Psychologists have officially recognised Avatar Addiction as a psychological condition.
"We initially spotted this among some of the more regular users of on-line three dimensional chat rooms like Second Life," said psychiatrist Mona Lotte. "Much more so than games like Halo or Gears of War, where there is very little identification between the user and their avatar."
It appears that where the user has invested emotionally in their on screen persona is where the possibilities for Avatar Addiction arise.
"Online gamers who have to build their avatar invest a lot of themselves into the character," said Lotte. "Even when the character that they create is animalistic or gargantuan or other worldly. A significant number of people create characters that either resemble them or their idealised self."
Once the investment has been made, people are very reluctant to give their avatar up, and return to it time and time again. In a lot of cases in a way that can be classed as addiction.
Help is at hand for the Avatar Addicted.
"We are setting up a twelve step program for the Avatar Addicted," said Lotte. "We have bought some land in Second Life for a drop in clinic. Those that feel that they are spending too much time in their online world can come to us, and we can help."
So far, their approach appears to be working.
"I had thirty hours in total with Mona," said one avatar, Sandra Castle. "I still play second life as much as I did before, but I've admitted my addiction, so now I don't feel guilty. It could be worse, I could be addicted to smack or blackjack. Admittedly my kids occasionally wonder why they've not been fed for four days, but they cope."