Today I’ll be sharing a side of me perhaps many of you don’t know about: my gaming addiction story and why I stopped playing videos games forever.

Short answer?

Because I’ve spent over a year of my life gaming.

When I say a year I don’t mean like 2016-2017, but actually over 365 days/10,800 hours+ of actual game time when I tally it up.

Long answer?

Scroll down to play.

The Evolution Of A Young Gamer

My relationship with video games start like most people: in childhood.

One of my fondest memories is getting my first ever black & white Gameboy loaded with Pokemon Yellow.

I was obsessed.

Many fond nights were spent hanging out with Pikachu under the duvet when I was supposed to be sleeping and I absolutely loved it.

From there came the trusty Playstation 1 along with Spyro, Crash Bandicoot and the Bugs Life Game (anyone remember that movie?)

The Birth Of The Internet

I was born in 1995, so I got to see the birth and rise of the internet here in Northern Ireland.

After spending what felt like hours dialing up and hearing *that noise* I also started dabbling in online games.

I played on a kids gaming website called Miniclip and from there I came across a game called Runescape.

But more on that later.

Through my teens my ‘gaming diet’ was sprinkled with a variety of apps, games on Steam and naturally the Call Of Duty series (starting with ‘Finest Hour’ on the PS2.)

It’s safe to say I absolutely loved gaming growing up.

I spent countless hours with friends and family playing video games together and have such great memories of doing so.

There’s a lot of discussion about whether or not video games are good or bad for kids (and for adults too I guess.)

“My opinion is that like most technology, there is nothing inherently wrong with most video games, but rather the people who use them.”

Sitting in the coffee shop while I’m writing this, the Barista and I just had a conversation about a TV show called Black Mirrors.

I think it does a great job of showing that ‘technology isn’t evil’ but rather the people who use it have the potential to be.

(Aka all of us)

Ok that’s great, but what the heck does that mean?

I know more than most how technology can be used for evil, from pornography, to online ‘trolling’ to simply wasting time.

But behind this lies real, flawed individuals like you and me who are ultimately pulling the strings (for now anyway #Terminator.)

I could make excuses for myself saying “oh but I was only 11, I didn’t know any better” but that doesn’t take away from the fact that technology was merely a vessel for me to explore my own vices/have my own personal flaws amplified.

Or even just as a coping mechanism that got out of hand.

In a recent podcast interview with Tim Ferris, Dr Gabor said that for a habit to be defined as an addiction it requires 3 things:

  1. Short term crave for pleasure

  2. Negative long-term consequences

  3. An inability to give it up

He went on to say that at the core of every addiction lies a pain that the habit/action may seem to numb.

After years of reflection, I think I have discovered what the core of most of my unhealthy childhood habits revolve around:

A Desire To Escape My Reality

Run. Escape.

It’s almost like a bad joke,that the one game I spent/wasted the most time on – Runescape – spelled out my problem for me all along.

A desire to run, escape and check out of my life.

I fell into Runescape when I was around 9. It was fun: I loved medieval-esque things thanks to the likes of Lord Of The Rings and the old stories of knights, dragons and wizards.

A couple of school friends and I started playing.

Things were fine… initially. I played A LOT but my life wasn’t falling apart or anything.

Until the sob story hit. (Bare with me here, this is not a pity party, but it is important context for the story.)

I got sick around a year after I started playing.

Glandular fever/mono: the mysterious yet very common ‘kissing disease’ (though much to my regret I hadn’t even kissed anyone yet.)

It was an uncharacteristically severe case of it and I was out for 6 whole months from my last year of Primary/Elementary School.

6 months was a long time – especially at 10/11 years old.

From there I developed depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and something called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Truthfully after years of doctors, specialists and internet ‘research’ I still don’t really know what it is.

In short it meant I got sick a lot, for some years it was rare I was 100% healthy for more than 1-2 weeks.
 

“My reality became one I no longer wanted to be a part of.

So I chose to run + escape from it.”

Thankfully someone had made a game just for that.

Losing my grasp of reality

What do you think happens when someone spends most of their waking life in a digital world?

I guess it’s different from person to person, but I lost all touch with the real one.

Even scarier: I interest in the real world almost altogether.

Side note: I just went to see Spielberg’s new movie ‘Ready Player One.’ It’s an interesting take on all this stuff and I’d recommend it if you’re on the fence about going to see it. 

Until I was about 16 I battled with physical and mental health problems.

I won’t lie to you (or myself): I enjoyed my virtual world much more than my real one. (Click to Tweet this)

In hindsight, there’s no doubt I would have recovered much faster if that wasn’t the case.

It became that I looked forward to sickness or any other excuse that meant I could escape back to my preferred world.

“Throw pornography into the mix and it was the perfect recipe for disaster to warp an 11 year old’s perception of reality.”

I used video games as a coping mechanism but:

At what point do coping mechanisms become a drug?
At what point does a drug lead to an addiction?
At what point does an addiction create a slave?

I’m not quite sure, but I know I was there.

Finding my way back

I’ll not beat around the bush or try to dress it up in a way to appease everyone (I’m tired of writing what isn’t true.)

Jesus saved my life.

On multiple occasions and in multiple ways.

There were other factors too, no doubt about it, namely in the form of my Mum and Granny, but without Jesus stepping in when he did I simply wouldn’t have made it both through my gaming addiction and my life.

But more on that another time. 

“My story, I’ll admit, is at the extremer end of the scale than just the casual gamer. But I was a casual gamer too once.”

Click to tweet

Over the years the great video game discussion has been beat to death and I think it’s time we forget about the debate on whether they are good or bad and instead ask this:

Are they going to hurt or help me?

“You say, “I am allowed to do anything” -but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is beneficial.” – 1 Corinthians 10:23

I’m 23 now.

I’ve travelled the world, worked dream jobs, married the love of my life and am chasing after the full life God promised me.

(Side note: People are often amazed at how much I’ve done in my short life. The reality is it’s because in my eyes I’ve wasted so much time already and refuse to waste anymore.)

Realistically, I could probably game now and then with no issues.

But I’m done why that.

Why?

“Because just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should.”

Just because something is permitted doesn’t mean it won’t hurt me.

  • Why would I ever go back to something that has the potential to hurt me?
  • Why would I trade my real life for one that isn’t real?
  • Why would I jeopardize my marriage, dreams and purpose for the sake of video games?
     

“Now, now Matthew, aren’t you being a little dramatic?”

Honestly, no. Because I’ve seen the damage that this can do and now I also see what’s at stake.

Why I Stopped Playing Video Games

+ Why I stay quit.

1. My family

I love my wife.

I want to be there for her and live life with her (it’s why I married her!)

I want to do the same for my kids.

2. My Mental Health

We all have our triggers.

I have discovered some of mine (the hard way.)

I used to have a little quote up on my wall when I was 17 that said this:

“Running away from your problems is a race you’ll never win.”

Life is hard.

No doubt.

But it won’t change by running/escaping our reality.

3. Because I started living

Life is also beautiful.

And worth living.

Once I started on this purpose driven life, I tasted something that was worth living and fighting for.

And I don’t want to go back to a place without it.

My new mantra.

“The digital world is easy. The real world is worthy.”

Click to tweet

4. Because I have dreams to chase and goals to achieve

I want to make a dent in this world.
I want to change my readers lives.
I want to live a full life.
I want to be a master of my craft.

I can’t do that on a video game.

Malcolm Gladwell is often quoted for suggesting that to become a master at anything takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, even though that wasn’t really the point of his book Outliers lol (Amazon Affiliate link.)

According to those numbers I’m a master-gamer.

The Hourly Cost Of My Gaming Addiction

Here’s my gaming hours from what I can gather.

Runescape: 212 days
Call Of Duty 4: 65 days
Call Of Duty 5: 85 days
Call Of Duty 6: 31 days
Steam: 27 days

= 420 days = 10,800 hours.

420 days of my life.

And that’s just the time I can account for. I would be confident in saying if everything else was added in it would be another year.

I stopped gaming when I was around 16 so at one point I had played video games for up to 12.5% of my life (including time spent asleep.)

In my teens I often wondered what I could have done with those hours instead.

How different my life would be.

I was filled with regret.

I was a ‘master-gamer’ and for what?

I could have been a pianist, fluent in possibly several languages, or be a heck of a lot better writer than I am today with much more work published out there in the world.

But I don’t have time to live in regret. None of us do.

“I can’t get those hours back but I can decide how to spend my next.”

At the end of the day I’m grateful for the painful lessons I’ve learned through this and I think I’m better off for it.

How to stop playing video games and overcome a gaming addiction

There are much more qualified people who have dedicated their lives to this, but here are a few ideas.

1. Throw away your consoles.

Extreme? Yes.

Worth it? Your call.

PC gamer? Downgrade, install website blockers, move the computer, do whatever you have to do to get this out of your life.

2. Change your environment

The reason why my first suggestion is to throw away your consoles is because I know for a fact that I couldn’t resist.

My self-control just wouldn’t be strong enough and I would give it. I’ve seen this time and time again in my life while trying to change multiple habits.

Perhaps you are much stronger and determined than me, but you know yourself.

Changing your environment is an excellent/essential part of managing a habit or breaking an addiction.

My good friend Jeff Mcintosh said this to me only yesterday:

“If you don’t tear up the train track entirely then you’re just waiting for a train to drive over it.”

I’ve just finished one of the best books I’ve ever read in my whole life on this  idea.

It’s so good I’m literally trying to buy it for as many people I can.

The book is called Willpower Doesn’t Work by one of my favourite writers Benjamin Hardy.

(Amazon affiliate link)

I read the book on Kindle first, then bought a few copies for some people and now am listening to the audiobook which is narrated by Ben himself. 

He would probably argue in this case that having your console/PC in your room or beside the TV where you spend large amounts of time requires you unnecessarily spending huge amounts of your limited willpower on something you can solve by changing the environment. 

Willpower that can be spent elsewhere.

3. Spend your willpower on new habits and hobbies

What you replace your gaming time with is key.

Trading playing video games for Netflix binging isn’t going to change your life.

In fact nothing would change.

Build your new habits around the man/woman you want to become.

“Where you invest your love, you invest your life.” – Mumford and Sons.”

Please relax.
Please find ways to unwind.
Please enjoy yourself.

But choose wisely about how you do.

Without a doubt this takes a lot of time and frankly I am still trying to retrain how I rest and unwind.

  • For me a podcast and a walk is a nice way to kill two birds with the one stone.

  • I’ve also been reading more than ever before.

  • Volunteering your time is one of the greatest things you can commit to.

  • Living life with others is often better than doing it yourself

(Though for me, alone time is essential too!)

Only you can figure this out, no writer or snake oil salesman can do it for you.

Take out a piece of paper and write it all out.

Then find small, baby steps you can do to make them a reality.

For more ideas about this I recommend reading a previous article about How An Ancient Greek Strongman Can Help You Achieve Your Goals where I write more about this (link will open a new tab.)

4. Give yourself time and show yourself grace

This takes time.

Again: TIME

Commit to it.
Pray daily. Hourly if you have to. 
Ask others to help you.

Show yourself grace when you fall + have the courage to get back up when you do. 

5. Address the core of the problem

Like most coping mechanisms (whether it be porn, alcohol or drugs) a gaming addiction is usually a symptom of something else going on.

What are you playing video games excessively to escape?
What is your gaming addiction a symptom of?

Mine were:

  • A lack of ambition

  • A desire to escape my reality

  • Difficulty with relationships

  • Deep dissatisfaction with myself and my life
     

I longed for adventure but I was too afraid to chase it.

I wanted friends but wasn’t willing to take the risk and put myself out there.

I dreamed of travelling the world but didn’t think it could ever be possible.

Andy Mineo has a great song called ‘Death Of Me’ (Spotify link) in it he says this:

“I feel like God is calling dudes. They just wanna play Call of Duty”

Maybe sounds a little cheesey typed out, but for me the only true answer to address the core issues of my life is my faith. 

I spent most of my life looking elsewhere, with no success.

True change happens from the inside out. For me I can’t escape that truth or tell you otherwise.

It was only after giving my life away to Christ that I found the one I was looking for.

And hey, if he could do it for a lonely ‘master-gamer’ like me, I know he can do it for you.

You Can Do It

There you have it.

You probably got more than you bargained for there, but we have final reached the end of why I stopped playing video games and my gaming addiction story.

Tearing up the ‘old tracks’ won’t be easy.

You may have to get radical.
You may need to downgrade your phone.

You might need to pay for counselling.

But again I ask you: is it worth it?

Yes. Absolutely yes.

Oh and one more thing:

You can do it.

More from Matthew Thompson

I like to write openly and honestly about what I consider to be true.

“With that in mind I’d so pumped to announce that I’m publishing my first ever book THIS SUMMER on the 1st of August.”

If you thought this post was interesting you’re going to love this next project. 

I can’t say too much right now, but I can say that it’s a book about pornography addiction: the impact their having on the newer generations coming through and how people can kick the habit. 

It’s part memoir, part informative and all taboo-busting stuff with my own story and the stories of other people all over the world woven into it. 

To stay in the loop with this you can join the monthly newsletter where you’ll get a post like this one along with my favourite quote, podcast episode and book of the month.

It’s completely free, I don’t spam and you can opt out at any stage with one click.

Click here to sign up (it takes 10 seconds and you can opt out at any time.)

Other than that thanks so much for reading.

Would love to hear your thoughts on today’s post in the comments. 

All the best,

– Matthew Thompson.

Books used:
– Willpower doesn’t work by Benjamin Hardy
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Other posts:
– Delta Airlines Paid For Our Groupon Wedding
– 2 Years Ago My Friend Got Shot: Here’s What I Learned
– Has Technology Gone Too Far?

(Affiliate disclaimer: When possible I always try to use affiliate links to Amazon as a means of generating some income from the blog. I receive a percentage of any sales made through them. Thank you for your support.)