The Metaverse

Should we be calling Avatars MetaHumans?

There is something quite amazing and awe-inspiring about how talented designers and creators of new digital technology are. The box office success of the Avatar movie is a testament to this.

In line with this, the creation and use of 3D Avatars as an online representation of a human in a virtual environment is not a new phenomenon for gamers. There are some really interesting studies that showcase how these avatar representations can be very helpful in improving overall self-esteem. The Ideal Elf and The Proteus Effect are well-cited examples of the research done in this area. 

With the current rise in awareness of the Metaverse as the technology heralded as replacing the current internet, there seems to be a bit of a love-affair with how we represent ourselves online in the future. In line with this, there is new terminology in the naming of these online human representations of ourselves as ‘Meta Humans’. How these are created can be seen in the video below.

As much as I admire and celebrate this incredible creative talent, from a psychological point of view, I would suggest that the terminology used may have unintended consequences on us as humans that we have not yet considered. I would suggest that these could be: 

  • The Facebook has recently renamed itself ‘Meta’. Although I suspect that this is to gain a head-start associative mental link to the future of the interactive online world, it is a worry that the ‘MetaHuman’ naming convention is so closely linked to the Facebook holding company renaming.
  • Avatars are human representations, they are not in-and-of-themselves humans with all the biological, social and communal nuances that make us uniquely human. How and to what extent will this blurring of the cognitive boundaries between how we view and interact with a physical human and an avatar affect our future self-image and that of others in the metaverse?
  • We are already aware of The Online Disinhibition Effect that comes from us acting very differently in an online world to how we act in an offline world, how will engaging in a Metaverse with an avatar representation either increase or decrease our disinhibition to treat others in socially unacceptable ways? 

There are a number of other concerns I have with the MetaHuman naming convention, but they are currently inklings of worry that I have not fully identified or am able to clearly articulate. But what I do feel strongly about is how quickly we are rushing headlong into an new phase of online interactions without fully considering all the unintended consequences (along with all the potential benefits, of course) that may come from doing so. 

We really do need more researchers and academics in this field of CyberPsychology. With the rapid compounding advances in digital technology, there is too much to research and not enough people diving into this critical area of human psychology and behaviour.