My name is Cam, and by the age of 21 I had been addicted to playing video games for over ten years.
I don’t blame video games for why this happened, nor do I think video games were the problem. What I do want to share with you is how the decision to move on from them has taught me more about living a meaningful life than anything I’ve done before.
I was a fairly normal Canadian kid. I went to school, I played hockey and then I would go home and play video games. I was happy, I felt smart, and I had friends. That all changed in the 8th grade when I began to experience intense bullying, both at school and on my hockey team. The less I went to school and the less I went to hockey, the more I played video games. They were a place for me to escape to, a place I had more control over my experience.
Eventually I dropped out of high school, and for the next year and a half I was depressed, living in my parent’s basement, playing video games up to 16 hours a day. Every morning my dad would drop me off at a restaurant where I was a prep cook. As soon as he drove off I would walk across the street, and catch the bus back home. I would sneak in through my window and go to sleep — I had been up all night playing video games. A few weeks later my parents would wonder where my paycheck was, so I would make up an excuse that I quit, or I got fired, then I would “get another job.”
Unfortunately, games didn’t fix the problem, and things only continued to get worse, until one night when I wrote a suicide note. Thankfully I didn’t go through with it, but it made me realize that I needed to get professional support. So I started to see a counsellor, who made me a deal: either get (and keep) a job, or go on anti-depressants. So I got a job.
What the job gave me was structure and stability. It was an opportunity for a fresh start. And I could make this new life anything I wanted it to be. When I thought about what I wanted, I became curious about what my life would look like if I really committed myself to my life, if I applied all of my talents and potential to realize my dreams… what would be possible? But I knew if I was really going to do this, then I couldn’t play video games. So I quit cold turkey and for two years I didn’t touch a game.
Then I relapsed. I had just moved to a new city, and one of my new roommates was a professional poker player named Ben. My first night at the house Ben and I started talking about our past gaming histories, and we realized we used to play the same game — Starcraft. Ben said he was going to go to the store and buy it for us to play.
I told him I had quit, and really didn’t want to play video games anymore. He just laughed it off.
“Just one game,” he said.
I sighed, and agreed to play. Over the next 30 minutes he absolutely destroyed me.
Humiliated in defeat, I committed to doing everything possible to improve so he could never beat me like that again, and for the next five months I played 16 hours a day, and did nothing else but game.
Then again I realized my gaming was out of control, and I needed to quit again.
I took time to reflect on why I was so drawn back to games, and I realized there were four main needs games fulfill:
- Temporary Escape: With games I could escape. When I was feeling stressed out or needed a break from the day, I could just game and forget about the situation.
- Social Connection: Gaming is a community, and it’s how you interact with a lot, if not all, of your friends. It’s where you feel welcome and safe. It’s where you feel accepted, despite the stigmatizing stereotypes of gamers as nerds, loners and losers.
- Constant Measurable Growth: Games give you a feedback loop. You get to see growth and progress, and it happens immediately through instant gratification.
- Challenge: Games give you a structured sense of purpose, a mission and a goal to work towards. And they are specifically designed this way. You have to beat this boss, get this weapon, achieve this level. You always know what to do next, and “real life” isn’t as simple as that.
It’s important to know that gaming is just an activity. You don’t game just because you “love video games,” or because games are fun; your drive to game comes from your desire to fulfill these four needs. And if you stopped playing video games, you would need to fulfill these needs in alternative activities — otherwise you will continue to be drawn back to games, just like I was.
A Need for Advice
After I learned these reasons I figured if I struggled to quit playing video games than surely there were many others out there in the world who struggled as well, so I looked online to see what the current advice was about how to quit playing video games.
But instead of getting practical advice that can help, you get advice like “Study more” (when the whole reason you’re playing video games is to avoid studying), or “Hang out with your friends”(when all of your friends play). Is there anything more frustrating than being courageous enough to admit you have a problem (and need help), and then assertive enough to actually search for an answer… only to get one you know is wrong?
So I felt called to share what I had learned through my journey as a hardcore gamer who struggled with the same question, and what helped me recover from my addiction. Today I’m seven years clean and my life has never been better.
In May of 2011, I published my story and what I had learned in a blog post online titled How to Quit Playing Video Games FOREVER and the article (more of a rant) went viral and instantly became the go-to resource online for those in the gaming community looking to quit.
Every day I woke up to new comments. And these weren’t comments just saying “thank you”, they were thousand-word essays of fellow gamers sharing their life story. It was an outlet for them to finally speak up about their experience. And they were young. I received comments from gamers as young as 10, 11, 12 years old – young people opening up and being vulnerable.
In January 2015, I launched Game Quitters, and it’s been an incredible ride ever since. Today Game Quitters is the largest support community for people who struggle to overcome a video game addiction. We have members in over 85 countries. We have a YouTube channel with more than two million views. We have over 50,000 members, a community forum with over 30,000 journal entries — where members share their journey and support their peers.
My dream is to ensure that if someone out there is struggling with a video game addiction, or simply wants to stop playing for any reason whatsoever, that they have the best support available for them. That’s why I created Game Quitters and that’s why I wake up every day to do the work I do.