Thursday, February 12, 2004


Bob Bunderfeld cries sometimes, when he plays Second Life. But mostly, he stays in-world anyway. “The pain can be so intense,” he says, “that I actually have tears running down my cheeks without me ‘crying’.”

But Bob runs the Slate Neighborhood Association (with Zana Feaver), and it’s not a job he wants to put aside, just for pain. Since his nomination to the position last fall, he’s helped lead this group of fourteen who own most of the Slate simulator, setting about to improve their land.

“We built the parks,” he says, “and the Slate Community Store. We contacted Ryan Linden, who made the lake deeper and a bit wider for us. We put up public docks, so people who have boats would be able to have a place for them."

He will, however, suspend these duties for a time, come the middle of next month.

“I will play my last on Saturday, March 13. I will be traveling to [a nearby city] the day before surgery, so I can have a good night's sleep before checking into the hospital at 0530, the morning of surgery.”

I ask him if he’ll throw some kind of going away party, before he logs off.

“Well, I dunno,” says Bob. “I don't plan on dying or anything that extreme, but I suppose I should have some sort of get-together, just in case.”

“Oh I didn't mean it that way...” I begin.

“I understand, but I'm also a realist, and I should have that time before [the operation]. The reality of this situation has hit me today, when I met with my attorney to fill out my living will… you gotta think of everything in major surgery.”

At least, he adds, smiling, “My psychiatrist thought I was handling it pretty well.”

You hear stories of residents in Second Life, who have real life disabilities or serious illnesses-- deafness, bedridden infirmity, and so on-- and you hear how being in-world has helped them, given them an alternate conduit for human contact, say, or an untapped creative urge.

I hope to tell some of their stories, in coming months. This, however, isn’t one of them. Though when I first started talking with Bob, I did naively assume that he’d tell me that playing Second Life helped him cope with his illness, somehow.

“Actually,” says Bob, “No. Playing with Arnold-Chiari Malformation constantly reminds me of my condition.”

Because he has ACM, his brain’s cerebellum protrudes into his spinal canal. And so, “the amount of Pain I'm in when sitting in front of the computer is pretty high… If you ever had back pain before, you can understand this. It's radiating pain that exists in my neck, shoulders, and mid to upper back.” It’s not so much using the mouse or keyboard, though. “It's just the sitting that really hurts.”

“So if you don't mind [my asking],” I say, “why do you still play, then?”

“Because I enjoy playing. ACM has forced me to stop doing many of the things I loved doing, but I can't allow it to force me to stop living. I enjoy SL, and therefore, I play it until my pain is so high I can't stand it, then I go lay down for a couple hours.”

But if it’s exacerbated by sitting, why not, well, play standing up?

“I hurt standing, and walking, and coughing, and sneezing, and hiccupping,” he says. “I've been in this pain for three years. At first it was just a nagging pain, something you could live with, but it was there. It increased quite a bit after I was in a car accident.”

He talked with his neurosurgeon recently, to discuss the particulars of the operation. He told his doctor, during the procedure, “if something drastic happens and I will wind up as a vegetable, to just let me die on the table. It really is a scary thing coming up.” He says that then smiles, and then he smiles again.

“They are going to put a hole in my skull, open the Dura, and possibly the amber. If they open the amber, they will be forced to ‘shave’ off part of C1 to make room to work. Then they will ‘shrink’ the herniating brain part by cauterizing it. Thankfully the area that is herniating is [a] non-needed part of your brain. They call it the Cereberal tonsils. If you want to get all the scoop, head over to www.wacma.com, a site dedicated to the Arnold-Chiarai condition. You can even see pictures of surgery in progress there.”

“Ah, OK,” I say, already queasy.

“I'm still waiting to hear from my doctor if he will make a video tape of the surgery, so I can watch it later.” He grins. “Should I put you down for a few copies? They would make great gifts.”

“We can show it at Linden Lab after our lunch meeting,” I say.

“Or before you actually order lunch,” Bob suggests, “and then save money!”

We laugh a little more, at that. “But the doctor doing my surgery has done over 300 of them,” he continues. “They have never lost a patient, nor have they ever had a patient turn out disabled. So, while it's a very major surgery, they have had great success so far.”

“You're in good hands,” I tell him.

“Yup,” he says, “and I've got an even bigger hand watching out for me.”

So for the next month, he’ll be working at his beautification projects, in-world, as he usually does. “I've made a commitment to a group of people here in Slate. While I understand they are doing great without me being here all the time, I want to do all that I can to help. The people are what bring me to play, and they understand when I say, ‘I need to go lay down now’.” As for when he emerges from the hospital, post-op, “I can't think of a better way to recover then being able to sit here in Second Life without pain.”

Late last night, I took a stroll through Slate. It’s an eclectic neighborhood community, and a tranquil one, with homes of wildly diverse architectural styles, nestled among trees and bordered by the ocean, and running along a mountainside train track, the deep lake. Bob’s home is a rustic wood cabin, with a stained glass memorial to 9/11, and sliding glass doors that open up to a deck looking out on the sea.

“Our purpose is to make Slate the sim everyone wants to go to. The sim everyone wants to live in,” Bob Bunderfeld had told me, earlier. “The sim that pushes the envelope for how Communities can exist.”

“[How will you] determine that you've reached that goal?” I asked him then.

“A people without a vision are doomed to fail. The vision therefore is never able to be reached completely. That is how you can keep it going, to always improve upon what you have already done. You should never reach your final goal. Otherwise, you were shooting too low.

"We also are helped because we have a vision of what we want to do here," he adds. "Therefore, we have a purpose. And that really helps all of us continue on.”

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im praying for you bob. May god watch over you dureing this operation, and may god spare you of this pain afterwards.

Posted by: Ryen Jade at Feb 12, 2004 10:18:55 PM

I'm sure I speak for all of us at Slate when I say that we owe alot to Bob. I'm not sure how the sim would have turned out if it weren't for him.

Posted by: Falchion Smith at Feb 13, 2004 6:11:07 PM

I am keeping you in my thoughts and prayers, Bob... I hope everything goes well for you and look forward to see you in Second Life again.

Posted by: Alexis Fairchild at Feb 14, 2004 11:14:11 AM