It was Christmas 2001, 4 days after I turned 6 years old, when my family – at the request of my older brother – got an Xbox.

From then on, up until I was 22, gaming was my main source of entertainment. It was how I de-stressed; it was how I passed time; it was how I interacted with my two brothers and the few friends I made. I didn’t play outside much. I never learned how to ride a bike or swim. And my visits to the beach decreased significantly.

Back then, gaming was still pretty outside of the mainstream, and massively multiplayer was only just beginning. I grew up with the mindset of an outcast. I wasn’t good at the things everyone else was – sports, making friends, etc. In fact, I have a very distinct memory of some time in elementary school when two girls in the neighbourhood came to my house to invite me out to play, and I pretended to be sick so I could avoid interacting.

Instead, I played video games.

I Hid Who I Was to Make Friends

I think the beginning of my change towards gaming began when I made a class presentation in 8th grade and suddenly realized I was pretty good at public speaking. This led me to have the confidence to speak more, but I was still incredibly insecure about having such a gaming-oriented childhood.

I intentionally water damaged our Xbox 360 to stop myself from playing it

So, to impress people and relate to them, I ended up developing a lying problem. I would tell people grand stories of what I did in my free time and how active a person I was, when in reality, when I got off the bus from school, I went to my room and played Halo, Runescape, Mass Effect, Command and Conquer, etc. I told people I hunted (I’d never held a gun in my life). I told people I played lacrosse (never held a lacrosse stick in my life).

You get the picture.

Eventually, I ended up getting caught in some lies (I think it was about the hunting), and a group of kids bullied me for this, which rocked my confidence for a while. But in high school, still feeling the urge to socialize but now knowing not to do it through lies, I ended up making friends with a lot of gamers. Desperate to fit in and finally have a social circle, I adopted their habits. I played even more games in different genres on different platforms. I watched the same Let’s Plays they did. I even decided to take STEM classes in high school just so I could be around these people who accepted me.

This ended up having a very strange negative consequence: I went to university for electrical engineering, because that was my background in high school and what all my friends were doing, but I’m not an engineer. Needless to say, all the math courses and engineering courses were really difficult for me, and I struggled through my freshman year. All the way, I de-stressed with video games. My sophomore year, I ended up leaving school to try to explore new things, but I mostly spent my time at home playing video games, and when it came time to decide what to do with my life, I reluctantly returned to engineering school.

It Was Time to Make a Change

This was when I decided to experiment with quitting video games, having identified them as a key point of failure in my freshman year. So, upon my return, I cut myself off from games, and it worked well for a while. Periodically, at stressful times, I would play, but once a test or big homework assignment was out of the way, I successfully returned to my gaming embargo.

I flourished during these times of cutting out gaming. Even though I don’t like engineering, I did pretty well in the courses. I formed a huge friend group out of studying for, and persevering through, difficult classes together. While it still wasn’t perfect (because I didn’t care for STEM), it was much better than having a friendship group based around my addiction.

I’ve had a number of relapses since quitting gaming that first time, but I’ve always gone back to trying to get away from them. Unfortunately, my relationship with my brother Ryan being largely based around video games doesn’t help.

Things were at their worst when I moved in with him to save money while starting my first engineering job out of college. His entire life is gaming, and suddenly mine was as well.

One night, I realized how far I’d fallen back into my addiction, and I had what I can only describe as a panic attack. I was so afraid that video games would be all I ever did with my life that I intentionally water damaged our Xbox 360 to stop myself from playing it. It’s not something I’m proud of, because it was shared property (if not more so his), but I believe it was something I needed to do to help myself at that moment.

I deleted my Steam account, but unfortunately, living with him pressured me into recreating one, because it’s the main way I relate to him and I want to be a good brother.

I also sold my gaming computer and bought a laptop that can’t run anything but games from several years ago, so no new releases for me.

I started seeing a therapist for the depression and anxiety that I believe are heavily rooted in my background in gaming.

Just in the past two months, I’ve had a terrible relapse, where I ended up installing a bunch of games from this new Steam account on that laptop.

But I’m quitting again. Just now, I changed my Steam account password to one of those randomly generated Google ones and didn’t save it, so I’m locked out of my account. The thing for me is: if I don’t have easy access, I won’t go out of my way to game. I see it for what it is in my life now, so as long as it’s out of harms reach then I’m safe.

I didn’t delete my Steam account again, because I knew how much it hurt my brother when he learned I deleted my old one, and he gets very defensive when I try to discuss my gaming addiction with him. I think this pathway will hopefully let me slowly grow into new pursuits and maybe reforge our relationship in different areas.

Gaming Stopped Me from Pursuing My Dreams

I want to change careers out of the software engineering job I don’t like that I have now. I want to get into writing and acting because those have always been things I’ve felt compelled to do. I’m working towards those goals now, taking some classes on the side.

I’ve been writing my short stories and beginning some novels. I’m going to start posting on Medium, covering the subjects of video game addiction, Internet addiction, and switching career paths after college (a few things I feel competent in discussing). I’m picking up drums, too, which I always wanted to learn to play.

I feel like a creative person with a lot of drive and motivation and energy who has just been held hostage by video games all their life. I have a lot of regret for wasting my entire childhood, but I’m glad that, at 23, I’m able to move on in a healthier direction.

I have a lot of animosity towards gaming and, in some way, myself. When I saw the recent video: “Is gaming a waste of time?” I immediately answered “yes,” and there’s a part of me, I must admit, who dislikes people who argue that they’re wonderful and amazing and the best thing that ever happened to entertainment. In reality, the better part of me knows that they are simply able to have a different relationship with games than I am.

Anyway, I guess the message of my story thus far is that I may stumble and fall, but at least I’m getting up each time and moving in the right direction.

I just wanted to thank you (Cam) again for being one of the few people I know talking about this serious issue. I think more and more people are discussing the impacts of social media and the internet and hikikomori (I think that’s the shut-in culture in Japan), but very little of the conversation has extended to video games, which I believe is a huge part of it all.

It’s really heartwarming that, even when my mom and brother express doubts about how video games have negatively influenced my life, there is someone out there who has a similar relationship with them and knows the dangers they hold for some of us.

Thank you and Game Quitters so much!

Sincerely,
Tom.