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How a Webster alumnus overcame video-gaming addiction, turned hobby into career-builder

From left, Nigel Darvell and Charles Whitehead discussed video-gaming addiction on Friday’s "St. Louis on the Air."
Caitlin Lally | St. Louis Public Radio
From left, Nigel Darvell and Charles Whitehead discussed video-gaming addiction on Friday’s "St. Louis on the Air."";

The World Health Organization recently announced that digital gaming can be addictive. The type of addiction falls under gaming disorder, which is “characterized by impaired control over gaming … to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities … despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

Clinical therapist Nigel Darvell said on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, “It does follow the same pattern that you would see in an addiction to substances or gambling.”

Darvell, of Mid America Psychiatric Consultants, has more than 30 years of experience treating clients including those with a video-gaming addiction. He joined host Don Marsh for the discussion along with Charles Whitehead, a recent alumnus of Webster University who was formerly addicted to video gaming.

“I think for me it was an escape from real life into a world,” Whitehead said. “When I could come home and go to a video game … I could just escape the troubles that had happened at school, the troubles within the family, being alone – I was never alone when I had those [video games].”

According to Whitehead, he would play for several hours at a time; and when school was out for the summer, those hours would quickly reach double digits.

Whitehead acknowledged he had an addiction as early as grade school, but he said he wasn’t made aware of it until he was older.

“It wasn’t until I started to get those responsibilities that I knew this is becoming a severe inhibition to my growth and to what it is I’m trying to accomplish in my life, but at that point, it was kind of too late,” Whitehead recalled.

He realized a change needed to happen when he moved to St. Louis for college and met gamers who “did it the right way – who were balanced.”

“I found people who were fighting for valedictorian at Washington University or they had families, they had children [and] full-time jobs. And they were not only able to live life the right way; they were also able to beat me at this game [Super Smash Bros. Melee],” Whitehead said. “So that kind of became the example that I followed.”

Darvell added that balance is exactly what one should strive for.

“[The] internet, gaming is not going anywhere,” Darvell said. “Rather than just kind of demonizing it or abandoning it, taking it away – it is about balance.”

When asked if gaming is dangerous, Darvell explained that it can be problematic if it is thwarting one’s obligations.

“What I like [patients] to consider is what’s it getting in the way of. If we’ve got an individual who’s doing well at school, at work, and is achieving that balance, well then there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of an escape,” Darvell said.

Nowadays Whitehead still spends time in the gaming world as a commentator for the Nintendo Switch game “Splatoon 2,” but he doesn’t let it consume his life like once before.

“It’s still a very big part of what I do, but it’s become something very healthy, something that I’ve used to help build my portfolio and something that I might want to continue to do,” Whitehead said.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Caitlin Lally is thrilled to join St. Louis Public Radio as the summer production intern for "St. Louis on the Air." With a bachelor's degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Caitlin also freelances for area publications like Sauce Magazine and the Belleville News-Democrat. In her career, she's covered topics such as Trump's travel ban, political protests and community activism. When she's not producing audio segments or transcribing interviews, Caitlin enjoys practicing yoga, seeing live music, and cooking plant-based meals.
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