Problem gaming isn’t just about how much time you spend gaming. It’s about HOW you approach gaming.
Gamers who don’t have gaming problems have fun when they’re in the game. They have a good time and when it’s done, it’s done – they go on to something else.
Gamers who DO have problems might have started gaming for fun – but now, they are gaming to stop the twitchy, nervous feeling they get when they’re NOT gaming. So they’re not so much gaming for fun but to avoid feeling uncomfortable. And no other experiences – hanging out with family and friends, school, sports, creative activities, spending time outside – make that feeling go away.
So, if you think you’re a problem gamer – or you think you’re gaming too much but are having problems stopping – what can you do about it?
Strategy 1: Professional support
Professional counsellors don’t tell you what to do. They listen and can offer additional strategies and insights to get on track. Gaming isn’t always the problem for people who game obsessively. Many people start gaming to excess if they’re
- going through changes (like moving house or changing schools)
- experiencing family issues
- being bullied online or at school, or
- struggling with schoolwork.
The problem is that many of these issues – depression, loneliness, struggling with school work, family issues – can often be made WORSE when gaming becomes an obsession.
The Resources page has a list of phone-based and face to face professional support services. All the phone-based services are free as are many of the face to face services.
Strategy 2: Informal support
As mentioned in the previous section, it’s often not just a game or gaming that’s the issue for people who game obsessively. So it’s really helpful to get the view of someone outside of the issues you’re experiencing to help you sort through what’s happening and what you can do about it.
Do you have someone you respect and trust you’d feel comfortable talking to? It could be a family member, community leader, school chaplain or advisor, coach or teacher.
How can you tell if you’re getting good advice from your informal support person? Ask yourself if the advice you’re getting is helping you to:
- better understand what’s going on
- take positive actions to help yourself get where you want to go
- develop strategies that you can use in the short and long term
- build better relationships with the people important to you.
If the talks you’re having aren’t helping you to achieve the above goals, consider talking to a professional. We’ve listed free service providers on the Referrals page.
Strategy 3: Self-help
If you feel like you may be gaming too much and want to bring balance back into your life, below are strategies you can try. The key to making any self-help strategy work is honesty. You may oversell your gaming time to friends and undersell it to your parents – but you’ve got to be honest with yourself.
Draw up a time budget
This idea came from our gaming consultants, who range in age from 12 to 17.
Write out your goals and plan what you need to do to achieve them. Then make a list of things to do every day and arrange them in order of importance to you. Allocate how much time you need to allow for each task.
The list could include:
- household chores
- personal hygiene
- sport/exercise – this is really important
- other interests – you may have to think about what these could be and try new things
- catching up with friends
- time for family
- feeding/taking care of animals
- goal-related activities (practice an instrument, research an interest, etc.), and
- gaming time.
You can use calendar apps on your phone, Google calendar, a spreadsheet or other tools to help you out – or draw up a grid on a whiteboard and keep it in your face in your room. Review it at least once a week and make sure you’re sticking to it.
Read what other gamers have to say
Not all advice you’re going to get online is going to be good. However, it’s not all bad either. Use the list in the section on informal advice to see if what others are writing and saying stacks up. And remember to ask yourself what is in it for a person giving advice if you take that advice. Sometimes people are just out to sell you something.
We interviewed a former obsessed gamer about his experiences. For Trevor (not his real name), it took a school official telling him he was going to get booted from school to shake him up and force him to rethink his priorities.
Online sites and articles for and by gamers and teens:
MMO Family: Balancing games with the rest
Some great insights on how to balance gaming for gamer kids AND gamer parents.
How I gradually become less obsessive about video games
Written by a gamer who is now a therapist and researcher has some good advice for older teens, but younger teens may find helpful advice here.
A great site for teens to hang out online with other people their age, get support and find info on a wide range of topics related to life, mental health and growing up.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you find yourself slipping back into unhealthy gaming see if you can identify a pattern. Do you game more when you’ve had a fight with a friend or family member? Do you blow off homework to game when it feels like the work you have to do is too hard? Do you choose gaming over social activities when you’re feeling unsure of yourself? If so, get help with those issues.
If you can’t see a pattern but know you’re sliding back into unhealthy gaming – ask for help from friends, family or professionals. It’s a sign of strength to get help when you need it in order to achieve a goal.