When Leigh was in her teens, she became an avid gamer, to the point where she felt she lost herself entirely in gaming. She tells her story here:
I got into it watching my dad, he was playing and I just wanted to get close to him. I got my avatar (game Character) from my dad. After a short while though, he gave it up and it was just me and my sister and it took over. When I was ten or eleven that’s all I wanted to do.
At first, I got an off-line game and would play it for three days straight but by the time I was fifteen I had my online life and stayed in my room. I’d tell myself, it’s only 3-4 hours a day (as if three days straight is 3-4 hours!), I didn’t see it as a problem. By the time I got to University I dropped out. I dropped out for multiple reasons like believing the work was too hard and felt myself withdraw from the help available and from life in general; it certainly didn’t help that I had no ‘get up and go’ to commit to anything other than withdrawing into myself even more.
The first job I got was as a ‘Christmas temporary staff’, I hated every minute of it. Then I had more part time or temporary jobs. In general, I didn’t want to commit to work or to life. I worked three days a week and spent all of my time out of work gaming. University may not have gone so well but my fall-back was that gaming gave me an opportunity to go into a fantasy world when I could be whatever I wanted to be and no one stopped me. My sister was doing the same thing, but we never hung out. I was isolated from the world even though we lived in the same house together.
I talked to my parents when I wanted something but that was it. I hated my job and felt depressed and didn’t care much about anything, I was so sunk into myself, it was a living misery.
I was so lost in the game that I’d value the game more than having a pee, I’d just not go to the toilet. I’d eat instant food, I’d get food, but wouldn’t bother with going for a pee.
Gradually I started hanging out with a new group of people and noticed they cared about themselves, it wasn’t the usual ‘I’m so miserable’ group I’d been familiar with. I had been so miserable, it was easy to fall in that. These guys were showing me something different. I started to question what I was doing, and slowly I too started to make the steps to care for myself. The more I questioned what I was doing the more gaming lost its hold.
I realised that no one was going to pull me out of what I was in but me. If I wasn’t sick of it myself then no one would make me change. If I wanted to change, then I needed to act myself, no one was going to do it for me.
I knew deep down that life had to be better than this.
I got myself a full-time job and my life started again. I had to be responsive, I had to show up and engage and then I actually enjoyed it, it was fun, more fun than gaming.
I had a sense of purpose in life and got to the point where I had to admit that I actually love my job. In my work I see a lot of people and I love interacting with them, I had no idea I’d love that. I had been so locked into a way of being that was like not existing in the world.
A parent is in a great place to help young people stuck in the game. It’s good to know that judgement and criticism will make kids play more, the more hostile we make the environment outside their room, the more kids will stay in their room. That’s not to say we should ignore what’s going on, but we can be open to learning to understand why it’s happening. Kids will go into a fantasy for a reason. When we are willing to understand what’s really going on, to get an understanding of the addiction to gaming, then we are more equipped to address it. Kids are not a problem that needs fixing, but ‘a ‘being’ that needs connection.’
Gaming took my life for a long time, I lost myself so much I didn’t know who I was any more. I spent years locked up in a fantasy world and lost touch with what was real and important.
Eventually I pulled myself out of the isolation I was in and took steps to change my life.
I learned that running away from your problems doesn’t make then go away, they will still be there at the end of the game, at the end of the weeks gaming and at the end of five or ten years of it.
I have learned that caring for yourself allows you to be more able to deal with life. I would never have guessed that one.
I discovered that when I started caring for myself, the pain I’d try to bury, stopped dominating my life. When my life became full of me being myself, I was no longer full of pain nor was I lost.
I got a job and learned that I actually love people, love supporting people and I love my job. It’s only us who can make the decision to get ourselves out. I did it and have never looked back since. I love my life and love being alive, it’s worth the choice to put the game down.
For more of my story, read and listen to some of the suggestions below.
A father's voice - Raising my girls