Research - Avatar as Prosthesis

Avatar Therapy helps confront distressing voices

Fascinating video clip of a therapist treating a client with Schizophrenia using an avatar interface to simulate distressing inner voices and give the client training in controlling and overcoming the negative messages his voices communicate.
From the video description: „Antipsychotic drugs may do more harm than good. The tide is turning towards gentler methods, from talking therapies to brain training. Psychologists at King’s College London are leading a large scale trial to evaluate the effectiveness of avatar therapy for distressing voices experienced by patients with schizophrenia.“

What is an avatar anyway?

In the context of the project Avatar as Prosthesis, an avatar should not be understood only as a figure in a computer game or a VR character we design for ourselves. The research and thinking in this project applies equally to much more common forms of avatars, like profile photos on social media platforms. In fact, an Instagram page is a sort of abstracted avatar that functions, actually, in much the same way as an animated, customised figure in a virtual world like Second Life. In this interesting article in the New Yorker, the writer muses about the value (or lack thereof) of supposed shows of solidarity made through standardised adjustments to social media avatars.

Origins of the avatar

From the Sanskrit origins, to the 1980s cult classic game, Habitat, to the ubiquitous chatroom images of the 90s, this is an accessible summary of the origins of the „avatar“ before it became the subject of a blockbuster Hollywood film. Also check out this wonderful promotional video for the game, Habitat. #mediahistory

Avatars and the rapidly shifting times

This article from the New York Times in 2008 demonstrates just how far – and how rapidly – the concept of an avatar, in its contemporary, digital form, has progressed. Although the text was written less than a decade ago, it might as well be written on papyrus and covered in cobwebs for all the relevance it has to today’s concepts of an avatar. Today, in a world that is being rapidly digitalised and whose reality is increasingly augmented by digital media, handheld devices, and online social everything, the idea of an avatar is much less a cute, customisable figure we adopt occasionally, and much more a lived reality. One which we spend a considerable portion of our lives maintaining, curating, grooming, and promoting.