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Can an avatar help you overcome a mental illness?

By October 28, 2008 - 1:37pm
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A recent message about avatars came up, which got me thinking: can an avatar help treat mental illness or other conditions?

If you are on this site, you (essentially) have an avatar. An avatar can be described as an "alter ego" or more simply as the picture in your profile. There is a virtual space called "second life" where you can literally create another life for yourself via an alter ego: you can change genders, hair color, profession...you can be anything you want to be!

So, with the invention of online counseling, wellness websites, virtual support groups...I assume we are not far from avatars being used in a therapy setting. If you have depression, for example: can you create the person you want to be online? Can you create situations in which you succeed, are assertive, think positively...and therefore, help treat some of your depressive symptoms? (of course, I realize depression is so much more than having a positive outlook: this is merely for "argument's sake").

Of course, with any new idea, comes a consequence: the more time spend in your "second life" with virtual people and virtual situations, the less time you spend with real people and real situations.

What do you think? Is there a place in the alternative medicine world for an avatar to help treat mental illness? How could that work?

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There are, and have been, studies on avatars. It's interesting how we create our online user names, let alone select images to represent ourselves. I think I'm very conservative and "tame," except for my SecondLife persona, lol!

Real-World Behavior and Biases Show Up In Virtual World

Cross-Cultural Study of Avatars’ Facial Expressions and Design Considerations Within Asian Countries


The Benefits of Interactive Online Characters

October 29, 2008 - 5:57pm

I have to say I have always felt silly trying to choose or create an avatar that I really like. I can spend far too much time trying to decide whether this small image or that small photo better represents who I am. In a way, avatars are the "clothing" we wear on the web. We are invisible otherwise, so an avatar is how we choose to present ourselves to whoever is looking.

I think avatars are not unlike the things we wear out in the world to show who we are. Short skirts or long, blue jeans and t-shirts, long hair or a cropped cut, piercings or tattoos, conservative or bohemian, we all present an image to the world each day that is primarily of our own choosing.

I'd love to see a study where people create their own avatars and then we get to see the avatar next to the person's photo to see how similar or dissimilar they are! I wonder if more people create avatars that sort of look like them or that are completely different -- an exercise in wishful or goal-oriented thought.

Now, when I can create an avatar to do my chores, it will really, really help my mental health, lol!

October 29, 2008 - 8:41am
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