“I dropped out of high school, twice.”
My name is Cam and by the age of 21 I had been addicted to playing video games for over ten years.
This addiction affected many areas of my life, including being a major influence in my decision to drop out of high school not once, but twice. I never graduated, never went to college, and struggled with depression for many years.
I want to be very clear, I don’t blame video games for why this happened, nor do I think video games were the problem.
I’m not here to vilify gaming, tell you that it’s bad or debate with you about whether you or not you should play; because I don’t believe gaming is bad and if someone wants to play then I would encourage them to go ahead and play.
What I do want to share with you is about my experience playing video games and how the decision to move on from them has taught me more about living a meaningful life than anything I’ve done before, and how over the last five years my journey has led me to founding Game Quitters, the largest support community for people who struggle to overcome a video game addiction. Today Game Quitters has members in over 60 countries around the world.
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.
My nickname was even “Smiley.”
That all changed in the 8th grade when I began to experience intense bullying. For example, the fun game to play for kids in the 9th grade was “Can we put Cam in a garbage can?”
Every day during lunch hour kids would chase me around the school, trying to put me in a garbage can. I would kick and scream and squirm and do everything in my power to avoid this happening, because otherwise I would be humiliated.
Life on my hockey teams wasn’t much better, and after a game in Red Deer, Alberta we all got on the team bus to head back home, and for an entire hour I laid at the back of the team bus in fetal position being spit on.
To be honest, sharing about these situations now feels very odd and bizarre to me. They seem like a different life. But they are true and they are experiences I went through, amongst many others.
What these experiences did was cause me to isolate myself away. I didn’t really enjoy going to school much anymore and hockey wasn’t any better. 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.
I didn’t have to worry about kids bullying me online because if they did I could just block them, move to a different server or play a different game. Eventually I 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 parents basement, playing video games up to 16 hours a day. My parents would get on my case that if I wasn’t going to school then I had to get a job, so I worked the odd job here and there, but I would rarely last over a month before I quit.
I Pretended to Have Jobs
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, or whatever else I could confuse them with. Then I would “get” “another” “job,” rinse and repeat. After doing this a few times my parents just gave up and left me to figure things out.
Looking back I’m embarrassed by this behavior, but I was doing anything I could to play video games. They were a way for me to check out and escape from my situation.
When I was gaming I didn’t have to think about how bad my life had gotten, and how depressed I was.
Unfortunately, although I could escape from dealing with it, 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 because I’m writing this to you right now, but what that night did make me realize was that I needed to get professional support. I no longer felt safe with myself. So I asked my dad if he could help me and I started to see a counsellor.
My Counsellor Made Me a Deal
He said I either had to get (and keep) a job, or I had to go on anti-depressants. I’m not sure why, but if there was anything I was certain of at that time in my life, it was that I did not want to go on anti-depressants.
I’m not specifically against them or anything, but I just knew they were not something I wanted for myself. So I got a job.
What the job gave me was stability and with stability I felt inspired that I had a second chance. My life had gotten completely out of control, but this was an opportunity for a fresh start. And I could make this new life anything I wanted it to be. I wanted to see what I could do with it.
I didn’t have very many goals at the time, but one of the goals I did have was to learn more about social skills and how to make friends.
With all the bullying I went through growing up I never really understood why it seemed like 50% of people liked me, and 50% didn’t. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that’s just something called life, but at the time I wanted to feel more in control of my social experience.
So I figured if I was going to improve my social skills, I had to start going out to meet people. I didn’t really know anything else I could do, so I committed to going out every single night to nightclubs. I would be there to learn so I wouldn’t drink alcohol, and I would carry a journal to write down the lessons I was learning. Eventually I started to post these lessons on a blog.
But I knew if I was really going to do this, then I couldn’t play video games, because I would avoid going out, and just stay in to game.
So I quit cold turkey and for two years I didn’t touch a game. To succeed, I was just never home. I would work from 7am to 4pm, come home, nap, shower, get dressed, eat and go out.
But Then I Relapsed
I had just moved to Victoria, B.C. because I was feeling depressed again, and felt like I needed a change of scenery. Looking back I was just running away from my problems, and instead of using video games to escape I moved to a new city.
I had just moved in with new roommates, and one of them 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. 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. 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 5 months I played 16 hours a day, and did nothing else but game.
I stopped working, never went out to meet new people, and barely even left the house. I would eat, sleep and game. Every single day.
About one month later my two roommates left on a three week trip. I remember being so excited to have the house to myself, where I could just game all day without anybody knowing, or having to feel a single ounce of guilt anytime my roommate, James, would invite me to go on adventures.
Around this time I realized my gaming was out of control, and I needed to quit again, but I decided to do it at the end of my 5 month stay in Victoria to give myself the closure I was looking for. This isn’t something I recommend to others because it’s a slippery slope, but I do recognize that for me, this helped.
I Quit Once Again
I took time to reflect on why I was so drawn back to games, even after I had quit successfully for two years. How did I go from not gaming for two years to playing 16 hours a day, again, overnight?
What I discovered was that there were four main reasons why I played. It wasn’t just because games were fun, but because of these specific reasons:
1. 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. And I certainly didn’t have to deal with my depression or anxiety.
2. 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.
In our society we stigmatize gamers as being nerds, loners and losers. We say they are lazy and they are wasting their potential, so they don’t feel accepted outside of games, and because they feel this way, their online gaming communities are a place where they all have a special bond. It’s them against the world.
Also because I was playing with friends, I didn’t feel like I missed out on being social by staying in on a Friday night, because I was being social — I was gaming with my friends.
A lot of parents believe the relationships you have with your gamer friends are not real relationships — and this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Last year I traveled to Singapore and for the past seven years I’ve been interacting with a fellow blogger online named Alden Tan. We spent the week together hanging out and having a great time. We still stay in-touch today. The relationships gamers have online are real and meaningful relationships.
3. Constant Measurable Growth
Games give you a feedback loop. You get to see growth and progress, and it happens immediately through instant gratification.
Today I DJ, and I surf, and both of these fulfill the same need for constant measurable growth, but it’s much harder to see my progress. I don’t have a scoreboard, a badge or a new level to achieve; I just fall on my face less.
4. Challenge (Sense of Purpose)
Games give you a sense of purpose, a mission and a goal to work towards. And they are specifically designed this way. It’s part of the invisible game design. You always know what the next thing is that you need to do. You have to beat this boss, get this weapon, achieve this level. If you don’t have a sense of purpose outside of games, they will provide it for you.
These four needs are all human needs we have and there’s nothing wrong with them.
We all need a break from stress. We all need to feel social connection. We all want to grow, to be challenged and to have a sense of purpose. The power comes in understanding what these needs are, and then being intentional to choose how we fulfill them.
For example, if you were going to stop 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.
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 needs.
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, and let’s just say I became pissed off.
Imagine identifying that you have a problem, a real problem, and you feel inspired enough to search for an answer.
You don’t really know where to turn. You know your family won’t empathize, and will instead take the opportunity to shame you for playing in the first place: “told you so!” and you certainly can’t bring it up with your friends, they all play and will wonder why you’re making such a big deal about it.
You Don’t Have Anybody Else.
So you go where you know you can find an answer: Google, and with a subtle rush of hope you type “How to quit playing video games” and hit enter. If anybody knows how to quit, your friend Google will!
Instead of getting practical advice that can help, you get advice like, to study more — when the whole reason you’re playing video games is to avoid studying — or, to 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 shit?
What I do know is that this process is discouraging, and the consequence of it is that people who were originally open to seeking help are now just like “fuck it, I’ll just continue to play video games.”
These gamers didn’t need a “typical adult” to pretend to have the advice they were looking for, they needed a fellow gamer who had been through the same experience, who understood it and could speak their language.
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, and into a new chapter in my life.
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 today there are almost 1,600 of them.
And they were young. I received comments from gamers as young as 10, 11, 12 years old, young teenagers opening up and being vulnerable. I also got comments from other demographics as well, including wives of husbands who were neglecting their families for these games, concerned parents, and everything in between; but it was this group of young teenagers that really stood out to me.
Imagine being 12 years old and you’re self-aware enough to recognize that you might have a problem.
So you search for the answer in Google, and read an article that is six pages long. Then you go through the comments — many of which are over 1,000 words — and you’re courageous enough to leave your own.
At school your teacher struggles to get you to write three paragraphs for an essay about something you don’t care about, but here you are writing multiple pages about how you struggle to quit playing video games.
And then you’re assertive enough to click “Contact” in the menu bar, and email the author to ask for additional help. And you’re 12 years old.
So between the quantity of comments, the quality of them and the ages, I knew there was a real problem here, and it wasn’t a problem only I dealt with.
Two years later, in September 2013, the article turned into a TEDx talk, which today has over 125,000 views, and over 1,000 comments.
With an incredible response to the TEDx talk I realized I needed to do more. Sure, I could answer all the comments and emails I received on a daily basis, which I did, but in almost 3+ years since my article came out there were still very few resources outside of mine available.
You Deserved Better
You deserved the best tools and resources to support you to overcome this problem, and instead of waiting for someone else to solve it I would take matters into my own hands.
In January of 2015, I launched Game Quitters and it’s been an incredible ride ever since.
Today we have members in over 60 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Singapore, South Africa, Russia, China, Japan, India, Morocco, Poland, Indonesia, Finland, Germany, the U.K., New Zealand, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, Tunisia, South Korea, Israel, and the Netherlands, amongst others. Our members represent all six habitable continents.
We have a YouTube channel with over 90 videos and over 150,000 views. We have over 5,000 members, a community forum with over 14,000 journal entries in the past year alone — where members share their journey and interact with others — and over 80 new posts on average each day.
We have an online program to help you quit playing video games called Respawn.
We have 20,000+ unique visitors to the StopGaming community on reddit every month — with growth doubling over the last six months. Our community is growing rapidly, but…
We’re Only Scratching the Surface
Research from 2009 suggests that in the U.S. alone, 8.5% of youth show diagnosable signs of pathological gaming 1 1. “8.5 percent of U.S. youth addicted to video games, study finds,” Iowa State University, 2009. Retrieved from: https://www.engadget.com/2009/04/20/8-5-percent-of-u-s-youth-addicted-to-video-games-study-finds/ × . That can be as many as a few million youth.
If you add in countries like China, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia, and European countries such as Finland, France, Germany 2 2. “Half of Germany's adult population plays videogames,” Newzoo, 2011. Retrieved from: https://www.destructoid.com/half-of-germany-s-adult-population-plays-videogames-208505.phtml × , and Poland, I estimate there are at least between 10 and 50 million video game addicts in the world right now, many of whom struggle in silence.
This issue is much bigger than me and I’m only one of millions who struggle with compulsive gaming or a video game addiction. You can read the stories of others in our Case Studies section.
There is also a need for research and that is why we have partnered with Dr. Daniel King from the University of Adelaide in Australia to run a scientific study on our 90 day abstinence protocol – the “90 Day Detox” – a first of its kind in the academic literature.
Imagine a world where if you’re a gamer who struggles with a video game addiction, you are able to find a support community who you resonate with, where you feel welcome and safe, where you feel understood.
Where you get to learn and be educated on why the problem happens, and exactly how to recover from it. And for this recovery to not just be about surviving without games, but thriving and living a meaningful life.
That’s the world I imagine; that is my dream, and our mission is to positively impact at least 10 million video game addicts in the next three years.
Today I am not only a recovering video game addict, but the leading expert and pioneer of the video game addiction field.
I speak regularly at international addiction conferences, and on college campuses. Recently I have been signed by CAMPUSPEAK, a higher education speaking agency.
In my spare time I enjoy traveling (22 countries to date), DJing, and surfing. I currently live in beautiful San Diego, California.
- “8.5 percent of U.S. youth addicted to video games, study finds,” Iowa State University, 2009. Retrieved from: https://www.engadget.com/2009/04/20/8-5-percent-of-u-s-youth-addicted-to-video-games-study-finds/ ↩
- “Half of Germany's adult population plays videogames,” Newzoo, 2011. Retrieved from: https://www.destructoid.com/half-of-germany-s-adult-population-plays-videogames-208505.phtml ↩