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Kevin Chan's story

Lost in the game: Pulling back from the grip of gaming

Read this story in Traditional Chinese: 遊戲迷宮:從掙扎中挽回自我

Read this story in Simplified Chinese: 游戏迷宫:从挣扎中挽回自我

Kevin Chan started a new life in 2012. At just 18 years old, Kevin moved to Melbourne from Hong Kong, undertook a bridging course for international students to prepare for full-time study in English and started working as a student host. A high achiever with a fascination for human behaviour, he then went on to major in psychology and sociology at the University of Melbourne.

‘I wanted to prove that I could sustain my life in Australia, so I also took on two hospitality jobs,’ says Kevin. ‘I was juggling my study and work life and the stress was growing. Go to school. Go to work. Go home.

‘Playing sociable platform games with friends in Hong Kong helped me relieve that stress and maintain connectedness.’

Via screens, the multiplayer League of Legends enabled the friends to be in the same virtual territory or battle arena, swapping both team strategy and in-jokes. The hard edge of the game was balanced by shared time in the downright cute world of MapleStory, a role-playing, community-building game of warriors and magicians, pirates and ninjas.

‘In League of Legends and MapleStory, free loot boxes lure you in,’ explains Kevin of the in-game lucky dips. ‘You can also spend real money to open them for a chance to score a rare item that’s high status within the game. Loot boxes explode open with amazing animations and you feel such a rush, like with a pokie machine, but inside there might be nothing of value.

‘A part of me wanted to win, improve my skills, chase my losses and power-up my characters. My thinking was that if I wanted to proceed in the game, I’d have to spend quite a bit of money.’

On the one hand, childhood friends were spending easy time together. A barrel of laughs.

On the flipside, sociable late nights led to a sleep-deprived student getting poor academic results, spending too much time playing solo games on his phone and neglecting his girlfriend.

‘I felt stressed when I was away from gaming. It was my coping mechanism and my lifestyle. It was emotional. It soothed me, but it was also an expression of loneliness, because I felt like no-one understood me. My girlfriend couldn’t understand why I played, and I made deals with her to stop.’

Kevin acknowledges that he wasn’t exactly gambling but, calculating the probability of chance and feeling the force of a compulsion where he chased losses and lost time and money, his activities were certainly ‘gambling-adjacent’.

‘I’m solutions-focused,’ says Kevin, ‘so to stick to those deals I needed to keep myself busy all the time. I bought a bike in my second year at university. It was healthy, fast and cheap. I went to beautiful places with friends like the Mornington Peninsula and Marysville. I connected to nature and saw the cycle of life; the silver and green of the bush, the view from mountains. I heard the birds and saw kangaroos and a wombat.’

Amazing animations exploding out of a loot box just don’t compare with a wombat in its natural habitat!

By 2016, Kevin moved on to a Masters at Monash University, then became a student counsellor to international students in secondary schools.

‘Working with these students is one of my main passions,’ he says. ‘Often they’re living with host families and dealing with pressure from their parents. I encourage them to open up and get away

from that “suck it up” mentality. Many of them don’t understand the concept of counselling and think it’s for crazy people, but I try to show them how meaningful it is to just chat to someone.

‘There’s a lot of gaming going on in that cohort, so we can relate to each other.

‘Our generation sees our social life not just happening in the physical world but also online. I wanted to get comfortable with my gaming. That gaming identity is still part of me, but it doesn’t overwhelm me.’ With gambling and gaming merging and always accessible online, the coordinator of EACH Chinese Peer Connection recognised that Kevin’s experiences were relevant to those of clients calling its gambling hotline, and invited him to join and promote the service to this younger generation.

‘My early days as a student host in Melbourne showed me that peer support was a good model,’ Kevin says. ‘And as well as working on the hotline now, I’m a Cantonese co-host on two community radio stations.

‘I enjoy community engagement so much. I want to offer the best I am; the best I can.’