Notre Dame recreation in Second Life (click here to teleport) - photo by Eminy Roddenham
Since news broke that Notre Dame in Paris is being consumed by fire, Second Life users have been spontaneously appearing at the virtual world replica, gathering there to grieve with others. When I visited moments ago, people were gathered in the church, some sharing updates from Paris in text chat, others passing on links to songs and video about the legendary cathedral.
"I am watching the lifestream on YouTube and I am shocked that it burns down and I wanted to see if people in Second Life [had] heard, and pay tribute," one visitor, Penny December, tell me while standing silently at the entrance.
"And maybe," she adds, "to be there in spirit."
Ysabelle Stewart was among the first to arrive at the cathedral, and by then, the Second Life sim was already approaching full capacity.
"Some people were kneeling. At least one person was passing on news from someone who lives near the building, as far as I can tell... Some people just talking about being hopeful things can be saved."
This is just the latest emergence in a long running social phenomena: Since so many real world landmarks exist in virtual form in Second Life, it's quite common for community members to converge at that location, whenever it's in the news, so they can grieve together in an immersive context:
One SLer uploaded the front page of Le Figaro outside SL's Notre Dame (Courtesy Ysabelle Stewart)
For instance, immediately after the terrorist attacks on the staff of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper in Paris, the owners of Second Life's virtual Paris unfurled banners from the beams of their Eiffel Tower, as a large crowd teleported to the location.
There's also several recreations of New York's Twin Towers created as a memorial to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and are also a site for collective mourning, every September 11. In one, for instance, real life firefighters virtually climbed a scale model of the twin towers, to honor their fallen comrades.