Calgary man looks to help people walk away from online gaming addiction

He used to play video games online for 15 or 16 hours a day, and it nearly drove him to suicide. Now, Cam Adair travels the world trying to help people walk away from the addiction, just like he did.

'The night I wrote the suicide note,' Cam Adair knew he needed help

'For me, the worst time of my life was playing World of Warcraft because it was like a virtual world. A second life,' Cam Adair says. He now helps people with gaming addictions. (David Bell/CBC)

He used to play video games online for 15 or 16 hours a day, and it nearly drove him to suicide.

Now Cam Adair travels the world trying to help people walk away from addiction as he once did.

He's been part of two TEDx talks. and NPR, BBC, Forbes, ABC 20/20, CNN, VICE and Bloomberg have all featured his work. He's also the founder of Game Quitters, a support network for people with video game addiction.

Adair's on a world tour right now but in Calgary this week. He sat down with Doug Dirks, host of The Homestretch, to share his story.

This interview has been edited and paraphrased for clarity and length. You can listen to the complete interview here.

Now Cam Adair travels the world trying to help people, just like him, walk away from the addiction. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

Q: You were playing video games for 15 hours at a time. What was it like for you during that time?

A: I had a blast, to be honest. During that time it was just, wake up usually in the afternoon and grab some breakfast, have a shower and get to gaming.

Q: How long were you playing that intensely?

A:  It was about a year and a half. I had dropped out of high school in Grade 12. Hockey had finished. I had a bunch of injuries from hockey, so I decided to retire.

That was a big shift in my life. I was at home, and just gaming, and just kind of lost and just very withdrawn from society.

Q: Why did you get hooked?

A: Gaming fills so many different needs. It's an escape. It's a social connection, is a measure of progress. It's a sense of purpose, but it's also a fully immersive experience.

I am very competitive. I am a hockey player. Gaming, I can do that for 15 hours and not even think about it, not even realize it. I think that's part of the danger.

Q: What kind of games?

A: I played StarCraft, Counter-Strike, World of Warcraft. For me, the worst time of my life was playing World of Warcraft, because it was like a virtual world — a second life.

A lot of the games I played were competitive ones where I could see myself level up. Those tend to be risky, from what research shows.

Q: What was the turning point for you?

A: The night I wrote the suicide note.

I had planned it, knew when I was going to do it.

A friend invited me to watch a movie, Superbad. We went and laughed. I had a great time.

Going from writing a suicide note to laughing in a theatre with a couple of friends made me reflect — I am actually a danger to myself right now and I need to make a change.

I went home and asked my dad to help me find a counsellor, and he did, and that turned things around.

Watch Cam Adair's documentary, Game Over:

Q: How did you parents deal with this?

A: They tried a lot of different things. My dad got rid of the computer modem at one point.

I would "ground" them back. My parents would ground me, and I would put passwords on the computer, take power cords from the TV and computer and hide them until the grounding was lifted.

If they tried to enforce a rule, I came back with vengeance.

I deal with families now who remove devices, and the kid self-harms, or threatens suicide or refuses to go to school.

Parenting is a big part of this, enforcing limits and boundaries, but it is not that simple.

Q: How old were you when this was going on and how long did it last?

A: I was addicted for about 10 years, off and on. During school I had limited time, but during the summer, it would be 16 hours a day bingeing.

When I was 18, 19 and 20, that's when it was at its worst, after school and hockey were over.

Q: When did you quit?

A: I was 19 the first time, but I relapsed after two years and started gaming 16 hours a day for five months straight.

I realized something else was going on and I needed to make a change again. I quit again and haven't gamed in about seven and a half years.

Q: What was counselling like?

A: I decided I was going to pursue my life to the fullest. I had to really make a 180-degree shift.

What if I applied myself? Pursued goals and dreams and really tried to go for it?

I want to travel, have my own business and make a difference.

Eventually I shared my story online and heard from tens of thousands of people all over the world, saying they wanted and needed help, and I decided to do something more.

Q: How challenging can it be to quit?

A: Very. This is not a simple issue to deal with.

A lot of people play and they are fine — and that's fantastic. Go ahead and game.

But of the 2.6 billion who play, some of them are addicted. They are failing college. They are getting divorced. They are losing their families. It's having a devastating effect on their lives, and they deserve help — and help is available.

With files from The Homestretch and CBC's Ellis Choe.


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