He used to play video games 16 hours a day. Now he helps addicts unplug

Is the thought of going 90 days without playing video games unfathomable? Are you lying to family or friends about how long you spent with a controller in your hand? Might be time to rethink your relationship with video games, says a former Calgarian who founded the online support network Game Addicts.

Game Quitters founder Cam Adair says he's helped gamers as young as 10 and as old as 67 kick the habit

Cam Adair is the founder of Game Quitters, the largest online support network for gaming addicts. (YouTube)

Is the thought of going 90 days without playing video games unfathomable? Are your gaming habits cutting into your daily responsibilities? Are you lying to family or friends about how much time you spend with a controller in your hand?

If your answer is yes to any of those questions, it might be time to rethink your relationship with video games.

That's according to Cam Adair, a former Calgarian who used to spend 16 hours a day in front of the screen, gaming with his online friends to escape depression and bullying in his teenage years.

Adair doesn't touch video games now, and he's helping others overcome similar struggles by founding "Game Quitters," an online support network for gaming addicts.

The network, which started as a YouTube channel, serves 20,000 members a month in more than 70 countries around the world.

"I think that gaming is fine, that technology is fine, but we need to understand our relationship to it," Adair told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"If you try to moderate and you fail at that, I think that's something to pay attention to."

'All-encompassing' addiction

When he was growing up, gaming was "all-encompassing" for Adair. He dropped out of school because of bullying, and started gaming for long hours.

"When you drop out of school and you're at home, what else is there to do but play video games?" Adair said. "My parents eventually tried to get me to get a job ... but I was very deceptive and pretended to have a job instead."

For about 18 months, Adair was playing for 16 hours straight.

He quit for two years, but relapsed. 

At that point, he was so addicted to playing video games he became suicidal.

"I was gaming 16 hours a day, overnight, for five months straight and that's really when I decided I needed to make a real change," he said.

Reasons for gaming

As Adair was working to overcome his addiction to video games, he identified the main reasons why he played.

Adair realized they were a temporary escape from reality and they offered him a social connection with friends online. Games provided constant, measurable growth and they had the kind of structure that's often difficult to find in real life. 

"Games are specifically designed for you to always know what to do next, so there's a structured sense of purpose, whereas in life, you don't always know what to do next," he explained. 

And he found that many other people were struggling with the same things. 

"When people go to quit video games a lot of what they tell me is, 'I want to quit, but I'm going to lose all my friends,'" he said. "For a 15-year-old kid, that can be very difficult."

Warning signs

Adair has helped gamers as young as 10 and as old as 67 get past their addiction to video games.

He said one of the first signs of trouble is if a person's gaming habits are having a negative impact on their life. 

"For me, as much as I was able to escape my depression from playing games, it wasn't fixing it, and I was still going to bed at night feeling depressed," he said.

And if you can't quit cold turkey, that's also cause for concern. Game Quitters advises stopping cold-turkey for 90 days.

"If you can't go 90 days without gaming, then you probably shouldn't be gaming," Adair said. 

Getting past the stigma

Having a community of like-minded people is beneficial for gamers trying to overcome addiction, Adair said.

"When people come to our community, they feel accepted," he said. "They [don't] feel judged or stigmatized. We can't stigmatize gamers and judge them for being who they are.

"They're not lazy, they're actually extremely dedicated but until we start to have more honest conversations with them and with ourselves, we're not going to make progress."

Adair will be in town this week to speak before the Children's Hospital Aid Society.

Tips for quitting

Adair offers an online course called Respawn to help people quit games. Here are some of his tips:

  • Know how to breakthrough the psychology that keeps you gaming.
  • Know how to fill the void and avoid being bored.
  • Know how to stop wasting your time and be more productive.
  • Know how to deal with the urges and cravings that cause a relapse.
  • Know the key mindsets to ensure your recovery is a success.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener