Finding My Way
Today billions of people around the world play video games. It’s a popular past-time for teenagers, adults, and even seniors. Although most people who play maintain moderation, others struggle to pull themselves away and develop problematic or disordered gaming. I’m one of those people.
I grew up in Canada as a fairly normal kid. I went to school, I played hockey and I played video games. I was a happy kid. In fact, my nickname was “Smiley.” That all changed when I was 13 and began to experience bullying. These experiences were devastating to my self-esteem. I isolated myself, dropped out of high school, and retired from hockey – the game I loved more than anything else.
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. Instead of getting a job, I pretended to have a job and deceived my family. While they thought I was at work I would sneak in through my bedroom window and play video games. It’s the only thing I wanted to do and if my parents tried to stop me I would become explosive. They didn’t know what to do, or where to turn for help.
As much as gaming helped me to escape from my problems, they didn’t fix them and things only continued to get worse until one night when I wrote a suicide note. It was this night that made me realize I needed to get help. I no longer felt safe with myself. I no longer felt like I could prioritize my health and well-being. So I asked my dad to help me find a counselor.
With the help of my counselor, I began to make improvements. I got (and kept) a new job. I started working on a side business and surrounded myself with new friends. I spent my weekends on road trips and adventures. I also started a blog. I felt like I had a fresh start. But then I relapsed.
I had moved to a new city for a change of scenery and my new roommate Ben was a professional poker player. We started talking about our past gaming history and we realized we used to play the same game — Starcraft. Ben said he was going to buy it for us to play but I told him I had quit and didn’t want to. He just laughed it off. Later that night I was sitting at my desk working on my blog when he came home with a big grin on his face and put the game in front of me.
“Just one game,” he said. I sighed and agreed to play. He 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 5 months, I played 16 hours a day, every day. I stopped working, never went out to meet new people, and barely left the house. I would eat, sleep, and game. Every single day.
I started to realize my gaming was out of control and I needed to quit again. It took me five months but eventually, I did it. I took time to reflect on why I was so drawn back to games – how did I go from not gaming for two years to playing 16 hours a day again, overnight? I compiled my lessons and wrote them on my blog to help others who might be struggling too. At the time, there wasn’t any other help available online. (Today, it is still too difficult to find.)
Every day I woke up to new comments from readers who were struggling too. They would send me an email with their life story. I heard from tens of thousands of people asking for help. These weren’t just families and concerned loved ones, but gamers themselves reaching out for support. So in 2015, I launched a website called Game Quitters to be a space where we could all connect. Peers supporting peers in their quest to live healthy and productive lives without gaming. Today the platform is used by 75,000 people in 95 countries.
Since sharing my story (and for the better part of the last ten years) I have worked on the front lines of gaming disorder. Although progress has been made, much work remains to be done. In 2019, the World Health Organization officially recognized gaming disorder in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), an important step to pave the way for clinical services. With prevalence rates found to be 1-3% of gamers – and at-risk play up to 10% – we must research effective high-quality evidence-based treatment programs so professionals around the world can deliver them. Gaming clients are most accessible (and comfortable) online so research should also focus on treatment delivery in virtual settings.
That’s why I am excited to be working with Kindbridge. Imagine a world where you are a gamer who struggles with gaming disorder. You play video games and your life is falling apart around you. You want help. With Kindbridge you quickly find a qualified professional with a treatment plan customized to your needs. You begin the journey to recovery and not only survive without games but thrive. That’s the world I imagine and that’s the world I’m excited to help build with Kindbridge.