The World Health Organization has officially recognized video game addiction as a disease. This is all part of a larger conversation around digital addiction and mental health generally that I believe needs to be happening at scale. I hope this episode is a small step towards a more global conversation and destigmatization.
Cam Adair is a speaker, entrepreneur, and pioneer on video game addiction. He is the founder of Game Quitters, the world’s largest support community for video game addiction, serving 50,000 members in 91 countries.
Named one of Canada’s top 150 leaders in Mental Health, Cam Adair’s work has been published in Psychiatry Research, and featured in two TEDx talks, Forbes, BBC, ABC 20/20, and Vice, amongst others. His videos on YouTube have over two million views.
On this episode, we talk:
- -video game & digital addiction – what it is and some steps to take if you want to quit
- -the rise of eSports & the implications for those prone to addictive behavior
- -removing the stigma from mental health issues
- -depression & anxiety in entrepreneurs & more
[00:01:33] Intro to Cam Adair
[00:03:36] Welcome to the show Cam.
[00:03:40] You have such an inspiring, but also in some ways, heartbreaking story. Can you tell people a little bit about where you’re from and how you got down starting this journey?
[00:04:49] So with the gaming, was that something other kids at school were interested in? Was it computer gaming, or was it just online? And what year was this, because gaming I think has changed a lot even since when you started.
[00:05:38] I’ve heard the argument before that online, and I don’t know if it’s gaming in particular, but online social media is probably a good thing for people who have been bullied because there is a way to reach out and build this community. What’s the line where this is a good thing and a good outlet and when does it become unhealthy?
[00:06:33] Did your parents know? Did they have any clue, or were they just kind of hands off letting you do your thing trusting you to get your homework done?
[00:07:30] Even hearing you talk about it I’m immediately thinking, as a parent, what do you do? What did your parents do for you? And I know we’re looking at you now and you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve been very successful, and you’re still going through a lot of things… It seems like you needed personally make the change. Is there ever a time where a parent actually can reach out and actually does something and it works?
[00:08:33] So what exactly is video game addiction– How is that defined?
[00:08:59] Is there a high correlation between video game addiction and other kinds of addiction?
[00:09:25] Do you have any stats on how rampant this is?
[00:10:04] What are schools, what are parents– what needs to be done for people to not only be aware of it, but for people to get ahead of that?
[00:10:47] I know you’re not technically a mental health professional. You didn’t go to school for any of this. You’ve just lived it and talked to, probably, countless people at this point about this. But is there something ahead of time that would– Is it the negative experience that triggers the need for for something else? For instance, if you hadn’t been bullied, would you have still fallen into this?
[00:12:20] To go back to your journey, once you realize you have a problem and you ask your dad for counseling, what actually needed to happen in your life? What are the steps that need to be taken, how long did this journey take you– Walk me through actually coming out of it.
[00:14:12] Do you actually have a problem connecting with people or was it just the people who happened to be around? What did you find out actually by keeping that, because you’re obviously a personable person, and you know, maybe it was just the wrong group? Or did you just get good at actually learning by practicing?
[00:14:54] My brother’s a therapist, and I always have this question, because therapy seems like it’s a definite relationship; it’s a long-term relationship you want to cultivate. Did you find that person on the first time, did you immediately trust them? How do you recommend that people find someone? Because I’m sure it’s disheartening. You went to him and he just didn’t speak to you in the right way and that didn’t work and you went to five other people and that didn’t work– I can imagine people just being like, fuck this.
[00:16:53] What was the impetus for you to actually feel like committing suicide?
[00:17:52] I was talking to about this before we started. You’re an entrepreneur. You’ve started companies. You’re going to get rejected, that’s a life of rejection. That’s a lot of downs, but it’s personal rejection.
[00:18:44] Sports and gaming online has really blown up recently. Gamers are selling out arenas now. I’d just love to get your thoughts on what’s happening there.
[00:20:27] Is it part of your strategy at all to reach out to big e-sports people and collaborate with them and have these conversations and have them be your brand advocates?
[00:21:20] Is there anyone in e-sports that you’re seeing who is talking about it or embracing it?
[00:22:04] What was the job that broke you out of that? And then, please tell people a little bit about your entrepreneurial journey.
[00:22:48] Are you still or are you still in Canada at this point? Just for context we’re outside right now in Huntington Beach.
[00:24:00] So how did you even price that out? I’d just love to know specifically, you know, people jump to the end– How do you actually make that a business?
[00:25:54] Why stop that company?
[00:26:53] Where did the Game Quitters idea come from, and then, were those Tedx Talks happening post-Game Quitters or were you talking about gaming addiction prior to Game Quitters?
[00:28:47] Tons of people want to give talks or aspire to give talks. How did you get on that stage? And how did you come up with your talk?
[00:31:05] How long did it take you to actually prep for the full talk?
[00:31:57] After you gave that talk, did life change for you at all, or were you bitten by that bug and then you started reaching out for publicity, or was publicity finding you?
[00:32:52] So the stories with 20/20 and Vice, did those happen post starting Game Quitters?
[00:33:47] Were you verified yet?
[00:35:11] How do you actually make that a business? You’re like, OK, I want to spread this message. Where do you start and how do you get to where you are now?
[00:36:26] You need to make money. This needs to be profitable in some way not only for you to survive, but also to spread the word. But at the same time, should these things be paywalled? Why isn’t this free?
[00:37:34] What are the different things that people can buy, and then in terms of what people can buy, what does it actually take for most people to quit gaming?
[00:38:45] On your site there’s something about a 90 day detox. Is 90 days the “magic number”?
[00:39:52] How do you recommend that people find not only just new social circles, but new hobbies that are actually interesting, especially because the phone and gaming are so incredibly immersive?
[00:40:54] What are the most common questions you get from people who are reaching out and need help?
[00:41:17] You have a very strong personal brand. When did you start actually promoting yourself online that way?
[00:42:35] I’ll put the link in the show notes.
[00:42:38] You have no worries, though, about being addicted to social media? You’re completely fine with that?
[00:43:15] Do you regulate it?
[00:43:50] I think that’s going to become more and more prevalent. People are addicted to the likes, addicted to the engagement. I’m just curious how it’s going to kind of play out over the next decade.
[00:45:08] Do you still go to therapy?
[00:45:45] You are a social media influencer. How do you approach brand deals, and how does that work with something like mental health?
[00:47:14] Have you noticed, aside from the unfortunate stuff coming out recently in the news, have you noticed more of an openness and willingness generally to discuss mental health?
[00:48:46] Because like you said, you’re not a mental health professional, but I don’t know if a mental health professional, and maybe they need to call me and we can work on the personal branding aspect– But there needs to be somebody who is trusted and has that sphere of influence that people are willing to bring into that arena. Because I think, and it’s not great what happened last week, but I think Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were surprises for people. They were people who did not look like the type of people who would commit suicide. They weren’t rock n roll. It was out of the ordinary, and I think it was like a minor wake up call for people who weren’t paying attention. It’s not enough, and there’s no real advocate.
What we were talking about beforehand is that the entrepreneurial community is incredibly stressful. It’s incredibly stressful, all work environments are stressful, corporate environments are extremely stressful. I don’t want to work in a corporate environment. I find entrepreneurship stress very different, and I prefer that actually. But, we’re talking about the fact that it will take a big entrepreneur to actually admit having it in order to change perceptions; somebody who’s really achieved it. But you’re not hearing the story, you’re not hearing the names. And it’s bringing awareness to the fact that there is a problem, but it’s not saying ‘oh I have that problem’.
[00:50:08] So, you were saying Kevin Love had been talking about mental health, and I think there are a few other big names. I know Chrissy Teigen had tweeted about, back to your hotline point, she tweeted that when she was having postpartum depression, she wouldn’t have called a hotline; her husband could barely do anything for her at that point. It’s great to have the hotline, but it’s not enough. It helps that she talked about it. I don’t know who it would take.
Here’s the other issue with it. Even if a LeBron James comes out and he is like ‘the only time I don’t feel it is when I’m on the court, and I’m depressed off’– I think people would embrace it, but I also think the backlash– he would need to be prepared for people to think he was weak. And I think that’s the problem with entrepreneurs and leaders in that position, or if a big CEO came out and said ‘I’m heavily anxious.
I’ve been successful my whole life, but I deal with anxiety and I deal with depression.’ People would question his leadership. Stockholders would question whether they want to invest in this company. People wouldn’t maybe want to go work for that person. And that’s that dynamic that I think is holding people back, because it does shift that perception. That’s why people can’t talk about it. And so then you get surprised when someone who has it all takes their life. And you’re like ‘but they had it all’. But they can’t tell anybody that they’re not happy, because then you won’t watch their show or you won’t buy their product or whatever.
[00:53:45] That speaks to what this show is about and the spheres of influence that people have, and I think it is going to take a collective effort. And actually, what you said about sharing it– I’m surprised that people would give you shit for sharing what you shared because, for lack of a better word, that’s on brand. You’re talking about your mental health.
[00:55:29] Cam & Brittany get vulnerable
[01:01:30] Regarding sharing things online, you have your YouTube channel, you post to Facebook, how do you think about content? Is that something that you’re doing in the moment, or do you plan it out?
[01:03:11] What do you think the secret to influence is?
[01:03:18] What’s next for Game Quitters and what’s next for you?
[01:04:29] Have you written the book yet?
[01:04:49] How are you shopping it? Do you have a book agent?
[01:06:07] I really appreciate you coming over and having this conversation. I think this is a necessary conversation that needed to happen, and I’m really glad it was with you because I think it’s the start of many more conversations around it.
[01:06:27] Where can people find you?
To connect with Cam Adair:
To connect with Brittany
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