Unplugged: My Journey into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction

Unplugged: My Journey into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction

by Ryan G. Van Cleave, Mark Griffiths


$14.10 $14.95 Save 6% Current price is $14.1, Original price is $14.95. You Save 6%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Want it by Tuesday, October 23?   Order by 12:00 PM Eastern and choose Expedited Shipping at checkout.
    Same Day shipping in Manhattan. 
    See Details


Unplugged: My Journey into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction by Ryan G. Van Cleave, Mark Griffiths


No such warning was included on the latest and greatest release from the Warcraft series of massive multiplayer online role-playing games—World of Warcraft (WoW). So when Ryan Van Cleave—a college professor, husband, father, and one of the 11.5 million Warcraft subscribers worldwide—found himself teetering on the edge of the Arlington Memorial Bridge, he had no one to blame but himself. He had neglected his wife and children and had jeopardized his livelihood, all for the rush of living a life of high adventure in a virtual world.

A fabulously written and gripping tale, Unplugged takes you on a journey through the author's semireclusive life with video games at the center of his experiences. Even when he was sexually molested by a young school teacher at age eleven, it was the promise of a new video game that had lured him to her house. As Ryan's life progresses, we witness the evolution of video games—from simple two-button consoles to today's multikey technology, brilliantly designed to keep the user actively participating. For Ryan, the virtual world was a siren-song he couldn't ignore, no matter the cost.

As is the case with most recovering addicts, Ryan eventually hit rock bottom and shares with you his ongoing battle to control his impulses to play, providing prescriptive advice and resources for those caught in the grip of this very real addiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780757313622
Publisher: Health Communications, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/01/2010
Pages: 322
Sales rank: 832,627
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Ryan G. Van Cleave, Ph.D., serves as Executive Director and Publisher of C&R Press (www.crpress.org), a non-profit literary organization. He also teaches writing at The Ringling College of Art and Design and works as a Digital Addiction & Recovery consultant. Dr. Van Cleave resides in Sarasota, FL.

Mark Griffiths, Ph.D., is professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University and director of the International Gaming Research Unit.

Read an Excerpt


The truth is rarely pure and never simple.

December 31, 2007. I'm standing on the Arlington Memorial Bridge, maybe an eighth of a mile from the Lincoln Memorial loop-de-loop, and the mid-teens windchill has my breath coming in gasps. My asthma gives me a rough enough time, thanks to the 235 pounds my five-foot-nine frame heaves about daily. Tonight I've forced myself to march out into the 9:00 PM darkness to where few cars dare to go, thanks to the intermittent freezing rain. Even my thick-soled Colorado hiking boots are having a difficult time gripping the slickness.

I told my wife I was heading to CVS for cough drops. Instead of stopping at the drugstore at 23rd and C Street, however, I just kept plodding along, head hunched against the cold and the wet. Yeah, I was unsure of my destination. But damned if I was going to head back home to another bout of the 'What the hell's wrong with you?'

one-upmanship that always leaves me on the losing end.
I'm focusing on the plink-plink of rain against icy ground and the crunch of my boots as I head farther away from home. For as long as I can recall, I've been my own best company. I enjoy long walks to nowhere, although lately that's proved to be less calming than ever, thanks to my perpetually unquiet mind.

For three years, every thought has been dominated by a single focus: the World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online computer game (MMOG), also called a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), in which players control characters who explore a huge virtual world, battle monsters and other players, socialize in enormous cities, and complete quests for money, fame, experience, and loot.

While others are living normal lives, I'm actively occupying my alternate world. I inventory my characters. I prioritize quests. I mull over high-powered weapon trades. I reimagine my gaming group's website. I fret about the battleground honor I need to earn. I consider how many real-world dollars I can afford to spend to buy in-game equipment on eBay or from gold farmers (people who make a career out of playing video games simply to sell acquired virtual loot for real-world cash).

Consumed by this never-ending, breathtaking virtual universe that I discovered by accident three years earlier, I might as well have been clicking away with my mouse in front of my twenty-one-inch screen even here, dozens of blocks from my home machine, as if an unseen digital umbilical cord is keeping me eternally wired to the game that demands my every waking moment.

Halfway across the bridge, I stop. My brain is telling me to climb up on the barrier. In fact, it's insisting on it, ridiculous as it seems for a thirty-five-year-old professor to huff his way up a frozen concrete barrier on this D.C. bridge. I haven't climbed a tree or a fence or anything for fifteen years, but muscle memory serves me well. As a child, I squirreled up the fifty-foot pines behind our Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, house and the crab apple tree out front. The neighbor's slag-rock chimney was fair game, too.

Now, standing atop the barrier between safety and the plummet to certain icy death, my brain is holding me hostage, despite my crippling fear of heights. My kids hate me. My wife is threatening (again) to leave me. My friends no longer bother to call. My parents are so mad at me, they don't bother to visit their only grandchildren anymore, even here in D.C., a tourist paradise they've longed to visit for years. I haven't written anything in countless months. I have no job prospects for the next academic year. And I am perpetually exhausted from skipping sleep so I can play more Warcraft, the latest video game to have a choke hold on me.

'You're not good enough. You'll never be good enough,' my brain insists, flogging me with feelings of worthlessness, well-earned shame, regret, despair, and panic that I'll forever remain unloved, alone, and scrambling for a glimmer of meaning in my life.

My head turns swimmy, and for a moment I can't see straight. This is absurd—leaping to one's death at the apex of winter on a bodiless bridge. James Stewart even contemplated the same swan-dive scenario in It's a Wonderful Life (admittedly on a much less historically significant bridge). Only he had a guardian angel flitting around, ready to pull a Walt Disney abracadabra and make everything terrific. I can't shake the idea that if I had my own guardian angel, I'd snatch her out of the air by her gossamer wings, smash her in the chest with a balled-up fist, and steal her lunch money to cover another month's subscription to Warcraft.

The wind blows a strand of hair across my eyes, and I push it back, noticing how greasy and matted my hair has become. It might've been two, maybe three, days since I'd showered. That's what a recent eighteen-hour stretch of gaming, followed closely by another five-hour stretch, does—you skimp on nonessentials, cutting every corner you dare to squirrel away a little more game time.

God, it's cold.
A semi roars at me from the Arlington side, and for a moment I'm sure he'll phone 911 about the nut-job pirouetting on the bridge railing. But whether the guy was fiddling too intently with the XM radio tuner or was simply too amped on NoDoz and cheap cigarettes, speeding along to a New Year's Eve party, he keeps driving. Within twenty seconds, the crimson glow of his taillights vanish around the bend.

Want to know why I haven't already jumped into the Potomac? It's because the distant memory of the old, responsible me whispers that I've been too lazy to have increased my insurance from my pre fatherhood years. The current cash payout wouldn't be enough to really make a difference for my wife and my two daughters.

My messed-up brain screams at me to do it anyway and let them reap what they have sown for not supporting me. For not loving me unconditionally. For not understanding. For screaming at me endlessly to 'stop playing that fucking game,' the one thing in life that gives me any sense of satisfaction, joy, accomplishment, and purpose.

Screw them all, my brain tells me again, persuasively.
But there's a difference between wanting to die and wanting the tumult in your life to die. Sometimes the only way to imagine that all that crap will cease is to imagine yourself dead, at peace, one with God and the universe and all that. Enter the suicidal gesture and my current dilemma: to go for it or to step down and face the hell that my life has become.

A moment of clarity arises, like the tip of an iceberg in a swirling sea of confusion. I don't want to die. And getting to this point is, I now realize, what this late-night walk was all about.

And then comes God's little 'haha.' I slip. Right as I'm trying to clamber back onto the safe side of the walkway area, my left heel catches a patch of invisible ice, and my leg shoots out in cartoon fashion. For a moment, I am Wile E. Coyote minus a little sign that reads YIKES! as I hang in the air, defying gravity. Then reality returns, and I collapse onto my back, WWF-style, the wind expelled forcibly from my chest in a rush.

I begin to slide the wrong way off the ice-shellacked railing, the Potomac suddenly a big dark magnet and me a huge lump of iron slag. One of my boots tears loose and heel-over-toes all the way down until it's lost in the swirl of wind-stirred water, which is frigid enough to kill a man faster than being shot in the gut.

It's not hypothermia that kills you, I've learned from one of those Discovery Channel shows, but cold shock. You inhale the water, which leads to heart attack, stroke, panic, gasping, and hyperventilation. Next on the agenda: rapid drowning. Hypothermia operates on a scale of hours; cold shock takes mere minutes.

Oh, my God, this is it.
I manage to hook one elbow through the concrete pillar and try to hoist myself up, but my body feels leaden, even without the rain weighing me down more than I ever imagined.

I begin to holler for help, my voice faltering as my asthma flares, making each gasp for breath a blinding chore.

Of course, I didn't carry an inhaler with me because I didn't have one, so poorly insured are we here in D.C. With our Clemson, South Carolina, house sitting vacant and unsold since July 2009, I couldn't afford the Proventil or Advair anymore, but now I wish I'd splurged on it and committed to eating Ramen noodles for a month for a single deep puff of that miraculous, oxygen-giving medicine.

©2010. Ryan G. Van Cleave. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Unplugged. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442

Table of Contents

Foreword Dr. Mark Griffiths v

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction xiii

1 Admitting I'm a Video Game Junkie 1

2 Range Wars, or How I Got Hooked 7

3 Networking at Northern Illinois University (NIU) 25

4 Why I Really Left Niu 62

5 Mea Culpa 74

6 Connecting at Last 97

7 The War at Work 117

8 At War with my Family and Myself 152

9 Dependence 187

10 Why I Couldn't Stop 192

11 Recovery 229

12 Getting Unplugged 246


A Three True Stories 254

B What the Experts Say 277

Recommended Reading 308

Resources 312

What People are Saying About This

Bradley Dorrance

"Thank you for blazing new ground by writing a book on gaming addiction that desperately needed to be written."
—Bradley Dorrance, author, ExGamer.net

Kurt Bruner

"Video game addiction is a real and growing problem that few seem willing to address. I'm glad Ryan Van Cleave has been willing to tell his story and hope it helps many young men avoid similar patterns."
—Kurt Bruner, coauthor of Playstation Nation

Darcia Narvaez

"Unplugged is emotionally gripping. Not only does it provide worthwhile information about research findings, it provides a jolting narrative about a gamer's experience with addiction. The uncommon insights and personal insights make for a great read!"

—Darcia Narvaez, Associate Professor, University of Notre Dame

Darcia Narvaez

"Unplugged is emotionally gripping. Not only does it provide worthwhile information about research findings, it provides a jolting narrative about a gamer's experience with addiction. The uncommon insights and personal insights make for a great read!"

—Darcia Narvaez, Associate Professor, University of Notre Dame

Alice Walker

"The world of video game addiction that Ryan G. Van Cleave exposes in this disturbing memoir is almost completely foreign to me. Still I have sensed its presence in the changed behavior of many people in our society and in the culture itself: an ease with being nowhere in particular, a disinterest in what is real, a distance from the needs of humanity, other living beings, and the planet. Unplugged is an important warning about the treacherous nature of any kind of addiction and about the possibilities of self-destruction that are inherent when one is absent from one's own life. . . . Technology has overrun us in the era of the video game. Parents must circle quickly to prevent their children disappearing into virtual worlds from which many will not return."
—Alice Walker

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Unplugged: My Journey into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She looks at the Moonflower.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a bunch of bull****.
Ian Smith More than 1 year ago