Gaming addictions ‘ruined’ lives as players lost jobs, ignored school to spend up to 16 hours a day with video games

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Gaming addictions ‘ruined’ lives as players lost jobs, ignored school to spend up to 16 hours a day with video games

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Gaming addictions ‘ruined’ lives as players lost jobs, ignored school to spend up to 16 hours a day with video games
By Rikki Schlott
Published Aug. 13, 2023

Logan Visser arrived at Brigham Young University’s Rexburg, Idaho, campus as a healthy, happy competitive wrestler planning to study business.

But, within months, a pastime spiraled into an all-out addiction: Video games sent his life off the rails.

The then-18-year-old told The Post he would play League of Legends through the night, glued to the screen until sunrise. Then he’d sleep through the late afternoon, go donate plasma to make a few bucks, spend it on pizza and Mountain Dew, sit down to game — and then repeat the process all over again the next day

“When you’re that deep into it, you just have a bunch of shame and it’s like the only place to turn to is back into the thing that’s creating all your problems,” Visser told The Post.

Within six months, Logan had gained weight, lost friends, and flunked multiple classes.

“Gaming just took over. I was completely wasting my life,” the 29-year-old said. “I wanted to keep getting better at this thing that doesn’t even matter.

“I see why the older generations look down on people that are addicted to gaming. But they’ve never faced anything like this where it’s literally designed to keep you engaged and keep you coming back.”

Although Logan’s addiction may sound extreme, he’s not alone.

The World Health Organization declared gaming disorder an addictive behavior in 2019 based on a review of 160 studies and “a consensus of experts.”

The disorder is characterized by impaired control over gaming, a sidelining of other interests, and significant detriment to personal, family, social, educational, and/or occupational functioning for at least a year.

“There is a substantial body of research demonstrating that, for a subset of gamers, their gaming becomes compulsive,” addiction expert and University of Georgia professor Dr. Amanda Giordano told The Post. ”Gaming becomes their primary means of emotion regulation.

“These are the hallmarks of addiction.”

The WHO estimates the disorder impacts 3 to 4% of gamers — and 8.5% of gamers under 18.

Research suggests gaming addiction operates much like any other addiction, by triggering a dopamine rush in the brain.

According to the NIH, multiplayer role-player games are the most social and addictive variety and can change brain circuitry and metabolism.

Dr. Tanveer Ahmed, an Australian psychiatrist who mainly treats adolescents, told The Post he sees cases of gaming addiction every week and describes the phenomenon as a “behavioral addiction” comparable to gambling.

“The root of the problem is usually linked to social anxiety,” he explained. “The vast majority [of video game addicts] struggle to form healthy social connections in the real world, and it is the online world where they feel … a sense of social connection.”

Although gaming addiction is generally a quiet crisis, it spilled out into the real world in a dramatic manner recently when 21-year-old gamer and Twitch live-streamer Kai Cenat attracted a crowd of thousands in Manhattan’s Union Square for a giveaway of PS5 consoles, keyboards, and mousepads.

The gathering quickly devolved into an all-out riot, complete with fist fights, fireworks, and vandalized cop cars.

In the end, seven people were injured and 66 were arrested, including 30 juveniles.

The chaos was a real-world peek into the opaque world of online gaming culture — and an indication of just how tight grasp video games have on young men.

“Gaming addiction is not just people playing video games. There’s also a para-social relationship that people have with the online streamers,” Cam Adair, founder of Game Quitters, the world’s largest support group for video game addiction, told The Post.

“The level of intensity, of excitement, of hype to get some sort of equipment that’s related to a streamer that they love is … a testament to the influence streamers have on this generation,” he added.

Adair’s online support forums have attracted thousands of gamers and their parents from 95 countries.

He says his website gets 150,000 hits a month.

And although the public display of violence in Union Square was unlike anything Adair has seen before, he said many families privately struggle with video game-induced outbursts.

“I work with clients who, when they turn the computer off, their kid is threatening to commit suicide or refusing to go to school,” he said. “For some families, unplugging means a violent reaction from their son, and it’s a literal safety concern.”

Adair founded Game Quitters in 2013 after he publicly shared his own story of addiction and was flooded with messages from fellow gamers.

“Gaming was really just a place that I felt like I belonged,” said Adair, who began gaming heavily at 13 to cope with bullying. “If my parents tried to do anything about it, I would run away or disappear for a couple of days and just terrorize them, just try to scare them.”

By 17, he was gaming upwards of 16 hours a day.

The situation got so dire that he dropped out of high school.

When his parents forced him to get a job, Cam deceived them.

After his father dropped him off at a restaurant to work as a prep cook, he would take the bus back home and sneak in his bedroom window to play video games instead.

“I was winning games and feeling like my character was progressing in life like I was leveling up,” Adair said. “But then the problem was when I turned the game off and looked at my room, it was a mess — and looked at my life, it was a mess.”

“So I would just turn the game back on and keep playing.”

But by 19, when he was playing up to 16 hours a day, he reached a breaking point.

“It got to a point where I actually wrote a suicide note, and that was when I realized I need to make a change,” he said. “That night I asked my dad to help me find a counselor. And that’s when I realized that I had to stop gaming.”

Going cold turkey plunged him into an “all-out withdrawal” complete with sleeping difficulties, anxiety, and panic attacks — but it ultimately pulled him out of his addiction.

Adair, now 35, recently moved to Thailand where he runs Game Quitters full-time, counseling families struggling with gaming addiction.

And he says demand has only increased — especially post-pandemic.

Data from the American Time Use Survey conducted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found video game usage for men aged 15 to 24 nearly doubled between 2019 and 2022, from 1.08 hours to 1.82 hours per day.

That means the average young man is spending an additional 45 minutes a day — 273 hours per year — playing video games over pre-pandemic levels.

The same survey found declines in time spent working, sleeping, exercising, and socializing.

Meanwhile, according to the Office of the New York State Comptroller, unemployment rates are returning to pre-pandemic levels for nearly all demographics in New York State — except for young men.

Males aged16- to 24 years old are still struggling with a 23.6% unemployment rate, as compared with 11.8% pre-pandemic.

Their female counterparts, by comparison, are at a mere 13.3% today.

As addiction and unemployment among young men soar, online support groups sometimes aren’t enough for compulsive gamers.

So-called “digital detox” programs have sprung up across the country to help those who can’t help themselves.

The Summerland Program for Technology Habit Change in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, hosts video game addicts — ranging from ages 7 to 21 — for two-to-seven-week sessions in nature, free of technology.

The camp was founded by psychologist Michael Bishop, who says demand has been steadily increasing year over year.

“We’re definitely seeing young people that fit the classification of addicted,” Dr. Bishop told The Post. “We’re seeing just kind of a lack of motivation in life. The spark for life is just not there. It seems like they’re all ok with just being plugged in online and getting their needs met digitally.”

One 18-year-old camper has been at Summerland since June.

The Atlanta native’s parents sent him there after throwing out computers and setting time limits failed to curtail his six-to-eight-hour daily habit.

“I’d be playing, and I’d look out the window and it’d be the afternoon, and then it seems like an hour would go by and it’d be pitch black,” he recalled. “I’d sit down and start playing games after dinner and I wouldn’t stop till the sun was rising.”

He said relinquishing his video games and cell phone at Camp Summerland was anxiety-inducing at first: “Even just sitting down to eat was a little uncomfortable without a phone.”

But as the camper — who asked The Post to withhold his name for privacy reasons — gears up to start his first year studying business at a community college, he’s glad he’s kicking his old habits and is beginning to feel comfortable without his devices.

“I want to go to college, and I don’t want to have bad grades and just be playing video games all the time,” he said. “I’m open to the idea of changing my habits.”

Dr. Bishop says kids like the camper — and the parents desperately trying to support them — are fighting to resist the pull of a powerful industry.

“There are psychologists and behavioral researchers and statisticians that are trying to make games more habit-forming so they monopolize your time as much as possible,” he said. “The marketing and development budgets of these games run into the tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Bishop added, “Fifty years from now, it’s going to kind of be like looking back at cigarette advertising from the ‘30s and ‘40s. And we’re going to think, ‘What the hell were we thinking?”

Although video games plunged Logan into the darkest moments of his life, he turned a corner eight months ago, when his wife, Sierra, was nearing her due date with their first child.

That’s when he went cold turkey — and pulled the plug on gaming entirely for his now 8-month-old son, Mick.

He plans to set a good example for Mick by abstaining from video games — but he won’t ban them outright.

“We don’t want to be overly restrictive, because then he’s going to desire the forbidden fruit,” Logan said. “But he’s going to grow up going on hikes, going to the river, biking together. We’re just going to make sure we fill his life with fun activities.”

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