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The expansion and developments within the broader field of virtual reality (including gaming online) have generated significant opportunities, but also risks. Knowledge is still evolving regarding the potential influences of virtual reality and gaming – both advancing and compromising – and the elements that ...

The expansion and developments within the broader field of virtual reality (including gaming online) have generated significant opportunities, but also risks. Knowledge is still evolving regarding the potential influences of virtual reality and gaming – both advancing and compromising – and the elements that underpin the diverse range of outcomes. In that line, the persona employed to represent the individual in virtual worlds (i.e., the “avatar”) has invited significant interest. The term avatar is derived from the Sanskrit word “avatāra,” and represents the descent and reincarnation of Hindu deities to earthly forms. Therefore, the term avatar is interwoven with a sense of embodiment. Avatar-customization capacities allow users to subjectively portray themselves in virtual worlds the way they desire. Further, it has been proposed that they invite a significant psychological attachment. Although the user’s real-world experience clearly informs the avatar’s figure in the game, it has been suggested that the avatar also affects the user’s behavior offline through subconscious phenomena (e.g., altered perceptions, automatic thoughts, and even involuntary behaviors) associated with the avatar.

Therefore, the user-avatar bond (UAB) has been envisaged as a continuous, bi-directional (from the gamer to the figure and vice-versa) tie that is likely simultaneously involved with excessive gaming risks, as well as multiple significantly beneficial outcomes. In particular, the UAB has been assumed to conditionally associate with the user’s conduct in real life, impact the effectiveness of e-health applications involving gamified components, as well as disordered gaming risk. For instance, research suggests that online applications which require the employment of an avatar could impact the gamer’s sense of fulfilment, belonging, purpose, accomplishment, and enhance in-game activity engagement. It is these exact positive potentials of avatar-employing online games that have precipitated and perpetuated their use in online psychological therapies and e-health applications, addressing (often with great efficiency) a range of mental health issues. Nevertheless, and despite these positive potentials, the UAB has also been implicated in disordered gaming behavior. Accordingly, the range of these potentially important UAB implications has invited different theoretical explanations with cyberpsychology, psychodynamic, and biopsychosocial perspectives dominating the field. Despite the progress that has been made, the wide variety of discipline-specific terms, conceptualizations, and measurements utilized to depict the UAB has often resulted in controversial views.

To address such concerns, this Research Topic welcomes articles from the relevant international-interdisciplinary community of scholars to contribute a more comprehensive and cohesive conceptualization of the User-Avatar Bond and its potential implications.
Particular aims of this Research Topic include the following:

• To aid in applicability of user-avatar bond conceptualizations and measurements across different disciplines and varying groups of users;
• To examine the operationalization of relevant measurement methods and scales;
• To reinforce the construct validity between relevant terms used by scholars working in the areas of “Media and Communication,” “E-health,” and “Gaming Disorder;”
• To aid in the better understanding of the interplay of factors drafting the fine line between adaptive and maladaptive effects of the user-avatar bond. This is particularly significant in the context of the increased online activity recorded during the coronavirus 2019 pandemic outbreak and its associated social isolation effects. The latter were often counterbalanced by one’s digital activity, which paradoxically functioned as a kind of digital mental health protective factor against the pandemic’s socially disruptive effects.


Image credit: Shutterstock

Keywords: Games, Media, Avatars, Gaming Disorder, E-health, Communication, Gamification


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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