When you love someone who is a gaming addict it can be difficult to relate to the situation — especially if you’re not a gamer yourself — and it’s common to find yourself confused about what to do. Do you confront them? Do you hope it’s just a phase that will pass?
This experience is stressful as you struggle to understand what’s going on with the person you love, but the stakes are high and you may feel a sense of urgency to figure out a solution. To make matters worse, as your stress increases so does the tension and miscommunication is bound to happen, working against your intervention efforts.
I get it because I’ve been there. During the decade I spent gaming up to 16 hours a day, the relationship I had with those who loved me — especially my parents — was strained. Looking back on this time in my life I empathize with the difficulty my parents must have faced as they tried every option available to break me free from my addiction, with no success.
Although my parents loved me and each of their attempts to help came from that place of love, over the years as I’ve worked with thousands of gamers who find themselves in a similar place to where I was, I’ve discovered key insights into how you, as someone who loves a gaming addict, can approach the compulsive gamer in your life to increase your chance of success in breaking through.
I’ll share these insights with you in a second but first I want to say that it’s great for me to have these insights but for this article I wanted to take it a step further and ask gaming addicts themselves what they wish their parents knew, so recently I asked this exact question to a community of 4,241 gaming addicts. Here are the 13 things to remember if you love a gaming addict, with quotes included from some of the gaming addicts I heard from:
- Take the topic of video game addiction (more) seriously. Whether you believe gaming is a true addiction or not (research is still inconclusive about this), during your discussions with your child or loved one focus less on the merits of the addiction and more on the feelings they’re experiencing. Otherwise you are likely to cause them to feel alienated and misunderstood, which will only push them further into games.
- Realize that gaming is different than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Game designers now go to extreme lengths to hook players into their game. “Arcade games, Atari, Nintendo and other games from the late 1990s and earlier were all meant to end,” wrote one gamer in response to my question. “There were no patches and expansions that made games permanent staples in our lives. Just like casino slot machines, the games today have mastered the ability to hook us like any drug, using a combination of technology and psychology.”
- Recognize that gaming feels safe to the gaming addict you love. To quit gaming involves much more than simply not playing anymore, because, one gamer told me, “it’s what we know, it’s what we’re good at, and the amount of positive reinforcement in games — every single currency gain, checkpoint, achievement — [is encouraging.]”
- Be more engaged with the gaming addict in your life. As I’ve shared before, take the time to learn more about what kind of games they play and what they enjoy about them. Be proactive instead of reactive and educate yourself on their relationship to gaming.
- Don’t blame yourself. It’s easy — especially if you are a parent — to feel responsible for the situation you find your child in. How did you let this get so out of hand? you may think. But it’s important to remember that games don’t come with warning labels and if you knew better you would have done better. You can’t change the past, so focus on what you can do now.
- Understand that gaming really isn’t the main problem. Games are just the activity; the problem is that gaming is filling specific needs for the person you love. If you want to help them overcome their gaming addiction, identify the needs the games fulfill and how you can help them fulfill their needs in alternative ways.
- Remember that confrontation isn’t the solution; empathy is. It’s easy, especially if you don’t understand gaming, to become confrontational. Recently I had a parent “tag” their son in one of my Facebook videos suggesting that he “watch this video; it will help you with your problem.” As I shared above, gaming is where the person feels safe and that’s exactly where he or she will return after confrontation and shaming. Focus instead on having a relationship built on trust and rapport, so the person knows you’re there for them if they are ready to talk about it.
- Live by example. This is one of the most common mistakes I see parents or loved ones making. Gamers are smart and they won’t respond to hypocrisy. Caitlin, a 12-year-old, said it best: “I just feel so happy being in a place where I feel different and free to make my own choices, to make friends without them judging me like everyone else does, and as an escape from my everyday troubles. My mum on the other hand tries to remove the games. This is basically taking away my little escape. My mum watches TV all day while I’m on the computer. I tell her that she is addicted to the TV and she says it’s her escape and I try to make a comparison but she doesn’t have any of it. She also mocks me and struggles to find how I find it fun to play games all day, but I struggle how she finds it entertaining to watch TV all day.”
- Get out of the house for serious conversations. Try going for a walk or a drive. This will create a safer environment where your loved one can focus. When at home all he or she will be thinking about is how quickly they can get out of the conversation to go back to their games. Put a little thought into an environment that will be conducive to having an honest conversation about your concern about their gaming. During this talk you can share what your experience of this situation is but I’d advise against any accusations (“you’re a gaming addict!”) or shaming (“you’re better than all of this.”)
- Don’t panic. Anxiety won’t help, so do your best to try to let go of it. When we’re anxious we tend to make impulsive decisions out of emotion, like cutting the Internet off or removing the computer from the house; this situation is too fragile for these sorts of actions. On top of that, if you feel anxious you will transfer that feeling to the gamer, and gaming is precisely how they escape from these kind of emotions.
- Be present. A common reason gaming becomes a problem is that somewhere along the way the gamer’s relationship changed from one of interaction to one of entertainment. The best thing you can do to help someone overcome a gaming addiction is to be present with them, without judgment, and spend time together having authentic interactions.
- Think of gaming like sugar. There’s a difference between your loved one wanting to game and their brain wanting to game, and modern games are designed to hook a gamer. This is an important distinction to make because understanding it will help your ability to empathize. Modern games are designed in a way where overexposure to them can cause structural changes to the brain. Think about gaming like you think of foods filled with sugar: If you have a lot of sugar, you will experience cravings and saying no to cravings is often very hard.
- Be patient: Recovery takes time. As I shared in #12, depending on the extent of their overexposure the gamer you love may experience structural changes to their brain. Research suggests it may take up to 90 days (or longer) of detox (meaning giving up games completely) for them to recover. Not only that, but as you can see, there are other factors at play (no pun intended), including social relationships, a sense of belonging and community, confidence and self-esteem. Be patient, as replacing these with new, healthier habits will take some time.
Bringing this advice together, you can approach your child or loved one with more clarity. It’s not easy but it is worth it. They will need supportive, encouraging people by their side to overcome an addiction to video gaming. You can be one of these crucial people for them. They may not thank you in the moment, but they will, eventually. I hope that this helps and if it does I’d love to hear from you.