The VR education community says goodbye to one of its biggest advocates.
If you have ever attended any of the Virtualiteach CPDinVR (Continued Personal Development) events on the Engage VR platform hosted by Steve Bambury, then you know the name Chris (Christian) Long, or you’ve at least heard his name mentioned. Chris was always in attendance at each event, always there early, always there late; working behind the scenes along with Chris Madsen to make sure each CPDinVR session went off smoothly.
Chris not only was part of the CPDinVR team, but he himself was also an expert on the subject of immersive technology in education.
On May 2nd, CPDinVR host Steve Bambury informed the VR community that Chris Long had passed away unexpectedly tweeting, “It is with heaviest of hearts and tears in my eyes that I share the news that my dear friend and VR brother Chris Long has died today.”
Chris was a teacher at Langley College in London, and an incredible resource of VR and AR information who worked tirelessly to advocate for VR and AR tech in the learning environment. More importantly, Chris was a devoted and loving father to his young children and a wonderful husband.
His wife, Elaina talked about Chris, telling VRScout that he was passionate and creative in everything he did, whether it was inventing games for his children or solving problems. She spoke of his talent, his positivity, his willingness to accept any challenge with enthusiasm, and how he gave so much of his time to anyone he met.
When it came to honoring Chris’ memory – with the blessing of his family – Bambury, Madsen, and others came together on May 11th to hold a memorial service in VR through Engage VR’s platform, the very same platform that Chris helped push to the forefront of VR education.
In an interview with VRScout, Steve Bambury said, “It’s not a milestone that I have interest in claiming though; it was never the intent when we coordinated the event. That being said, Chris would have loved the fact that he was still breaking new ground in the VR world.”
As attendees logged in to the virtual memorial, they were immediately greeted with a gorgeous environment filled with endless fields of tall green grass that swayed against a light breeze, bright blue skies littered with clouds, flocks of birds, and trees scattered throughout the landscape.
After basking in the beauty of the digital locale, we were then instructed to follow the giant virtual arrows in the sky that pointed to an area set up with chairs and a speaking area. This is where you met with the live avatars of Chris’ various family members, friends, and colleagues. Through your VR headsets microphone, you were able to talk with other attendees, share memories of Chris, and console each other in a comfortable environment.
Some people entered through WebVR—using a keyboard to move their avatar and the computer monitor as their window into the virtual world—while others used a VR headset such as an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive to completely immerse themselves into Engage VR’s digital world and for a sense of real presence with others in attendance.
Because it was a virtual world, organizers were able to do things during Chris’s Memorial that would have been near impossible to recreate real-world. For example, Chris Long was a proud member of the Royal Air Force. So during the memorial, a massive fleet of airplanes flew overhead; an overwhelmingly expensive act to pull off in real life. Other virtual objects such as beams of light and leaves would drop down randomly as people spoke, adding a sense of spirituality and peacefulness to the proceedings.
Even though you were in a virtual world, it was a very real experience none-the-less. Emotions were high and a genuine sense of comradery could be felt among Chris’ friends, family, and colleagues. Though you couldn’t physically reach out and hold someone, the intentions were all there as we all gathered to say goodbye.
Family, friends, and colleagues each took a turn as walked up to the podium to deliver some final words, while musician Kirsa Moonlight performed the song “Hallelujah.”
Also in the VR world was a monument placed amongst the trees that reads, ‘Here a spring tree blooms, Flowers of your legacy,’ which will remain a permanent fixture in that virtual environment.
“Chris was a dear friend and losing him so suddenly was incredibly hard to come to terms with,” said Bambury, adding, “Hosting the Memorial inside Engage, where we had spent countless hours hosting events for educators around the world seemed like the most fitting way to honor his memory and allow the VR Education community pay tribute.”
For me personally, Chris was someone I knew through my work in VR. We had never met in the real-world but we interacted often on a professional level in Engage VR.
On one occasion, I arrived late in a VR poker meet-up that Steve would often organize with fellow people from all over the world, and I bumped into Chris right before he logged out of VR. The two of us ended up hanging out together and talking about our families and our kids in this over-the-top virtual poker room decorated with red velvet furniture and gold fixtures.
It was a memorable moment for me, and a memory of Chris that I will never forget.
Social VR can be very powerful. It can bring two people who live on opposite sides of the globe together for a moment to talk about their families. It can also bring people together from all over the world to say goodbye to a family member, friend, and colleague.
You don’t need data or research to prove how powerful social VR can be, just enter any of the VR worlds out there such as Rec Room, AltspaceVR, Rumii, Engage VR, or Oculus Venues. All of these worlds are focused on bringing people closer together to work, play, collaborate, meet new friends, and sometimes to say goodbye – all through VR.
“The VR Education community is a little less bright without Chris in it,”
adds Bambury. Always humble and full of high spirits, he was a beacon of positivity about the future of the medium and how it could transform learning opportunities for students around the world.”