Talking The Talk: Tales of Video Game Addicts

Private Eye Case File Private Eye Files

“So far,” Drraagh comments as he slowly paces around the room, a small projection screen set up in the corner, “We’ve looked at the details of what addiction is, how it happens, how to treat it and so forth. What we haven’t looked at is the people that get addicted. Part of any scientific study is an examination of the subject and while I have not been able to run my own studies on video game addiction , there are a number of stories out there from those who have been addicted and I am presenting them for some key facts on these topics to try and put a personal face on this for people who are only seeing statistics, psychology and neuroscience.”

One article on, the website of Vice magazine, is about Video Game Addiction and opens with one case study of a 12 year old boy. Their opening paragraph is

The withdrawal made Brett want to die. The 12-year-old had only been cut off for a few hours, and his mind was already wandering to a dark and dangerous place. Looking out the window of his family’s three-story home in Wassenaar, a suburb of the Hague, in the Netherlands, the American transplant imagined swan-diving out of his room and falling to the ground below, with his skull cracking open against the pavement. A grim death, sure, but at the time he felt anything had to be better than not being allowed to play Counter-Strike.

“Other quotes about this young child’s experiences were about as bad, like

Brett’s addiction reached its first fever pitch in 2007, when he was in the tenth grade and living in Marin, California. He was so focused on World of Warcraft that he stopped bathing or brushing his teeth regularly. He rarely got more than a few hours of sleep because he’d stay up all night dungeon-crawling. He was clocking up to 40 hours a week on video games on top of going through the motions during the day at school. It got so bad his teacher ordered him out of class because he looked like one of the monsters he’d savaged the previous night. He failed all of his classes that trimester.

Brett was playing so many hours of video games the seams between reality and virtual reality started to break down, once causing him to attempt a World of Warcraft–style teleportation move at a bus stop.

By summer break, his parents had had enough. At 3 AM one June morning, Brett was pulled out of bed by two strangers who would escort him to a six-week “wilderness camp” rehab program called Second Nature in Bend, Oregon. He kept company with teenage alcoholics and drug addicts. Over Skype, I asked Brett what he talked about on the way to his first rehab program.

“I talked mostly about video games,” he said. “I talked about figuring out that I was never going to find happiness by being the best World of Warcraft player in the world.”

Seven years, two rehab programs, and more than $100,000 worth of addiction-treatment bills later, Brett still games more than 65 hours a week.

“So, we can see that he blurred the lines between reality and fantasy, believing he was able to teleport, as well as that he let his physical needs deteriorate to give him more time to play in the game, since his physical body wasn’t all that important. Seems like quite an impact that the games had on him, and he still hasn’t broken out of the cycle of addiction. There are many more examples of this, and they tend to share a lot of the same things, but there is a lot we can learn from this when we get into more detail as to the whys and the impact that it has one people.”

“Here is a personal entry on the experiences, taken from a writeup on Kotaku, a big gaming news website, about one person’s personal experiences with game addiction. The entry is long, so I won’t quote it here, but I recommend reading it as it shows the spiral from a regular person to an addict and the ending. It is sort of a Go Ask Alice story of gaming addiction, though narrative instead of diary.”

Drraagh sighs, shaking his head slowly as he looks at the projector for a long moment. “I understand that is a lot of information to sink in in that article, but my point there is that it focuses on the change of his life. It started with a depressed state, when he was down and vulnerable and needed an escape. He was in a bad part of his life, and his roommate wanted to be a good friend and give him something to ease his pain. That is enabling, sure, but at that point the roommate didn’t know any better nor did the gamer themselves. It’s like an alcoholic getting their first drink, they don’t know they’re going to be addicted from it. But then we see how his quality of work suffers, how his financial responsibility had even fallen through before that, and then finally lost his job. This further pushes them into the addiction because now they have more free time to become an addict and no desires that are pulling them away.”

“We see in his comment about how he lived on as cheaply a lifestyle as he could that much like our first case he is letting his physical self go while he focused on the virtual environment he was escaping into. He then escaped briefly for a girl he cared about, but he then relapsed due to the social pressures from his online friends. At first, he says, it was only when she couldn’t come over but soon fell into the same habits as before, like any addict relapsing on drugs. He even gave up on intimacy with his girlfriend for his game. He quit his job and lost his girlfriend again due to these addictions. It had gotten so bad that the roommate who got him hooked on gaming had even threatened to kick him out if he didn’t get a job and he wasn’t motivated to do that. ”

“We do see, as mentioned in treatment of addiction I mentioned, a lot of it is the support and the ability to show them that there are people who care about them and are there for them as the times got tough. We can see how he rebuilt a life for him by realizing that there was other things he could be doing with his life. He didn’t engage his problems head on, he ran from them as it was easier than tackling the mounting issues. He is right that the game designers are guilty only of providing a damn good hiding place and that it was his responsibility to control his playing, but, that comment also focuses on the fact that the game designers’ job is for you to want to keep coming back and play more. As the Dr. Hilarie Cash, executive director of reSTART Internet and Gaming Addiction Recovery Program mentions in his post,

“Some blame can be laid at the feet of developers, making a conscious effort to make their games more addictive. It’s analogous to the tobacco industry, trying to make tobacco more addictive. It works to their benefit. That having been said, it’s up to the individual to take responsibility for how they play.”

During our conversation, Dr. Cash also likened gaming to gambling. Some people can walk into a casino, lose $5, and call it quits. You have to know your own limits, and be conscious enough of them to know when you are in danger of going too far.

“So, play without your means, but it is not always possible for an addict to realize what is destructive as they focus on the issues of the addiction and the pleasure it gives him to escape from his problems for a time. Thus we run into the fact that those design tricks like the Skinner Box will try and keep people going, giving them progress reports to keep them addicted to completing goals. Of course, when speaking of Casinos and Gaming, do not overlook that Casinos are looking to Video Games as a way to get the Millenials in.”

The Boston Globe gives us yet another story from a Gaming Addict telling their experiences and even reports to have a way out of the addiction. We saw from Mike in the Kotaku post that a support platform seemed to work for them. With Matthew in this news report we see the same issues of putting off work for gaming, even giving up on his college work as it didn’t seem important. He had commitments to the gaming world and wanted to see them through, because he was doing more there than he could in the real world. Then after being kicked out and unable to game in the homeless shelter, he becomes clean like an addict going off drugs, where the first few days are hard but with effort and fellowship and a 12 Step Addiction Program, he was able to step out of the cycle and start to re-establish a normal life even being game free for a year and a half. True,” Drraagh offers and smiles at the thought as he moves to take a seat at his desk, pulling a remote from one of the drawers, “No addict is ever cured but that is what the support community is for, people you know who have gone through the same weak times and can be there to help pick you up without being judgemental about the stumbles they are experiencing.”

“We also have the British news entry The Telegraph with another personal story of a young man’s struggle with the addiction and how it impacted his life. A lot of it is echoes of the same sort of comments we have heard before, with example statements like

I began to look like an absolute mess. I just has no interest in cleaning myself or looking good as I never went out. If I did I just wore a hat to cover my hair. Nothing compared to the feeling of playing Xbox. Not even real football……

I had a promising football career at the-then Blue Square Premier’s Fleetwood Town but I wouldn’t go to training. I just wanted to sit in front of the TV. Sometimes I wouldn’t eat a single thing for days on end.

The lack of food saw my weight plummet and also reduced the frequency of toilet visits. When I did need to go, I would pee into a sliced open water bottle rather than stop playing.

Drraagh chuckles a little and smirks, “And while I don’t know about the truth about the statement made where ‘two hours on the console had the same effect that a line of cocaine has on the neuro-receptors in the brain‘, it is quite possible that it could have similar impacts on brain chemistry in general with those dopamine reactions mentioned earlier.”

“The final one I wish to leave you with is one I referenced before in the opening of this series of articles. It is a video confession by the Extra Credits cast member James Portnow, who talks about his past with the addiction. James is a game designer and consultant, so he works in the environment much like Mike in his Kotaku article again, showing that you can take your hobbies and work with them if you are able to realize that you have a problem and need to take it seriously so that you don’t end up back where you were left behind. So, a possible point for parents with children with game addiction, maybe what you may want to do is get them into programming. As this article mentions, most of the jobs these days are challenged by automation but game design is still a human occupation. Plus, programming is a general useful skill and teaches problem solving skills.”

“Getting back to the video, you can hear and see the emotion coming from him as he recounts his tale. The getting away from school, losing himself in the world as he walks away from things he was addicted in, even losing relationships. We see the escaping the cycle, the falling in to the old cycles, before he finally has a life changing event where he steps out of the addiction, and there is that key phrase of ‘Life will always welcome you back‘. We just need to make sure they know life is out there for them and there are people who will support them when they need it, and please, like any addiction, do not judge them for their failures and do not offer them a replacement or even offer to game with them to keep an eye on them or something. You may just be starting them back down the road to addiction again.”