Dr. Kanojia’s journey started with him playing video games because he was a year ahead. He went to a school that had a very high teacher to student ratio. In the span of being in that school for two years, he skipped a grade. He entered the first grade a year younger than all his classmates. As a result, he was really bad at sports as he was a five-year-old trying to compete with six-year-olds. He gravitated towards video games because that was a place where he could feel equivalent to his peers.
He began to fall behind, become directionless and have a lot of ego in high school. He was failing out of college when he decided to go to India at the age of 21, where he discovered yoga and meditation, and really fell in love with it. What he found with the eastern philosophies of yoga, meditation and Ayurveda was a system to understand himself in a methodical way. He realized that he could sit down and study who he was as a person and so he could get better at being himself.
He found it amazing that he could study himself through a yogic perspective, but since he is a skeptic at heart, he wanted to verify what he learned. To do this and find references, he became a researcher. As he started to have experiences in meditation that were very trippy and awesome, he began to wonder what was actually going on in his mind during those experiences.
He started off doing EEG studies on meditators and went on to do neuroscience research for a couple of years. During this time he realized that he was not going to become a monk because he met his wife and fell in love.
He decided to become a doctor for a few reasons. The truest reason was that one of his teachers told him that unless he succeeded in the material world, he was not going to succeed in the spiritual world — anything that he did in the material world was going to be much easier than what he attempted in the spiritual world. He set himself the goal of becoming a doctor because he wanted to do something hard. It was a somewhat arbitrary goal, but the main reason he wanted to do it was that it was difficult and he had a 2.5 GPA.
Dr. Kanojia decided to become a psychiatrist instead of a psychologist because he realized from his understanding of Ayurveda that the mind and the body are not divorced from each other and that it would be more beneficial to understand them both from a western perspective. He studied to become an oncologist at first, and then switched to psychiatry in his 4th year of study.
He had his reservations about psychiatry at first because of the stigma around psychiatrists “not being real doctors”, but he realized that that was coming from his ego and his father’s thoughts about oncology and psychiatry. Originally he wanted to become a holistic cancer doctor who treated cancer with herbs and taught yoga and meditation as well as helped people get in touch with their spirituality before they died. But as he realized that he had always been interested in the mind, he decided to become a psychiatrist.
In Dr. Kanojia's day job, he is an addiction psychiatrist at McLean Hospital. He is also faculty at Harvard Medical School — he is an instructor in psychiatry. Dr. Kanojia grew up playing video games when he was in middle school and in high school. He almost failed out of college because of his gaming habit. In his first year of college, he had less than a 2.0 GPA. The second year wasn't a whole lot better — he slept through his Spanish final because he was playing too many video games the night before. He finally ended up graduating with about a 2.5 GPA and really started to try to figure out what was going on in his life. What was the deal with him playing all these games?
It took him a couple of years but he ended up going to medical school, He trained to become a psychiatrist in Boston, at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital, both of which are Harvard Medical School teaching affiliates. He had an amazing opportunity to become a psychiatrist and had some brilliant teachers. While he was training, he went to the brightest minds and experts in the field of psychiatry asked them, “Can you tell me a little bit about video game addiction or can you tell me how to help people who have problems with video games?”
None of them really seemed to know and the more people that he asked, the more he realized that since the leaders in the field of Psychiatry are all in their 50s, 60s and 70s, they have actually never played a video game. The people that teach us psychiatry, the people who are experts in depression and anxiety and addictions, are at the end or middle of their careers. Since they have never played video games, they don't know what it is like to be addicted to them.
Dr. Kanojia started to try to figure out how he could learn about video game addiction because his teachers did not really know too much about it. He started talking to and working with gamers from all over the world through the internet. He started working with them to try to understand why they played video games. He realized that he could help these people because, while a lot of them have seen psychiatrists or therapists, they had gotten diagnosed with depression or anxiety and had been started on an antidepressant. They went home and they took their pill and kept on playing video games, because their problem, while they are depressed, really isn't that they are depressed — their problem is that they play too many video games.
Dr. Kanojia started to work with these people and tried to help them. As the years went by and he worked with more and more gamers, he started to get better at it. Now, he feels like he knows a little bit about what he is talking about, but even he would admit that the disease is relatively new. We do not really know a whole lot about it. There hasn't been years or decades of research, the way that there has been on cancer treatment or treatment for depression.
However, at this point, he does feel confident that he can help gamers a little bit — or at least that is his hope. His hope is that he can take those years of experience helping gamers, their parents, and their spouses as well as his years of training as a psychiatrist and be able to help gamers in some way.