The allure of killing an entire day playing video games — an already decades-old global phenomenon that is now the most popular form of entertainment, one which simultaneously allows the release of pleasure-driving dopamine and instant gratification — is both enticing and seductive.
No need to stress over work, worry about classes, fret over bills or feel anxious over relationships. Only endless, self-gratifying, mind-numbing satisfaction as you progress, level-up and achieve virtual rewards.
For a teenaged Cam Adair, it was an all-encompassing reality. Hours and days spent playing games like World of Warcraft and Counter-Strike led him to thoughts of suicide before he finally realized he had to make a change. Even now, eight years after he started speaking out about his addiction, he still feels urges to play.
“Almost all the time,” Adair, now 30, admits. “I think it’s almost like a stress response… A lot of it is just nostalgia.”
Video game addiction is a relatively new problem being studied for negative health effects and habits. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) even classified it as a bona fide disorder.
Five years ago, it’s what led Adair to create GameQuitters, an anti-addiction hub that centres around helping those escape from gaming’s powerful grip. Before that, he created the Calgary-based Kingpin Social, a group focused on helping other young Calgarians improve their social lives and skills.
Now, however, the focus is primarily on helping those with gaming dependencies.
“Some people struggle, it’s horrible,” says Adair. “They’re losing their families, they’re failing college, they’re living at home.”
“I have horror stories for days of a 30-year-old son, living at home. You remove WiFi? He gets violent. Those are hard stories.”
With online fixtures such as Epic Games’ Fortnite boasting a base of almost 200 million players and the rising popularity of eSports with events such as the 2017 League of Legends tournament reaching 106 million in viewers alone, gaming as a social phenomenon is larger than ever before.
With that, however, comes new trouble with those who may not know when to turn the game off — admittedly only a small number, according to the WHO — and the paradoxical pitfalls for those who do.
“Gaming is very effective at being a social community, not just playing together, but also the collective conversation around gaming,” says Adair. “So, if you don’t have the new Fortnite skin and you’re at school, you’re less cool. That’s part of how it works now.”
GameQuitters now has a monthly audience of 75,000 users across 95 countries, double its size since August 2018, says Adair.
They offer two for-profit programs — Respawn, which walks gamers through the quitting process, including how to schedule their lives without gaming and how to deal with cravings and Reclaim, for parents to understand what video game addiction is.
“I’m really big on helping parents understand that those are real relationships, those are their real friends,” says Adair. “I have tons of friends online and still to this day, I’ll meet other people online first.”
It is also home to a free forum for gamers to interact with other gamers, they have another forum on the popular website Reddit and a 200-video-strong YouTube channel, all part of Adair’s internet-savvy approach to what is an inherently digital compulsion.
“Most people won’t walk into [therapy] to get help, but they’ll watch a YouTube video,” he explains. “The main thing that’s not developed online is empathy.”
Adair, who still calls himself an “advocate” for gaming, notes that there is a social stigma around gamers in regards to perceived laziness and wasted potential, but argues that it isn’t wholly true.
“I wouldn’t say that the gaming community at large is the most mature, healthy, encouraging community out there,” says Adair. “It’s fairly toxic and that’s just the way it is.”
“But, there [are] tons of really good people and it is a community of people who understand each other and understand each other’s passion and for a lot of people that’s really important, but it needs to be balanced.”
He believes the next step in terms of combatting gaming addiction, with a special focus on eSports in particular, is recognizing the need for preventative measures, referencing the STOP program in hockey.
“What are they doing for eSports to make sure that people play in a safe way?” Adair asks. “To make sure people know the warning signs? So people aren’t just gaming 15 or 16 hours a day to be the next star. How do you keep people safe?”
“The problem is prevention isn’t sexy. We live in a culture where we do something if it’s a crisis. My arm is broken? I’ll go to the hospital. You’re not thinking, ‘Wait, how do I not break my arm in the first place?’”
In the end, though, Adair says the most important thing is to continue the conversation around video game addiction.
“The biggest thing I always say is we need to improve the conversation around the topic. So, it’s not like gaming is good or bad, should you play or not? It’s like, what’s your own relationship to it? Do you need to shift it?”
“Be open, talk about it. Isolation is a huge part of the problem.”
This story appears in the March/April issue of the Calgary Journal. You can find an online copy here and at newsstands across the city.
Editor: Sam Nar | firstname.lastname@example.org