Have you ever played a video game that you couldn’t put down? Maybe even stayed up all night just to get through as much of it as you can? Then the next day play it some more all while telling your friends how great the game is? Such was the case for Ryan Van Cleave except he lived it out too, he would envision himself in the video game he played and forget about everything around him, he would lose sleep night after night as he was consumed by the imaginary world before him.
The game was World of Warcraft.
It all began as a little kid growing up, Ryan was adopted and felt left out, his only interests were guitars and computers. When a female teacher invited him over to play Range Wars, he was quickly drawn into it and described it as “intoxicating.” He continued to play games through out high school waiting for each new release. In college he would play 15-20 hours a week but the problem came when he stepped into the real world.
Ryan continued to play video games even after he got his first job and got married, he didn’t notice how much they were occupying his time. At one point he was late for an ultrasound because he was playing Madden Football.
Then came World of Warcraft.
He bought hundreds of copies to mark up and resell online to overseas buyers. One night he decided to install it and see why everyone loved the game so much, he ended up playing the entire weekend, stealing away to the computer while his family slept.
His wife became disgusted and said the majority of his phone conversations were to “plan extensively for a gaming session.” She couldn’t believe someone would choose a virtual family over a real one. Ryan said the main reason for being captivated was the different perspectives the game offered, being able to pan and zoom, watching the characters dance and swim he figured it was only a thirty day trial so he would “play the crap out of it and then discard it.”
That didn’t happen.
Three years into playing the game his four dogs died, his wife was pregnant again and he felt certain faculty didn’t like him. Instead of repairing the broken bridges, he channeled it all into World of Warcraft, Ryan called this his “black period.”
“There was always something better and cooler,” he said. “You can never have enough in-game money, armor or support.” By the time Ryan’s second baby was born, he was playing 60 hours a week.
Ryan’s professional prospects dwindled and no one would hire him, it left him with more time to play video games, the only thing he thought he was good at. He had acheieved 75,000 kills, an incentive to continue playing.
In 2007, Ryan had three accounts at $14.95 a month, he hid two of them from his wife using a secret Paypal account. When one WoW realm went down for maintenance, he would move to another that he had allowing him to play continuously. He even spent $224 to buy fake gold to get an in-level epic sword, seven of his characters were at the highest level possible.
His personality changed and Ryan was about to hit bottom.
On December 31, 2007 he considered jumping into the icy river as he stood on the Arlington Memorial Bridge.
“My kids hate me. My wife is threatening (again) to leave me,” Van Cleave would write in his book. “My friends no longer bother to call. My parents are so mad at me, they don’t bother to visit their only grandchildren anymore … I haven’t written anything in countless months. I have no prospects for the next academic year. And I am perpetually exhausted from skipping sleep so I can play more Warcraft.”
Ryan Van Cleave realized he had a problem.
“It’s embarrassing, isn’t it? …” he said. “Everything that you do as a video game addict, is usually small incremental steps. I was like a Charlie Sheen of WoW. Unapologetic and like a rebel, like, screw you, I’m going to play this game…even though I’m not being the best role model for my kids, I’m not being the best husband, I’m not being good to myself.”
Ryan uninstalled WoW and struggled to stay away from it. He began to rebuild, In Real Life.
He repaired the broken relationships of his life and sent out 182 resumes, in 2010, he was hired as an English Professor at the Ringling School of Art.
“I don’t think video games are evil,” said Van Cleave. “That’s not what I’m saying at all. I think games are fine if they are part of a balanced life.”
Ryan’s wife believes video games can be educational but reminds her kids that they are playing a game and none of it is real life.
Over the past year, Ryan has talked about out-of-control gaming to various mental health groups, recently he spoke to the Institute on Addiction Studies in Toronto.
“Some of the things Ryan said, people were blown away, especially the older people,” said David Rourke, the chairman of the Canadian institute. “The fact that there could be video game addiction was an eye opener to them.”
Even now, four years after he stopped, Ryan still has impluses to play WoW. Even in his dreams he sees himself running through a virtual world and then awakens sweating and out of breath with the same impulse: to rush to the computer and log into the game.