Gaming addiction: Winning your life back


Adair says that for four years, he had waited for the government or some non-profit to solve the problem gaming addicts were facing, but no one was doing anything. ‘This was back in 2011. There was very little help back then. So I felt a responsibility that I had to do something more.’ — Photos: The Cabin Chiang Mai

A young Canadian found that his gaming addiction led him to the point of contemplating suicide, so he quit gaming and now shares his story around the world.

This morning my Uber driver was in tears. While driving me to the ­airport he asked where I was heading and I said Adelaide for a speaking gig on videogame addiction.

“You should speak to my son,” he shared, a response I hear often.

He told me about his son: 27 years old, lives at home, games almost all day. The good news is that he’s working full-time, but there is little progress outside of that.

The last time he moved out he neglected to pay rent until he was evicted, leading him to berate the landlord and cause damage to the property. “I’m not sure he’d be able to find another place that would accept him.”

Worried about his gaming, he tried to remove his son’s WiFi access one time, but it quickly ­escalated to violence and he was afraid for his life. His son is bigger than him and “I could just see the look in his eye. I thought he was going to kill me”.

He had lost all hope, and accepted that his son would live with him until he eventually passed away. If he kicks him out he believes his son will end up in jail.

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story – it’s a nightmare I receive in my Inbox every week. The situation is complex and it doesn’t have an easy answer, which to be honest is hard for me because I would love to offer a solution to turn this tragedy into a story of redemption.

But for today my victory was when this father looked at me and said he had previously given up, but now, armed with better resources, he would continue to fight for his son.

We arrived at the airport and he took my bags out of the trunk. I went to shake his hand and instead he gave me a hug. I told him to hang in there, and with tears in his eyes he said he would.

CAM Adair’s Facebook post dated Nov 7, 2018 is a touching one, and if you’ve met the 29-year-old, you’ll know that he is very sincere about wanting to help others. These sorts of heartbreaking stories from fathers, mothers and girlfriends are not uncommon all over the world.

Adair is the founder of Game Quitters, a support group that helps people overcome videogaming addiction.

“Gaming addiction is something I personally struggled with,” he said during an interview with StarLifestyle at The Cabin Chiang Mai, an addiction treatment facility in Thailand, ­earlier this month.

“Gaming became a problem for me after I started experiencing a lot of bullying at school when I was 13,” said the Canadian who was very much into hockey at the time, and describes himself as a skilled player.

“The bullying shifted everything. Kids would chase me, put me in the garbage can. I no longer felt safe at school or in my (hockey) team. I no longer felt that people liked me, and I started playing games to escape from reality. I could game for hours and hours and not even think about it. I could block people, I had a much greater sense of control,” he shared, explaining how when he initially started gaming at 11, it was just a fun way to relax after school, and he would play games like StarCraft: Brood War, Counter Strike 1.6 and World Of Warcraft.

“I ended up dropping out of high school at 15. While all my friends went off to college I was gaming up to 16 hours a day. I convinced my parents to let me do online school and when they were both at work, I’d be at home gaming.

“It took me a long time before I was able to admit that I had an addiction,” Cam said, explaining that the turning point came when he wrote his own suicide note.

“I had got to a point when I didn’t feel I had any hope left and gaming was a very temporary state – it didn’t solve anything.”

Is it real?

While most people more ­commonly associate the word “addiction” with drugs and alcohol, the medical fraternity recognises other addictive behaviours as well.

According to clinical psychologist Dr Joel Low, who is the director of The Mind Psychological Services and Training in Petaling Jaya, research has shown that addiction does not have to be restricted to chemical substances such as ­alcohol or drugs.

“It has been found that ­behavioural addictions like ­gambling, pornography and ­gaming can be just as powerful as their chemical counterparts, ­inducing similar effects on their brains as well as their behaviours.”

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Last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO), for the first time recognised “gaming disorder” in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

Symptoms of a disorder may include significant negative impact on work performance, school achievement, and relationships; spending most of one’s free time playing digital games; loss of ­interest in social activities; ­avoidance of personal responsibilities or commitments so that ­gaming can continue.

In Malaysia too, Low said there have been numerous individuals who have experienced various mental health disorders as a result of their gaming.

Low cites problems such as dependency (withdrawal from them results in numerous negative reactions not unlike that ­experienced by those suffering from gambling addiction), or the abuse of it (binging).

“This can result in various ­difficulties such as insomnia, ­lethargy, loss of concentration and in the most extreme cases, death,” he said.

Low said that depression often occurs as a secondary diagnosis. “For example, having been found out, or having their game time restricted, then depression can occur because of that,” he explained.

Online news portal Vox reported late last year that with the rise of games like Pokemon Go, World Of Warcraft, Call Of Duty and Fortnite, gaming has become mainstream. Online statistics portal Statista claims that the number of active gamers worldwide is set to rise to more than 2.7 billion people in 2021, from last year’s 2.3 billion.

Detractors may argue that only a small percentage are afflicted by gaming disorder, and it doesn’t warrant so much concern. However, when billions of people around the world are playing games, even a small percentage can lead to a large group – millions – with problems.

Which is why Adair feels the growing threat needs to be addressed now.

These days, he travels around the world sharing his story, and encouraging people to live ­balanced lives. His website, Game Quitters, is an educational resource that provides support for gaming addicts (as well as their loved ones) on how to quit gaming, with the aptly coined ­slogan “Life Unlocked”.

Adair doesn’t pretend that it’s going to be easy.

“When I quit gaming to get a job, that was such a difficult thing to do,” he said, adding that before this he had lied to his parents that he had a job but was sneaking home to game instead.

“Eventually when I did get a real job, I would make excuses for not showing up. Once, I even lied that my sister had cancer. I would throw up in the shower because I had such intense anxiety about having to go to work.”

Adair said that he empathises with young men – so many who struggle in college – who prefer to stay home, refuse to get a job and don’t want to go to school.

“I hear from many parents that their sons just want to game. And if they remove access, these young men are likely to get angry or ­violent.”

Adair chalks up this behaviour to two things – the element of fear of stepping into the unknown, and a warped perception of effort and reward.

He said: “Gaming fulfils all of your emotional needs – to escape, to see progress in your life, to feel a sense of purpose and certainty, to socially connect. It’s all in one place, and it’s a hyper immersive, stimulating activity.”

If one removes this “other world”, he is creating a void, and the gamer is now expected to step into the unknown, which is ­relatively boring in comparison. Adair said: “Especially from a ­stimulation standpoint, the real world is boring in comparison, and that’s where the contrast is.”

He adds that there is a certain amount of ease as well.

“In gaming, all you have to do is just press a button and sit in front of the computer/TV and off you go,” he said.

“To get a job, I have to search for jobs, create a resume which is ­boring, I have to apply for it, I have to go to an interview that might take a week or two, then wait another week or two to hear back. The whole reason I got the job was to make money, and it may take a month or even longer to see that reward, whereas I can turn on the Xbox and get ‘rewards’ almost instantly.”

The paradigm shift

Adair has managed to stay “clean” for seven years now, and said the switch came one day when he made the decision to live, and pursue his potential. In order to do this he felt he had to quit gaming entirely.

“I know that if I were still ­gaming today the best case ­scenario would be that I would be working the bare minimum to pay my bills in order to be able to game as much as possible, and I would likely still be living at home with my parents,” he said.

Initially it was just small goals that motivated him. But after he shared his story on his blog, ­thousands of people who were struggling were asking for help, saying none was available.

“I didn’t have any amazing answers at the time. I just knew that when I quit I had to get back to activities like deejaying, ­travelling, starting my own ­business, hanging out with friends, going to gym. I had a deep commitment to not go back to gaming.

Then in 2013, Adair gave a TEDx talk, and it was well received.

“For four years, I had waited for the government or some non-profit to solve this problem, but no one was doing anything. This was back in 2011,” he said.

“There was very little help back then. So I felt a responsibility that I had to do something more.”

So in 2014, Adair launched Game Quitters.

“I wasn’t trying to pretend (to be) something I wasn’t, I could give them a space where they could connect and share and journal and write (we have 33,000 journal entries now in the community).”

Over time he realised a lot of the questions were the same, and replying individuals was time ­consuming, so Adair started ­making videos instead.

“I was just trying to empower the community as much as ­possible,” he said.

Adair said that the Game Quitters community is made up of people from everywhere – Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Italy, Brazil.

“We have more than six foreign languages on our forum, and I don’t speak them. But there are others out there helping each other,” he said.

He has since written a book, Respawn, on how to quit playing games, fill the void and take ­control of your life, which is used in therapy by The Cabin Chiang Mai. He continues to travel the world speaking at high schools, universities, corporate conferences and leadership programmes and shares videos on his YouTube ­channel every week.

Adair’s tips are not anything mind-blowing, rather they are ­logical goals anyone can set for themselves – like find new or ­supportive friends and new ways to connect, stay mentally engaged, avoid boredom at home and ­participate in activities that give a sense of achievement.

For ideas, tips and encouragement on how you can quit gaming successfully, and/or live a more balanced life, visit gamequitters.com.


Science & Technology , Cam Adair

   

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