The concept of self has become increasingly relevant to understanding the psychological mechanisms of problematic online gaming. Many gaming activities feature in-game avatars that enable the adoption of, and experimentation with, different roles and identities. Avatars enable players to compensate for perceived deficiencies in their real-world self (e.g., lack of physical strength, beauty, or social status). Currently, how avatar- and self-related processes may develop and maintain problematic gaming, including gaming disorder (GD), is unclear. This systematic review examined 18 quantitative studies of avatar- and self-related concepts and problematic gaming, including 13 survey-based and 5 neuroimaging studies. Despite variability in the conceptualization and measurement of avatar/self-related concepts, survey-based studies have consistently reported that negative self-concept, avatar identification, and large self-avatar discrepancies are significantly associated with problematic gaming. Poor self-concept appears to be a risk factor for GD, particularly for games that facilitate role-playing and identity formation. Further research and clinical evidence are needed to explain how avatar- and self-related processes may relate to the addictive mechanisms of GD (e.g., cognitive distortions, reward-seeking, inhibitory control, self-regulation systems), amid calls for problem gaming-related assessment and interventions to incorporate a focus on avatar identification.
- Gaming disorder
- Problematic gaming