Obsessed video gamer dad tries to give up games for 90 days to reconnect with his family

"I would say he’s a functioning addict," Maria said of her husband, Chris.

ByABC News
May 19, 2017, 8:37 AM

— -- Maria isn’t a single mother -- it just often seems that way.

That’s because she says her husband, Chris, has spent several hours or more a day playing video games in the basement while she takes care of their four young children at their Ohio home.

“He’ll take a whole Saturday and go into the evening -- from the time he wakes up until the time he goes to bed,” Maria told ABC News' "20/20."

Maria discovered Chris’ passion for video games shortly into their marriage.

“He started not coming to bed with me, and I was going to bed as a newlywed and he was playing -- staying up and playing video games. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s kind of crazy,’” said Maria.

Ever since, Maria said Chris has been a frequent no-show for holiday gatherings, family events and precious parenting moments. Any given Saturday, Maria might be found playing with the kids in the park, while Chris remains at home playing video games.

Watch the full story on ABC News’ “20/20” TONIGHT at 10 p.m. ET.

Maria and Chris even call Chris’ excessive gaming an addiction.

“I’d say addiction’s there,” Chris, 44, told “20/20.”

“I would say he’s a functioning addict. I mean, he goes to work and he does those things,” said Maria.

Over the past year, Maria and Chris have bravely allowed "20/20" to document their journey from the depths of crisis to a very optimistic rehabilitation.

When he comes home from his job working in IT, Chris heads for the basement where his games await. Chris has six gaming consoles and more than 150 carefully organized games.

“It’s something where you can remove yourself from, you know, from the world for an hour or more,” Chris said. “There is an adrenaline rush, just a euphoric, you know, feeling of pleasantness, just kind of relaxing into a game.”

Chris said the video games make him feel timeless.

“When you’re gaming, I mean, you’re ageless,” he said. “The stimuli and the euphoria and just the fun of it. It feels the same at 44 as it did at, you know, at 16. … There’s often a feeling of, ‘I got all the time in the world.’”

Chris and Maria’s children notice their father’s absence. Their 10-year-old son once told Chris that they worry their dad won’t be there for them in an emergency.

“[He was] saying, ‘What if something really serious -- injury, a scare, whatever -- happened? Where are you going to be? Can I rely on you?’” Chris recalled. “That was sad.”

ABC News’ “20/20” was there when Chris and Maria met Nick Kardaras, an addiction specialist and executive director of The Dunes rehabilitation center. Karadaras made Chris an appointment at a local outpatient treatment program and then challenged Chris to get his video games out of the house for at least 90 days.

Chris packed up his video games and game consoles and had them put into a storage facility while he faced his problem with excessive gaming.

Initially, Chris said he had second thoughts after getting rid of his games.

“I just started yelling, and I was kicking my couch. And I was telling my wife, ‘I’m just mad. I’m angry.’ I felt disrespected and done wrong,” Chris recalled. “Honestly, the biggest thing I felt was out of control.”

Both Chris and Maria recorded video diary entries to document Chris’ progress.

After a week without video games, Chris said he felt great. And though the games were locked away, Chris admitted they still seemed to have a hold on him.

“I mean it’s there, in the back of my mind, ready to come back,” Chris recorded in his video diary.

But as time went by, Chris started to find a balance between his treatment and family time. The family visited Puerto Rico this spring for an annual trip, and Maria said she noticed that Chris interacted with the children more than usual.

By day 53 of no video games, Chris had gotten over spending time in the basement and was instead cooking breakfast in the kitchen for the family, installing a new basketball basket in their driveway and was shooting hoops with his children.

Maria said their children notice the change. “Chris and [our son] have been going to soccer games and doing a lot more. Just in being present, they've been doing a lot more stuff naturally. That's all been really positive. The basketball hoop: life-changer.”

He even took care to surprise Maria on her birthday with a special day showing a renewed awareness and dedication to his family.

Chris, now more than two months without games, says he realizes they were a coping mechanism, but they were a double-edged sword. “They were an easy answer to quiet anxiety and to get away from anger. The flip side to that is that they were an easy get away from joy and fulfillment. I just know it to be now an escape and a coping mechanism, but one that fed itself.”

As Chris continues to progress during his 90-day pledge without video games, Maria is hopeful that he will continue to have success.

“I feel like we're starting to kind of reset ourselves and work in unison, and it's been really, really nice.” Maria said. “I'm really feeling a lot of hope and excitement.”

Watch the full story on ABC News’ “20/20” TONIGHT at 10 p.m. ET.