighted by that terrible war: the wounded and the dead, and the comrades and family who still mourn for them.


DDillon said...


Thank you for bringing the story of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to our attention. Your informative article was excellent and even more so for the final paragraph, which I hope will be widely read.

The unjustice that was the Vietnam Conflict was a terrible time in the history of the United States and in the history of the world. All wars are horrible. We can only hope that remembering those who died because of the bad choices of those who were never endangered might someday cause us all to rise up against any regime, democratically elected or not, that chooses to solve its problems through combat and bloodshed.

I am intending to be at the "real" wall on November 7 at 1 pm SL time (4 PM EST), and will think about the many people who are joining us at the Wall in SL. Thanks again!

Paull Young/LL Platypus said...

Great post - this is an amazing use of Second Life, really shows off the potential of virtual worlds.

If anyone reading this wants to learn more about The Wall they might be interested in a documentary my client, the Smithsonian Channel, is streaming at its website this weekend.

'Remembering Vietnam: The Wall at 25' will live stream at at 8pm and 11pm ET/PT.

TheVirtualWall said...

An internet version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened in March, 1997 named The Virtual Wall at In fact, the phrase The Virtual Wall is the registered US trademark of the organization that runs the web site.