"My husband, Bob, is addicted to computer games. He married the computer and threw me and my children out," Tiffany says.
"When I first started playing the game called EverQuest, I was spending 20 hours a week [on it]," Bob says. "You get into the game; you're sucked in. You lose track of time."
"He would come home from work and within 30 minutes, he would have the computer on," Tiffany says. "I would ask him to do small things such as wash the kids' hands. â€˜Twenty more minutes' turned into an hour, two hours."
"You tune everything out," Bob says.
"When I would come home, I would find Dakota," Tiffany says of their then 3-year-old. "He would be crying because he was hungry."
"And my wife would ask, â€˜Did you feed the kids?' â€˜No.' I want to get back in the game. I want to have fun," Bob admits.
"It went from 20 to now 80 hours a week that he plays," Tiffany says.
"You tell yourself, â€˜You need to get off of it,' but you just keep playing," Bob says.
A life-threatening incident occurred while the kids were in Bob's care. He explains, "My 5-year-old daughter, Isabella, came to me and said, â€˜Dad, Chloe put some medication in her mouth.' I washed out her mouth, went back to playing EverQuest. Shortly after, my wife came home from work."
"My 5-year-old said to me, â€˜Mommy, I'm sorry I almost killed your baby.' And I said to Bob, â€˜Where's Chloe now?' And Bob said, â€˜She's over there, sleeping on the couch.' I immediately called poison control," Tiffany remembers.
"The hospital wanted Tiffany to bring Chloe in so she could be monitored," Bob says.
"Bob never did shut off his computer, and my daughter and I sat over there at the hospital the whole time by ourselves," Tiffany says. "I told him that he needed to make a choice: either his family or his computer. He said, â€˜The computer. If you don't like it, there's the door.' [We] left the house about a week and a half ago."
"I'd like to get my family back," Bob says.
"I don't know what the future holds, and I don't want to do it alone," Tiffany says with a trembling voice.
"I'm not a stupid guy, you know. There's not much I can't do â€¦ except stop playing EverQuest," Bob admits.
"As you're sitting here right now, would you prefer to be playing EverQuest?" Dr. Phil asks Bob.
"Actually, no," he says, "because it's out of control." Bob explains why he chose the game over his family. "The reasoning behind that was because our marriage had been so bad for so long, and our kids were unhappy, I was unhappy, and she was unhappy. And I knew if the EverQuest came to an end, because I was so addicted to it, that it wouldn't be pleasant to be around me for a while, so maybe it was best for them to move out while I attempted to do this transition period, and work on things and then try to get them back."
"Does that make sense to you, what you just said?" Dr. Phil asks.
"Yeah," Bob says.
"What you're telling me is your wife and three children say, â€˜I can't take that anymore. You're either going to have to give that up or give us up,' and you say, â€˜Well, I would be so unpleasant to be around that y'all just need to go on. I'm going to let my children walk out the door over a computer game.' Do you realize we're talking about a game here? It's not even about basketball; you don't even get to bounce it. It's a keyboard game that you're playing," Dr. Phil says.
The game of EverQuest involves role-playing with fantasy characters. Dr. Phil points out that Bob has gotten emotionally involved with other players in the game. He tells Tiffany, "When you're sitting in the other room with three kids, he's in there, flirting on the Internet with some other gamer."
"Right. Hiding it from me," she says.
Dr. Phil points out that he's choosing to spend time with a two-dimensional unknown female versus his living, breathing, flesh-and-blood children or wife.
Bob admits that the situation sounds ridiculous. "It's abnormal. It definitely interferes with your life," he says. "To play the game EverQuest, if you log on, you're going to be on for a minimum of an hour. If you get involved with something pretty serious, like a raid, or into a raiding guild, you could be on for five, six, seven hours in one sitting."
"Can I interrupt you for a second? You just said, â€˜If you get involved with something serious, like a raid,'" Dr. Phil says. "This is a game!"
"It's a game that he's devoting 80 hours a week to right now," Tiffany points out.
"They call it EverCrack, because you get addicted to it," Dr. Phil notes.
Dr. Phil asks Tiffany, "How long has this been going on?"
"Nine years," Tiffany says. "When our little boy was 3 years old, and he's 11 now."
Dr. Phil lists some of the mishaps and near tragedies that have happened while the children were under Bob's care while he was on the computer: He's forgotten to feed the children, one child fed medicine to the baby and another broke her arm. The Department of Family Services has filed two reports against them. He's also had an online affair with someone he met through EverQuest.
Dr. Phil asks Tiffany, "It's taken you nine years to figure out this isn't OK?"
"No, I knew it long before that," she says.
"What are you waiting on? For a child to die? For the house to burn down? For him to take up with some eagle maiden from the game or something? What is it you're waiting on?" Dr. Phil asks her.
"I was just hoping that things would change, that he would wake up and see the light," Tiffany says.
Dr. Phil warns Bob, "You've got to pull your head out. You're going to lose your family. You're going to lose your kids."
Dr. Phil continues, "My kids are 28 and 21, and I look back so thankful that as a young master of the universe, I didn't work 20 hours a day, like I did when I first got married, and that I coached those kids and played games with them. I coached basketball for 14 years, and I can't hit the ground with the ball, but I was there with the boys, you know? You can't miss that. There's no way to get it back. There's no way."
Bob explains that he's coached football too.
"How many hours a week do you spend on EverQuest?" Dr. Phil asks.
"Too damn many," he says.
"About a minimum of 60, a maximum of 80," Tiffany says.
"We'll call it 50 hours a week that you could spend with your kids, with your wife, in therapy, any number of things that would be constructive," Dr. Phil says. He notes that their 12-year-old son is now into online gaming as well.
"I always ask myself if what I'm seeing is the problem, or is that a symptom of the problem? Is it a byproduct of the problem? When you play this game, you don't have to fight, you don't have to worry, you don't have to contend, you don't have to sacrifice, you don't have to do any of the things that we call marriage, that we call parenting," Dr. Phil tells Bob. "It's a very low-demand situation, right? You don't have any financial worries. You don't have any real-life worries with your wife or your kids. You can just lose yourself in it. It's a fantasy. It's an escape."
Dr. Phil asks Bob to role play having a conversation with his now 2-year-old daughter once she's an adult. "So, let's say it's 18 years from now, and she's 20 and says to you, â€˜Bob, how come I had to grow up without my daddy?' What are you going to say?"
"There's no justifiable explanation for that," Bob says.
"â€˜That's not an answer, Bob. I'm asking you, how come I had to grow up without my Daddy?' What are you going to tell her?" Dr. Phil asks.
"I had my head up my ***," he says.
"You can say, â€˜I had a choice. Come over here and look at this computer. See, I've now got like 40 accounts on EverQuest, and I'm now the head eagle warrior,'" Dr. Phil says, continuing his role playing. "â€˜Yeah, but Dad, I was so hungry for male attention that the first hairy-legged boy that paid me attention and whispered in my ear got me pregnant when I was 14.' How does that compare to how you're scoring in your EverQuest game? Because you know, that's what happens. When little girls don't feel love, and acceptance, and validation and value from their dad, they go look for it, and they will get it from the first guy who's willing to tell them what they need to hear because you were too busy."
"I don't want that to happen. That's why I'm here," he says.
"We already see that in our 5-year-old," Tiffany adds. "She's already showing lots of interest in boys."
"You think? Because they're hungry for it! It's the natural order of things. They want acceptance from the other side, the other sex," Dr. Phil says. "If those little girls feel like you are the one person in this world who loves them, and thinks they're special, and teaches them to value themselves, and to love themselves and protect themselves, they will walk through this world with their head up high with pride and dignity, and when some ol' boy comes along and says, â€˜Hey, I love you,' she'll say, â€˜Yeah? Get in line! My daddy loves me.' They'll put up a stop sign in a fast hurry because they don't have a void. They know that they're important to you.
"You've got one choice, and it's got two steps," Dr. Phil tells Bob. "Number one, you need to get rid of those games. You need to get those computers out of there â€¦ You've got to sign off, you've got to quit and you've got to never go back. And second, you two need to get busy on your marriage because it's not just the game. You are escaping the reality of this union, and until you heal that, you're going to be vulnerable to the other."