Outplaying Video Game Addiction

Recovery Unscripted banner image for episode 19

Episode #19 | May 10, 2017

Featured Guest: Cam Adair

For today’s show, my guest is Cam Adair, founder of GameQuitters.com, the world’s largest support community for video game addiction. Since its formation only two years ago, the community has quickly grown to serve 20,000 members a month from 79 countries and counting. Cam joined me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego to share how he developed Game Quitters’ pioneering detox and treatment program and address the skepticism that many people have about video game addiction being a legitimate concern.

Podcast Transcript

David Condos: Hello and welcome to this episode of recovery unscripted I’m David Condos and this podcast is powered by Foundations Recovery Network for today show my guest is Cam Adair founder of gamequitters.com, the world’s largest support community for video game addiction. Since its formation only two years ago, the community has quickly grown to serve 20,000 members a month from 79 countries and counting. Cam shares how he developed GameQuitters‘ pioneering detox and treatment program and addresses the skepticism that many people have about a video game addiction being a legitimate concern. All right here’s Cam.

David:I’m here with Cam Adair from GameQuitters thanks for being with us today.

Cam Adair: Thank you so much for having me.

David: All right, let’s start by having you introduce yourself and say a little bit about your own personal background and journey to behavioral health, specifically with video game addiction.

Adair: My work in this area began through my own personal journey. I was addicted to playing video games for over 10 years, dropped out of high school, never graduated never went to college. While all my friends were at college I was living at home in my parents’ basement playing videos games up to 16 hours a day. I was pretending to have jobs, deceiving my family, super depressed and eventually came to a point where I actually wrote a suicide note, and that’s a night when I really had realized that I need to make a change and the first change I had to make was to quit gaming because it was the crutch. We all have a crutch in some way and until you remove that crutch you’re unable to truly start moving forward so that was it for me video games. Eventually I shared my story online and the article just took off. I was hearing every day from people as young as 10, 11, 12 all the way up to 50 plus, everything in between and they were sharing how they too were struggling with it and I decided, I had to do something more.

David: What led you to then officially setting up a game quitter’s community?

Adair: The process was really simple we had 1600 comments from kids all over the world, they were sharing thousand word essays. These are people who at school, their teacher would have a hard time getting them to write a paragraph or an essay and here they were reading a six page rant and leaving a thousand word essay about their life story, then emailing the author saying, “Hey, please help”. Eventually that turned into a TEDx talk and that had a good response. Eventually I came to a point where I realized I have a responsibility to be able to help these people because I have a unique ability to understand it because I went through it and they deserve help and we launched gamequitters.com. Now we have a YouTube channel with over 120 videos for free, we have an online support community where there’s over 20,000 journal entries from people all over the world. We have an online program called Respawn that walks people through step by step by step exactly how to quit and here I am today and it’s been a lot of fun.

David: Awesome. Could you tell us a little bit more about your current role with GameQuitters and what you enjoy about what you’re doing?

Adair: [laughs] GameQuitters is essentially what I do all the time. We’re in the midst of building a team and really building infrastructure but up until this point it’s really just been me and the community all coming together to say, “You know what, we’re going to do something about this issue”. Interacting with the community really trying to bring small support groups together to be able to support each other and really just trying to find a way for our peers, the other people in the community who struggle with this to be able to support each other. One of my favorite examples is recently there was a member from Poland who shared how it was actually easier for him to share about his experience authentically in his native language and he was going to start a journal in Polish and we actually have a ton of other members from Poland. Now they’re all speaking Polish to each other and I don’t speak Polish but they’re able to help and I think that’s really cool. It’s really been about cultivating the community because if we all come together then we can support each other right? Yes, for me it’s really community culture and content is a big part of what I do.

David: You said you’re the largest community for this type of addiction recovery and I imagine kind of one of the first.

Adair: Yes.

David: Are people skeptical about video game addiction being a thing and then about your program?

Adair: Yes, the skepticism is interesting to me because it’s like 97% of youth play video games. One point three billion people around the world play games. Everyone games nowadays or knows someone and everyone in the gaming community also knows someone who plays too much. So there is some skepticism about whether or not it’s a real addiction and that was part of the reason why I started doing the work I was doing was because I was tired of sitting around waiting for some random organization to give us validation that this was a problem and said, “If you go on our community right now I could pull it up on Reddit, we can look at the headlines”, people are saying that they’re struggling and whether we need to classify or diagnose them as an addict or not we can be able to help them when they’re asking for help right? That’s where I start.

David: You said, if you’re helping people who need help making their lives better, like you were saying, you were depressed, who was causing you to lie to your family, we don’t need to wait for statistics to tell us that this is something or not.

Adair: They want help, all these people in my community are coming to me saying, “Cam, I want help can you help me?” I’m letting the researchers and all these people who never actually interact with anyone who actually struggles with this issue, they can do their thing. I have no doubt that it will be classified as an addiction. I experience so much of it every single day in my community and while they’re doing their thing trying to figure out whether or not it’s an actual addiction, I’m going to be out there helping people and changing lives and that’s my responsibility.


David: Let’s back up a little bit could you tell us what are some of the reasons that people become addicted to video games?

Adair: It’s a great question. In my experience what I realized was there were four specific reasons why I played video games. It wasn’t just because games were fun. The first was temporary escape. Games allow you to escape from stress. Games are fully immersive. You don’t even have to think about your problems. The problem is when you turn the game off and you look around your room your life is in the exact same place. The second reason is social connection. Games are a social experience. The number two reason why people in my community say they struggle to quit playing video games is because they’re going to lose all of their friends.

The third reason is constant measurable growth. Games give you a sense of progress. You can see it in a game like World of War Craft where level one to level two is far easier than level 59 to 60. Level one to two might take you two minutes, level 59 to 60 might take you two months, and they do that specifically so you get that feedback loop of, “Oh wow, I put an effort and I get progress, I put an effort I get progress”. In life it just doesn’t work that way, it’s more abstract. Games are structured and that brings me to the fourth reason which is a sense of purpose. Again games are specifically designed for you to always know what to do next. You’ve got to beat this boss, get this level, go get this weapon. In life you don’t always know what to do next right? That sense of purpose is more abstract it’s not always so clear. In games, that’s like the invisible hand in game design, always telling you what to do next. Then the other side is just the brain chemistry component, games are fully immersive, hyper stimulating and the difference when you’re used to this, which is like 10 out of 10 stimulation or real life which maybe plays it like four, you tend to want ten. So your brain gets used to that and when you’re not getting that you have all the typical addiction experiences like withdrawal symptoms, cravings, urges to play, compulsions. What we recommend is a 90 day detox. Take 90 days off gaming. Use that as an opportunity to reset and learn more about your relationship to gaming and technology, and from that place you can be more informed on what that relationship looks like and whether or not you want to continue it in some fashion or not.

David: Like you said, “Everybody plays games”. What are some unique characteristics that would set apart someone with a video game addiction as opposed to someone who just plays a lot of video games?

Adair: Negative impact is where I always start. I was dropping out of high school, deceiving my family. Now in my community it’s things like your grades are decreasing, you’re maybe skipping out of work, you’re neglecting family relationships, you find yourself irritable, moody, you find yourself very defensive when you’re not able to play. Those are big red flags. If you find yourself preoccupied all day long, you’re always thinking about when you get to play, you’re counting down the day until you get to go and do that thing. For me, just from a quality of life standpoint, you really want to be able to be present in your life whatever you’re doing, whether it’s school or work. So if you’re finding yourself just daydreaming about when you get to get out of this situation to go in-game, all of those are red flags and if you try to take a break like seven days or 90 days and you’re unable to do it, I think it’s going to show you a lot about what your relationship is like to gaming.


David: You mentioned Respawn. Could you tell us a little bit more about that and kind of how you went about building a program for gaming addiction?

Adair: Respawn is a program I developed that is really just a step by step guide. Now I fundamentally believe that if someone wants help in this area they should be able to get it for free and that’s why we have Youtube. Now Respawn is kind of like a curated version of the content I would share online where it walks you through step by step, here’s what you need to do about dealing with the sunk cost fallacy, which is you’ve spent 15 years playing video games you’re not going to want to give that up. Here are the new types of activities you need to find. Here’s how to schedule your day because if you’re just constantly bored, well you’re going to go back in-game because gaming can’t be any worse than boredom right?

Just all these practical steps that you can take to actually move forward. How I developed it was talking to thousands and thousand of gamers and helping them through this process, and realizing that there were certain patterns and there were certain things that really helped them, and just doing it with them. It’s $47 which is really funny. It’s the average price of a video game so it’s very, very affordable.

But the whole program generally is around what we call The 90 Day Detox. That has to do with the amount of time it takes for your brain to reset on a dopamine expectation levels. It has to do with attachment theory, it has to do with developing sustainable habits. So we start with 90 and then from there, we give them the options to, you know, if you want to try gaming again or in that process, maybe you’ve realized that gaming isn’t healthy for you at all. But developing that paradigm where you’re able to experience what life is like without gaming, probably for the first time in your life, has been so important for people to be able to recover.

David: Yes, this is something you’ve touched on. Just like with any other addiction, video game recovery is a process. Anyone who goes through it has to adjust to a new life. What are some things that you tell people to help them build this new life and really replace gaming? Like you said, you were playing 16 hours a day, that has to be daunting to think, “How am I going to replace that chunk of my life in my day?”

Adair: Absolutely. The first thing that identifies that you’re creating a void. You’re not just creating a void in time, you’re creating a void in the way you deal with certain things like stress. You’re also creating a void in your identity. Patience is a really big part of what we preach. Being kind to yourself, recognizing that you are going through a transition. You’re closing a chapter in your life that involved gaming and moving into a chapter that doesn’t have gaming, and it’s okay. First it’s just helping them survive that 90 day period which begins with identifying why they gamed and finding replacement activities.

I recommend three different types of activities. Number one, something mentally engaging, something like a goal, a skill to develop. The second one is something resting, something where you’ve already been to the gym, you’ve been to work, school, and you’re at home and you’re like, “Okay, I just want a break.” You need to have something. So cooking, reading, listening to podcast like this one would be great. The third is something social, because when you quit gaming, you’re going to lose a lot of your friends and that’s a very challenging thing, so having an activity that’s a group activity where it’s very easy to make some new friends will help a lot.

After that, it’s about being very intentional with your time. If you’re not intentional with your time, then you’re going to be bored, and when you’re bored, you’re going to game. So really helping them to learn time management, things like using a calendar, an agenda, a schedule. A morning routine is essential for having that structure to make you already feel like you’ve won the day at the very beginning. And we follow The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod which is a fantastic book that everyone should check out.

After that, it’s really being a part of the community. Because being surrounded by other people who you can be open and honest with about your experience, and who also understand what you’re going through, is essential. So joining the forum, starting a journal, that really helps a lot.


David: It just seems that there’re so many parallels with substance use.

Adair: Addiction is addiction, you know.

David: Yes. I’m thinking about the community aspect because if somebody has been an alcoholic, like you were saying, they lose all their friends. If you’re like, “Well, I can’t drink anymore.” So building this new community and showing them there can be this other life and there’s other people who are going through what you’re going through, seems huge.

Adair: The big thing we talk about all the time is that it’s not just about quitting games but it’s truly about learning to live a great life. Quitting gaming is step one. We always talk about that step one, right? But after that, it’s about what you’re really going towards, what do you really want to do? What are your goals? What are your values? What’s the vision you have for your life? And beginning to create that.

David: I think what we’re talking about right now with building a new life and all that plays into a couple of other things I saw on your website, The 30 Day Challenge and Beyond, could you tell us a little bit about each of those and who they might be for?

Adair: The 30 Day Challenge is something I developed where I thought about this idea of gamers love missions. So I thought, “What if I created missions that would help develop different skills?” So you want to develop discipline, take cold showers for a week. You want to develop empathy, how can you go do some random acts of kindness? And I give them some structure around that.

Then it just gets them out of their comfort zone, so that’s the very big challenge. Beyond is a program I developed where it was really around this idea, “Okay, you’ve quit gaming, but now what?”

When I quit gaming, it was like, “I want to start my own business, I want to start traveling, I want to move to California from cold Canada.” I really wanted to learn surfing, and DJing and do all these different things.” That’s what I desire for each of my members. It’s not just quitting gaming but truly living a great life.

So when we have 20,000 members posting all these journal entries, it’s really hard at this point now for me to be able to be in there and truly helping all of them. But in Beyond, we brought groups of 10 together where they were supporting each other. I was in there doing weekly calls with them to help them identify what their goals were and develop a plan, and execute that plan.

David: Yes. Kind of like, “How can you get them to follow this progression into the work that you really need to do?”

Adair: It’s the classic, sell them what they want give them what they need. In this instance, what they want is goals, and what they want is to be not procrastinating and being productive and all these things which are great but what they need is to really dig into what’s truly going on.

If you look at any addiction, you look at why — especially around gaming — why people were just trying to escape from life, why they’re trying to numb themselves. There’s something underneath that. Until we get to that, you can quit gaming but then you’re just watching Netflix all day. You can quit gaming but now you’re just watching porn. If you don’t actually get to the bottom of it, you’re not truly going to transcend it, right? We don’t necessarily need to get to the bottom of it right away, although that would be great. It’s idealistic but sometimes the reality is you have to remove something to begin to see what’s truly underneath. So we try to be really patient with everyone.


David: You mentioned a little bit about your own personal history with this addiction and how that motivated you to set up GameQuitters. Could you tell us a little bit of about how that first-hand experience helped shape your perspective as you’re helping other people through the same journey?

Adair: It’s been essential. When you look at research around, especially students who struggle with mental health in some way — I read a study recently that said, “60% of students who have mental illness don’t seek help for it. The number one factor for why they don’t is because of stigma.” That stigma comes from either not feeling like they’re going to be accepted, feeling judged, worried that the person who they’re going to speak to especially at school won’t understand them. You know, I see posts in our community that say, “My psychiatrist laughed at me.” Someone went to a psychiatrist, went to a counselor to talk about this issue and that person didn’t understand how to relate to them.

That’s been essential for me to be able to actually resonate with this community where for instance, I don’t say that they’re lazy. Someone who’s gaming 16 hours a day is not lazy. In fact, they’re incredibly focused, and determined, and disciplined, and incredibly hard working. It’s just in the wrong direction. It’s just to something that maybe brings negative impact in their life instead of in the direction of their goals and dreams.

So what I try to help them do is identify what their talents are and then channel those for good instead of evil. The community’s really helped me be able to identify exactly how to communicate in a way that will resonate. But in order for me to be able to do that, I had to first to understand the issue.

David: Right, and you had to be open to listening to them.

Adair: Exactly. When I read articles that say, “Video games aren’t addictive because they’re no worse than eating or any of these things,” all I do is I open my phone and look at the Reddit community where people are sharing their stories. That looks like negative impact to me. That looks like an addiction to me. It always brings me back to how can I help the people who need help and advocate for research that is working with people who are the ones saying, “Hey, this is a problem for me”, and advocating on their behalf. Whether people want to be skeptical or not, that’s okay, but let’s actually talk to people who have this problem.

You know, I talked to fathers who are neglecting their kids. I got an email the other day from a mom who said, “Thank you for the website because I was able to learn a lot of information. My 15-year-old son is currently hospitalized because he attempted suicide, and he has a gaming addiction.”

And then researchers will say that gaming doesn’t cause negative impact because the only negative impact they see is a loss of time, but time is all we have. I just am super curious who they’re talking to, because you come into our community for two minutes and you’ll see negative impact, and you’ll see a lot of it.

David: Yes. Alright so we’ll wrap up with this last question. Everyone who serves in this industry of helping people with their addictions has their own reasons for why they chose to get into that. Could you tell us a little bit about why helping people find recovery from gaming addiction is important to you?

Adair: I feel like it’s a responsibility because I have a unique ability to be able to speak about this issue and articulate it in a way that resonates with people who struggle with it. But more so, I get more out of this than anyone in my community. This helps me be able to live a great life in the same way that I try to inspire others in the community to do so as well. So when I’m going through tough times, when I’m feeling depressed at times, or anxious and I open my email and see something from someone I was able to help, that really helps me come back to why I’m doing what I’m doing.

When I get an email from a 15-year-old, or a 12-year-old, or a 37-year-old, or whomever, and they say that something I was able to share online, was able to help them and speak to them. I know that life was worth it, so that’s why I do what I do.

David: Well, thanks for being with us today, Cam.

Adair: Thanks for having me.

David: Thanks again to Cam for joining us. Now I get to introduce another installment of our ongoing segment called Minute of Mindfulness. Together we’ll take the next 60 seconds to slow down, take a deep breath, and focus on this present moment. As always, I’ll open things up with an inspirational quote and then I’ll rejoin you to close out the episode. Today’s quote comes from pioneering primatologist and current UN Messenger of Peace, Jane Goodall, who said, “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today we’ve heard from Cam Adair, founder of the video game addiction support community, GameQuitters. To check out more of their resources, visit gamequitters.com. And thank you for listening. If you haven’t already, please click to subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app. That way you won’t miss any of the great new episodes we have coming up each week. See you next time.

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