Recovered Gaming Addict Shares Insights

Dr. Delaney Ruston – Some people take their challenging life experiences and use those hard experiences to do something positive for the world. Cam Adair is one of those people. He had not planned to start a major movement, but his viral post was the catalyst for his starting Game Quitters, an online platform, where he shares resources to help people dealing with excessive gaming along with helping their families. Over 43,000 “journal entries” have been contributed to the site by people wanting to share their stories and solutions. Meanwhile, Cam has traveled the globe speaking to audiences about mindsets and strategies that have helped many people, like himself, gain fuller, more balanced lives.

Last week we released an episode of The Screenagers Podcast that features my interview with Cam Adair. In the first part, Cam tells the story of his youth when gaming took over and how he eventually changed things. His story is powerful, and I highly recommend you listen to it with any youth you have in your life — girl, boy, gamer, non-gamer. It is a true empathy-building episode and a wonderful way to supplement learning during these suboptimal school days.

Gaming is such an important topic because it is a growing force in our society, and everyone is impacted — of course, in good ways, but also there are some risks and downsides. One example of the risk of gaming during COVID is that the number of school districts that have partnered with gaming companies to do Esports has skyrocketed. Esports has expanded beyond the college level, down to high schools and middle schools, and even elementary schools.

For this article, I highlight ideas that Cam talks about in the podcast — ideas he often shares with struggling youth and advice he gives to parents.

Cam’s Advice to Young Gamers He Talks With:

Be aware of “risk for a binge”

Cam suggests to youth, “Recognize that you want to pay attention to different periods of your life and what I would call the risks for a binge. So on the weekends, not to binge game all weekend, but allow it to still stay in moderation. During school breaks, it’s easy to [play all the time], but then school comes back around, and you’re in a worse position.”

Ask yourself, “How do I feel after a long gaming session?”

Cam wants kids to ask themselves, “How do you feel after gaming all day long?

He goes on to say, kids “…may feel it was fun, but there’s also this feeling a bit like a zombie, and that doesn’t actually feel very good. Can you create a contrast between how you feel when you game too much and when you game enough where it’s satisfying, but it didn’t go over the edge?”

You can hear more in the podcast about Cam’s suggestion for youth who are having a hard time staying motivated in school.

Cam’s Advice to Parents He Talks With:

Embrace Calm Curiosity

Cam says, “Until you get curious about it and you’re willing to engage in that world, even if it’s just in conversation, it’s going to be very difficult to make any progress. What games are they playing? What do they like about them? What challenges do they have when they’re playing? How do they navigate the social experience? Like what are the good things? What are the things they wish they could change? The more you can connect and build rapport around the subject, the easier it will be for you to be a trusted source for them to be able to lean on and for you also to be able to help navigate them to have self-control.”

Refrain from telling them “You’re Addicted”

I love how Cam says our interview, “A typical kind of mistake that a parent will make is they’ll tell their kids that they’re addicted to gaming. And the reason that doesn’t really work is that first, it’s a bit aggressive. Nobody likes to be told they’re addicted to something, whether or not you feel like you’re right. We want to think a bit about how we actually have influence and how do we encourage people to shift their behavior? Telling someone they’re addicted in some cases could even just give them an excuse, ‘Oh, I’m addicted. I can’t stop.’ It also causes a lot of shame and stigma. And so it’s not really bringing people together. Whereas talking about the behavior that you’re seeing, they haven’t gone to school. Their mental health is deteriorating. They haven’t showered for a few days. Those are things that are much easier to navigate and much easier to kind of hold accountability around than just you’re addicted to gaming.”

Signs to be aware of:

Cam says, “When gaming starts becoming their life where they’re not going to school, or they’re no longer socializing with the family, or if they’re not playing, they’re completely irritable and moody, that’s a big red flag. So just remember gaming can be a part of their life, but if it starts to become their life, you might want to take some steps to help keep it from becoming that. …The more you can connect and build rapport around the subject, the easier it will be for you to be a trusted source for them to be able to lean on and for you also to be able to help navigate them to have self-control.”

Are there underlying emotional problems?

Cam talks about how he dealt with feelings of depression during middle and high school in the podcast because, in part,  he experienced ongoing bullying. Eventually, when he started to get help in his life, he realized the roles gaming played in his life. He says, “The first was to escape; the second was to socialize; the third was to feel a sense of measurable progress, and the fourth was to feel a sense of challenge or a sense of purpose.” 

Be open to trying new approaches

Cam says that a key concept he hopes parents embrace is to “…be open-minded about your parenting style and trying new things and being willing to really stay in the marathon because gaming is something that is going to always be there in some way … just being willing to learn and develop new parenting skills is crucial.”

A positive story 

Cam talked about one young man who has been part of the Game Quitters community. He said, “His name is Andrew, and he was 17 years old. He sent me an email, and he had been gaming too much. And he had been lying to his parents, and it just wasn’t making him feel very good. So he decided to stop, and he committed to not gaming for 90 days. And what’s amazing about this story is that instead of gaming, he picked up his family’s camera, and he just instantly connected with it and found a passion for photography. Since then, he’s traveling all over the world taking photos. He’s been mentored by a National Geographic photographer. And really the truth of this is that throughout his life, the family camera was always there. He just had never picked it up because he was always gaming.”

Here are some questions to start a conversation about all this with your kids *As always, I recommend starting your conversation with something positive about tech (to ward off reflexive defensiveness and other reasons). What is something positive about video games that people rarely discuss?

  1. After listening to Cam’s story on the podcast, what do we think about the incident with Cam’s roommate that resulted in Cam’s relapsing?
  2. How does your emotional state impact what video game you want to play, with who and when?
  3. How balanced do you feel right now in terms of time video gaming?