My Interview with Andrew, a Former Video Game Addict

As we wrap up the holiday season, I’m finding one subject has been stressing out my clients more often than others - managing the consuming nature of video games. Maybe it’s because many of us went out and bought new gaming consoles for our kids over the holidays, or just the long winter break came with excess screen time. Whatever the reason, many parents are struggling to regain some balance between their kids’ video game time and everything else they could be doing with their time. As the mom of two boys who are very attracted to video games I’m very familiar with this dilemma.

In my work I often have the pleasure of talking to kids and young adults about their experiences in the digital world. When it comes to gaming I hear all different perspectives, but mostly it’s the boys fighting their parents for the right to game. Recently though I met a young man whose perspective has changed.  I was very fortunate to have been introduced to a 23 yr old named Andrew (he requested that only his first name be used) who wanted to speak to me about his history of gaming addiction and how he got out of it. In my research I’ve come across a lot of reports on the effect of video games on our kids (both positive and negative) but I haven’t found too many articles where I can hear the voice of someone first hand telling me about their own experience with gaming addiction. Andrew and I had such a nice conversation so I’ve barely edited it at all. Quick note: if you are really concerned about your child’s wellbeing regarding video games please read on to the end where I have helpful information and resources.

Me: Hey Andrew. Thanks so much for talking with me - it will mean a lot to parents. So just tell me a little bit about your upbringing. What kind of family were you raised in? And as far as screen use among the family how permissive or not permissive were your parents?

Andrew: Honestly, super amazing family. Everyone was really close. With regards to screen use, my neighbor had an Xbox, and when we were 9 or 10 I would always go over to his house and play. In our house, up to like 13 years old, we couldn't really just hop on the computer and use it whenever we wanted. It had to be for homework. But after I got my Xbox when I was like 12 or 13 it kind of changed. My mom did try to limit it, but not really successfully.

Me: Was it in your bedroom?

Andrew: No. It was actually in the basement. And it was actually, looking back, pretty easy to sneak down and play a little bit.

Me: Were you the only one playing it, or did you play with other people in your family?

Andrew: No, it was just mostly me. Yeah, my brother, he played a few games, but not really as heavily as I did.

Me: What did your mom do to try to curb how much you were using it? Were there any rules in place for how much time you could spend on there? Did anything have to be done first, like chores or homework?

Andrew: She kind of set the stop limit of like one to two hours max a day and that just didn't really work out. And she didn't really force the issue ever.  She would always kind of voice her concern, but it was never like a hard ‘no.’ There weren't really any requirements with getting chores done or doing homework and that kind of stuff. That probably would have been a good idea.

Me: What games were you most into?

Andrew: Early on I would say a lot of the sports games. Then it kind of evolved into more like the Call of Duty and Halo games, which actually, were not allowed in the house, but I used my brother to buy a couple of them, 'cause you had to be 17 and a couple of them I got from my friends.

Me: And they were sort of like hidden?

Andrew: Yeah, definitely.

Me: How would you play them? Just hoping that your parent wouldn't walk in?

Andrew: My parents didn't really ever go to the basement, so if they did come down, I could just exit out of it and make it look like I was doing something else pretty easily.

Me: Did you ever feel like there was a difference between your level of interest in playing the games and your friends' level of interest in playing the games? Were you more obsessed with it?

Andrew: Never really. Pretty much everyone in my grade was playing video games all the time, so it just, it didn't seem like a big deal. Maybe I overestimated their play time I guess, but you know, they were all on my friends list on the Xbox Live feature, and I could see that they were playing until 2:00 am sometimes.

Me: Wow.

Andrew: Yeah.

Me: And did you sneak out of bed and go play as well?

Andrew: Oh, absolutely, yeah.

Me: Was it disrupting your sleep?

Andrew: Definitely when I was on my own in my later teen years. But early on, I would only play super late if it was during the summer, that kind of stuff. So I would always get enough sleep. But recently, you know, late teens and 20 to 21, I definitely lost some sleep dedicating time to games.

Me: So at what point did gaming start to spiral out of control for you?

Andrew: Well, so my junior year, my family moved to California. My dad was working out there for a while and my mom was just sick of being away from him, so we moved there and I left my high school and my friends behind. At my new school - high schools are kind of clique-y and by junior year everyone has their friends - so I didn't really fit in that much. The Xbox was kind of a way to still play with my old friends. So I dedicated a lot of time while in California to video games. And I would say that's probably when it became a major part of my life and took over.

Me: So it was a way for you to connect to your friends. And do you think it was also a way to sort of escape your discomfort in your new situation?

Andrew: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

Me: I think about that a lot. With any sort of addiction, aside from any biological predisposition to addiction, really at the root of it, one is just trying to avoid something. So for you, there really was a precipitating event - the move - that sort of set you on that course.

Me: So then you went off to college?

Andrew: Yeah, I went to Ohio University for one year. And the first semester was okay. I wasn't super into games. I would play with my roommates casually, but it wasn't super bad.

Andrew: But my second semester was kinda difficult, and I ended up literally stopping going to classes and not doing homework, and pretty much playing games all day. I can't really explain why I did that. Looking back, it seems ridiculous. But yeah, I pretty much failed all the classes that semester. I called my mom in tears and had to tell her about it, and then was academically dismissed from OU.

Me: So just thinking about it now, do you feel like the gaming took over and that's why you ended up neglecting the rest of your life? Or do you think that you were unhappy or stressed in your real life and so you went to the game world, sort of to hide away from it?

Andrew: I mean, probably a little bit of both. I had friends, and OU was awesome. I made some really good friends and good connections and I still talk to some of them to this day. I think maybe after I didn't do well in a couple of classes, I just kinda gave up. And video games were kind of like an escape to stop thinking about, "Oh, you have to do this homework. You have to study for this test," and so on and so forth.

Me: And then, did you feel like the pull of the game, like if you weren't playing ... Did you feel that sort of addicted feeling?

Andrew: Yeah, for sure. I wouldn't even eat at the meal hall for the most part. I would buy food from the grocery store and come back as quick as possible. I was super addicted to this one game, World of Tanks. To get the shiny tank at the end you have to devote a lot of time and any time that I wasn't working towards it I felt like I was missing out, you know? Like if I spent an extra hour, then I could get this tank sooner.  

Me: Did you start to kind of feel like, "this is out of my control right now. I'm uncomfortable with what's happening"?

Andrew: Weirdly enough, no. I just ...

Me: You were just in it until ...

Andrew: I just was in it, for sure.

Me: ... until things fell apart.

Andrew: Yep.

Me: Okay. And so the way that you kind of realized that there was a problem was literally because you failed your classes?

Andrew: Yep. I had been neglecting looking at my grades even. I mean, I knew that they would be failing or withdrawal failing, whatever the classification was, but I finally looked them up one day and I had to call my mom and tell her all about that. She was obviously disappointed, but I think she knew what the root cause was.

Me: She did?

Andrew: Yeah.

Me: So she had a sense that this was happening?

Andrew: Yeah, for sure.

Me: How did she know?

Andrew: Well, I was always a huge gamer at the house, and she probably had her fears that maybe in an unrestricted environment I would not be able to control myself.

Me: Once you had to leave school what happened?

Andrew: So I was dismissed academically from OU, and the next year I applied to a community college in Columbus.

Me: But in between that time and the next year, what happen? You went home? Did you continue gaming?

Andrew: Yeah, I went home to Florida for two months, that's where my parents had moved. I was mostly working at a restaurant so I kinda got away from gaming for a little bit during that summer. But the following year I went to Columbus again for a community college, was reunited with all my friends, and weirdly enough, still chose to devote like 90 percent of my free time to playing video games.

Me: What happened?

Andrew: That year was a mess too. So I was working, and for some reason - I can't really explain it -  but the first semester I was supposed to go to classes and I didn't register for them in time. So for that entire semester pretty much, I was just working, coming home, and then playing video games.

Then the second semester, I got my classes registered on time, and then literally, deja vu, did the same exact thing as the previous year at OU. I did not go to the classes - didn't do ANY of the homework and I withdrew failed all of them.

Me: So then you had to leave again?

Andrew: Yeah.

Me: At any point did your family get involved and sit you down and say, "Listen, you have a problem. We need to handle this" ?

Andrew: Like once or twice a year I would get sat down and they would talk to me about it. I would kinda just nod and agree with them, and act like I would change, but really, deep down I knew that I wouldn't, and I would just go right back to playing video games.

Me: So, did something then change at a certain point? Because I know you don’t game at all anymore now...

Andrew: Yeah. About a year ago the whole family was together for Thanksgiving and they just kind of sat me down. I knew it was coming and they were right. You know, I was 22 years old, I figured it was probably time to let go and focus on being a functional member of society and maybe explore some other hobbies. So it was pretty easy with their support to drop it cold turkey.

Me: So you just got rid of all of it?

Andrew: Yep.

Me: And was that your idea?

Andrew: No. They suggested that I just drop it all. I figured that was probably the best way, 'cause if I tried  to wean off of it, it would just be like the other eight times that they'd tried to talk to me. I had built a desktop a year earlier and that was like a pretty sizable investment. That was kind of hard to say goodbye to. But what are you gonna do? The whole family's worried about you. It was pretty hard the first couple of months...

Me: So how long has it been now since you went cold turkey?

Andrew: I mean, probably going on a year now.

Me: And how are you feeling and getting on with things?

Andrew: I feel a lot better. I feel a lot closer to my family. And you know, there are some friendships that I neglected, and it feels good to reopen those and talk to people. Also I definitely feel more productive and it's been really cool getting into other hobbies that I kind of pushed to the side when I was super into gaming, like photography and going camping and stuff like that.

Me: So you feel more just connected to the world around you?

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely.

Me: So it's sort of like a cycle, right? I guess it sort of self-perpetuates. You start gaming, then you're kinda isolating yourself, then you all of a sudden find yourself isolated, and it's like, "Well, I guess I'll just game."

Andrew: Exactly.

Me: So now when you look around and you see all these young kids on their screens and the way that boys in particular are obsessed with gaming, what's your perspective on it?

Andrew: Honestly, I just feel really bad, and I hope they don't make the same mistakes that I did. I know that a good majority of people can manage their time well and aren't gonna  sink all of their time into video games. But I think there's a sizable amount of people out there who could possibly end up like me, or worse, you know? I'm not sure just flat out dropping it entirely is necessary for a lot of people, but they need to realize that there are bigger and better and cooler things to do out in the world than play video games.

Me: Do you think there's anything that could have or should've been done differently in your home? Not at all to place any blame on your parents - it sounds like they were wonderful and we’re all doing the best we can with limited information.

Andrew: Oh, man ... I've thought about this a lot,  I think I would maybe try to encourage other hobbies, even if it meant going through four or five different things. If a kid ends up on one thing that they prefer over video games, I think that's a net positive. But I'm not sure completely banning it in the household would be a good idea, just because I feel like that might lead to a lot of resentment.  I think keeping the console in a public area definitely would've helped. You know, I wouldn't have been able to sneak out all the time…

Me: So when people say video games are addictive, what's your feeling about that? Do you think they're addictive?  How much of a role do you think the video game companies and the way that they create the games and the sort of structure of the game that keeps you coming back is to blame for keeping kids hooked?

Andrew: I think back in the day they probably weren't. A lot of the games that are older - before the free play craze became a thing with all the loot boxes and stuff - I don't think they were addictive. But then companies got smart and they figured, "Oh, we'll have a free game, and we'll have these really cool items you can get in the game. And you can either play it for 400 hours or you can buy it." That’s when things changed.  So it's definitely designed to be addictive, but to what extent depends on the game.

Me: So what are your plans now?

Andrew: I’m going to the Navy.

Me: The Navy?

Andrew: Yeah.

Me: Wow, that's a big step.

Andrew: Yeah, it's just six years, get a free degree at the end, and figured it was the best way to kinda distance myself from video games, 'cause I'll be too busy to do any of them. So I got into the nuclear program.

Me: Oh, awesome. Congratulations.

Andrew: Thanks. Yep, super excited.

Me: So what do you think you will do if you find yourself in a roommate situation with somebody who games all the time?

Andrew: I think I’ll try and talk to them. I don't really see myself going back to games ever, hopefully. Now, if I’m with friends and four guys wanna play a game for an hour, I don't really see anything wrong with me doing that, but I don't think I'll ever buy a personal device for me again.

Me: Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us Andrew. Good luck…

Andrew: Anytime. Anything I can do to help.

Your child does not have to be an ‘addict’ to be out of whack and suffering from the effects of too much gaming. If you feel you need more help on how to handle gaming overload and other device related issues with your kids I highly recommend you check out Tweens + Tech. It’s an amazing quick online class I put together with Parenting Guru Abigail Wald that is guaranteed to give you great insight and really useful tools. It’s nice because you can do it at your own pace - whether you want to binge it for an emergency situation or just do it bit by bit - it’s in your hands.

If you suspect your child might be suffering from video game addiction these are some of the signs to look out for:

  • obsession with video games

  • lack of interest in any other activities

  • lying about time spent playing video games

  • social isolation

  • irritability, anger, depressed mood when not playing

  • continuing to play despite real world consequences (eg. grades dropping, loss of friends etc.)

and please reach out for help and guidance from licensed professionals who specialize in addiction. Some good places to start:

Got any thoughts or feelings you’d like to share on this subject? Have you or someone you love struggled with video game addiction? Or maybe you’ve had nothing but positive experiences. Use the comments section below!