COLUMBIA — Jack Jones is a recent graduate of the accounting program at MU, a member of the Army National Guard and a bodybuilder. You wouldn't know from looking at him that he has struggled with self-image issues all of his life.
He used to be addicted to video gaming.
Parents who are worried that their children might be addicted to video games can look for certain clues, the biggest indicator being a lack of interest in all other activities, Jones said.
Some signs that your child might need intervention:
- Skipping or delaying meals because the child can't stop playing the game
- Showing no interest in social activities with friends
- Staying up later than usual to play games
- Becoming irritated and angry with events that cut into gaming time
- Showing no interest in other fun "kid" activities (movies, concerts, sports, etc.) because of the need to game
Jones, 25, remembers a period in high school when he played video games seven days a week for 12 hours at a time, rarely getting out of his chair. When his friends called to hang out, he turned them down because he was always about to go on a raid in a game he was playing.
Video gaming is among reasons people sit for long periods of time and become sedentary. A sedentary lifestyle can cause excessive weight gain, high blood pressure and diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to a 2004 article in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Jones has turned his insecurities into a business. He created a website in May called thehealthygamer.com, not to persuade people of the hazards of excessive gaming but to motivate them to make the changes they want to see in their lives.
"The goal is to show people that they can change," he said.
Jones was born in Lanzhou, China, where his parents were professors at the university. They gave him up for adoption because they believed he would have a better life in the U.S. He grew up in Bolivar, Mo., with his adoptive mother, Nancy Jones.
"He always wanted to play on the computer, so he got very involved in video games," she said. "He was always interested in it, but I never viewed it as a problem."
Jack Jones was aware that he sometimes spent more time playing video games than out with his friends.
"Most of our friend were ... not at the level that Jack was with gaming," said Andrew Magaña, a friend from high school where the pair bonded because they both stuck out in school (Magaña was one of the few black students in the school). "Most of his contacts were over the gaming devices."
"It had gotten to the point where I quit working out, quit eating right," Jones said. "You feel like you need to put every second into the game or something bad is going to happen. Your world view gets warped and so things like eating and showering and exercise — all your responsibilities — get pushed to the side."
That wasn't the only time video gaming affected Jones's social life. After high school, he studied computer science at Missouri State because he wanted to design video games. He spent most of his freshman year in his room playing World of Warcraft.
"I didn't do anything." Jones said. "I didn't get integrated into anything socially."
And then he discovered weightlifting. It was his sophomore year, and he'd transferred to MU to study accounting. But his interest in weightlifting began earlier in life from watching Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.
"I kind of thought if I can get big and strong like Arnold then life would be good, girls would like me and I'd be confident," he said. "That’s actually been kind of a lifelong goal: to get big like Arnold."
Jones rapidly gained 20 pounds when he began lifting, and this change showed him self-improvement was possible. It proved to him that other things in his life could change as well, if he put his mind to it.
“The whole idea is to not let your fear of being inadequate keep you from what you are supposed to be doing,” he said. “The reason of fear is not enough.”
The birth of a career
"That's kind of my life path — self-improvement," Jones said.
He decided to share what he has learned and thus was born thehealthygamer.com. After graduating from the five-year accounting program in May, he worked in St. Louis doing taxes for four months but found the work to be "soul draining" and decided to shift his focus to his site. He saw the need for motivation in the video-gaming community.
He first drew traffic to his site by posting videos about gaming strategy, and that turned out to be a smart approach. According to an article on Businessinsider.com, gaming is highly searched. The traffic on game related topics is far above all other industries, except sex.
But now that he has his foot in the door with gamers, he wants to shift his focus. He emphasizes he doesn’t expect gamers to completely stop gaming, just find a balance. That includes inspiring site users to develop themselves rather than focus on being the best at a video game. He hopes they will eventually want to spend less time gaming, as he has.
"I want to get people over their social anxiety and go out and experience life," he said.
What’s the harm?
Any activity that keeps you sitting for hours at a time can be bad for your health, including sitting at a desk all day, playing video games or vegging out in front of the TV.
Even adults who get the recommended amount of exercise each week are at increased risk of disease if they sit during the day, according to a previous Missourian article.
Jones said he would sit for up to 12 hours a day when he was addicted to gaming.
His site has articles such as "Tired? Unmotivated? READ THIS" and "What should I do with my life?" which provides motivation and tips for gamers, or anyone, to be active and find the will to get up and move.
Another hazard linked to video gaming is overeating. According to a study found on sciencedebate.com, researchers found that though more studies are needed to conclude long-term effects, video gaming is directly correlated to consuming large amounts of calories during and after gaming.
Common snacks for gamers are foods that are easy to prepare and offer instant satisfaction such as Ramen Noodles, energy drinks, chips and cookies, Jones said.
"Not all gamers eat these, but there is a tendency to eat more unhealthy if you're addicted to gaming because you're trying to save time and get back to the game," Jones said.
Thehealthygamer.com's nutrition page has articles such as "The ULTIMATE guide to staying healthy during an MMO release" and recipes that take less than 10 minutes to prepare.
Jones thinks he may be on the right track, based on user comments.
"(The site) has brought me out of depression, and I find Jack to be a very honest individual!" wrote Daniel Joseph from Stockton, Calif.
Jones said he gets comments and email almost daily from people who say the site has helped them change their lives — some from gamers who live as far away as the Netherlands and South Africa.
The feedback is keeping him motivated to research and condense information for the site. Once he feels he has enough information, he writes an article and makes a video.
"It's more engaging for gamers who already like to watch video," Jones said. "Video is really powerful because people really connect with you."
Jones’s website earns revenue from three separate sources: from advertisements on the videos he posts on YouTube; Google “adsense” ads on the website and Amazon.com affiliate offers from links clicked on thehealthygamer.com and YouTube.
YouTube accounts for the majority of the revenue. Jones estimates he earns between $2 and $4 per thousand views on the videos, though the amount fluctuates from month to month. For example, the month before the elections, YouTube was flooded with campaign ads, and the revenue that month was closer to $4 per thousand views, he said.
Amazon also pays a percent of each sale it makes on its site from traffic that thehealthygamer.com directs to it. Putting the Google adsense code on the website enables Google to generate ads relevant to the user, based on his or her search and cache history. Each time someone clicks on an ad, Jones earns something. The average is 57 cents per click, he said.
For now, all of the content on the site is free, and Jones is able to make enough from these sources of revenue to live on without working any part-time jobs.
“But it's certainly not going to make me rich,” he said. He plans to grow revenue by creating paid programs targeted toward solving gamers' needs in the areas of health, fitness and self-confidence.
"Having money doesn't really bring you any lasting joys," he said.
Meanwhile, Jones's own personal, self-improvement project is by no means finished. His room is full of vitamins, supplements and personal development books such as "On Writing Well" and "The Paleo Solution." When driving or at the gym, he listens to talk shows about health or how to set up an Internet business instead of music.
One quote from his "About" page sums up the life philosophy he hopes to promote: "The only thing holding you back from the life of your dreams is your own beliefs. Change your beliefs and you will change your life."