A cyberpsychology and internet gaming disorder expert who tracks online gamers to explore harms of gaming and how positive wellbeing benefits could be enhanced, has been awarded a prestigious Tall Poppy Award.
Considered an early indicator of Australia’s future scientific leaders, the Australian Institute of Policy and Science Tall Poppy Awards were established in 1999 to recognise excellence in research and science communication.
Victoria University (VU) Senior Lecturer, Dr Vasileios Stavropoulos tracks around 500 gamers around Australia in a range of age groups, using psychometric questionnaires, wearable activity-trackers and mobile-monitoring applications, translating gamer usage into health information.
“By building these profiles of gaming patterns, we could inform the creation of diagnostic games, tailor health games to the needs of specific users, and better explain what causes gaming disorder,” Dr Stavropoulos.
“Victoria is a game development hub with around 33 per cent of Australia’s production studios. We want to use our findings to help reverse the hazards of gaming to health, and inspire those working in the industry to create games for health to identify gamers at risk of mental and physical health harms.”
Exploring how gamers connect with their avatars
Gaming disorder is now a recognised condition by the World Health Organisation and Dr Stavropoulos and his team’s innovative research hopes to contribute to policies and guidelines around the treatment and prevention of the disorder.
“We have demonstrated how gamers connected with their avatar (online game persona) can profile their gaming-disorder symptoms. As gamers progressively identify with their online persona, their real-life conditions may be revealed. For example, their need to eat or sleep may be found in the avatar’s behaviour,” he explained.
“We identified three distinct gamer profiles through digital phenotyping or footprint.The ‘Differentiated’ – I am not my avatar, the ‘Identified’ – although we are similar, I am aware that I am different to my avatar and the ‘Fused’ – my avatar is myself.”
Dr Stavropoulos and his team are also dedicated to community engagement, having started a YouTube channel with information on gaming disorder and his research.
Award highlights importance of mental health
VU Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Impact) Professor Andy Hill said Dr Stavropoulos’ research achievements are exceptional and the Tall Poppy award was well-deserved.
“As a researcher and practicing clinical psychologist, Vas is passionate about communicating his science to practitioners across education, mental health and allied health where their knowledge in this rapidly changing field can have significant impact,” Professor Hill said.
Dr Stavropoulos said being named a Tall Poppy is a fantastic opportunity to shine a light on research which has the potential to make a real difference to the health and wellbeing of the community.
“I’m very passionate about gaming. I’m a parent who is managing screen time, I’m a gamer and a clinical psychologist. Mental health needs need to follow this digital revolution, embrace it and benefit from it as well,” he said.
“If I can play a role in reversing technological addiction-related harms and reshaping games for public health benefit, that would be incredibly satisfying.”