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Cyber Junkie: Life with Alex

I am a cyber junkie in recovery, but Alex, a 23-year old friend, is in a decidedly different league. Most of his favorite music comes from video game theme songs. Not only does he play video games incessantly, but he watches simulcasts of video game tournaments online! He thinks of little else. He has trouble holding down a job and has had to frequently move. Video games have eclipsed relationships, money and school.

When he was in seventh grade, I started working with him as his ADHD coach. I tried to pull him out of his video game fantasy into the real world just long enough for him to complete his school work. Back in those days, his game of choice was Ultima Online, a precursor to highly addictive games like World of Warcraft and Everquest. Alex successfully resisted all my attempts to make him academically successful.

I still strain to understand why I took Alex on. His family’s predicament certainly tugged at my heart strings. His mother was raising the boy on her own, a situation reminiscent of my own mother’s struggles. I suppose I was somewhat seduced by my savior complex. I am supremely engaged by the idea of being able to save someone, especially when others have failed. It was, to be honest, a monumental challenge. But Alex showed so much intelligence and potential.

By high school, however, he had become a pathological liar. I saw him three times a week and checked in with him by phone every day. On one occasion, I asked him about his Biology homework. “I did that,” he said, “but number 13 was really hard. I think I’m going to go in early to talk to the teacher.” He didn’t know that I was just a half mile away. When I walked in the house and asked to see the homework, he just made up another lie that his friend had come by and borrowed his workbook. Alex went through all four years of high school like this, lying to me, his mother, his teachers and to himself. The whole time, he gamed, according to his estimates, seven to ten hours a day. Alex had to drop out of school eventually and settled for his GED.

In the last five years, he has lived in several states, two countries and has managed to lose a variety of jobs and apartments. Now, he is back in my life and has committed to me that he wants to turn around his life. He is participating in one of my cyber recovery groups and taking steps every day to forge the successful life that has always eluded him due to his addiction to video games. In the next few months, I will be writing once a week about Alex, his past, present, and future. I feel confident that he is finally on the road to recovery.

  • Read every Friday about Alex’s progress in forging a new life.
  • Do you know anyone like Alex?
  • Please add your voice to the discussion.

8 Responses to “Cyber Junkie: Life with Alex”

  1. Janson says:

    Wow, this article really hits home. Back in Freshman and Sophomore year, all I would think about was video games. I would have no motivation to do anything that didn’t pertain to video games. No studying, no homework, no nothing. Just video games.

    What do you think is the best method to get a video game addict motivated to do other things in life? How do you make him/her excited about school and academics when playing video games are so much more fun?

    • Kevin says:

      Well, if we’re talking about parents, the first-line of defense might need to be removal, at least temporarily, of those devices. And then allow that individual to earn back the privilege!

  2. Jim says:

    Very interesting! Having gone through cancer treatment myself and I have also noticed a change in my ADD. My job involves sitting infront of a computer 6-8 hours a day & I can hyperfocus on it like never before. I used to be able to multi-task while working, but I have noticed that is more difficult than it used to be.

    • kevin says:

      Jim, thank you for your remarks. You have given new texture to this discussion. Please come again and share your stories. I have forward your remarks to Alex, to whom I refer in the blog, and he was most appreciative.

  3. Bob says:

    Boy! Reading your blog has caused me to look at my own behavior. I am not a video game player, but I do enjoy Free Cell and Spider Solitaire. I will sit down to play a game or two and it turns into many games and several hours. This is especially bad at bedtime when I realize it is 1:00 a.m. already and I have to go to work the next day.

    • kevin says:

      Thanks for the comment Bob. I have a 78-year-old client whose “poison” is also computer Solitaire. He is a writer and in his words, “Every minute spent on that darned game is a minute when I am not living my dream.” It is amazing how quickly the times passes for many of us when we are on the computer. TIme warp, the inability to determine the amount of time on cyber pursuits, is one of the great warning signs of addiction.

  4. Jessica says:

    alex seems like a really hard kid to work with. what jobs had he tried to pursue in the past? maybe he could become some sort of game tester or developer for a game company. it would be like, the best of both worlds, play games and get paid. i’m sure he would still need you help with personal relationships because it doesnt sound like he’s really had any strong relationships in a while, but at least he could be making a living on his own. just a thought.

    • kevin says:

      Jessica, Alex has applied at a few local healthcare related positions, and has also sought out retail positions. Like many game-addicted people, his dream job would be to work for a video game company testing games. He has sent his resume and background in games to a few gaming development companies. He has not had any response. I suspect there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, like Alex who dream of getting paid for their gaming prowess. I think it is sort of akin to aspiring guitarists who dream of making a living playing in front of throngs of adoring fans. Thanks very much for your remarks! Please drop by again.

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