Supportive Video Game Communities Can Help Veterans Transition to Civilian Life

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For an increasing number of veterans retiring from the service, their shared interest in video games can become the basis for that community.

Over the years, I have written a lot about video games for Nextgov. This includes how game technology is helping train the military, why federal gamification projects are so often successful and how a game with billions of zombies can demonstrate why the government shouldn’t abandon its cybersecurity perimeter in the face of an increasingly challenging threat landscape. All of those efforts I’ve covered before are interesting and important, but the one I am going to highlight today is probably one of the most critical, especially for the affected communities.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, post-traumatic stress disorder, often just called PTSD, is a significant and serious problem for a lot of veterans returning home from a tour of duty or transitioning back to civilian life. It can manifest in a lot of ways, from difficulty socializing to making it hard to hold down a job. In a worst case scenario, it can sometimes lead to a tragic outcome, like suicide.

While there is no substitute for professional therapy and assistance for those suffering from PTSD, being able to interact with a community of supportive people who went through similar experiences and have like interests can be a big help. For an increasing number of veterans retiring from the service, their shared interest in video games can become the basis for that community.

I talked with Brandon Sivret from OGL.tv, a new gaming matchmaking service and community created by a company called OGLife. OGL.tv puts a solid focus on older gamers and military veterans, and has programs designed to help combat PTSD. And I also spoke with a veteran who has become a key figure in that community about the ways that playing games with other veterans has helped him and others make a successful transition to civilian life.

Brandon Sivret grew up playing video games in a small town in Wisconsin. He entered the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the Air Force, he served in a variety of roles including a security forces flight leader augmentee, space warning crew commander, nuclear ICBM missile combat crew commander, an intelligence officer and a deployed director of operations for a tactical air control party squadron. He was medically retired at the rank of major after 13 years of service.

Nextgov: What made you consider creating a service like OGL.tv that catered to older video game players and veterans?

Sivret: The inspiration was DieHardBirdie, the oldest Counter Strike-Global Offensive champion in the world. Through gaming he was able to stay active and overcome physical ailments to compete in what some might call a young person’s game.

Nextgov: When did you begin your outreach to the veteran community specifically?

Sivret: I have been involved with MilitaryGamers.com since 2001, right before I commissioned. I wasn’t eligible for membership as a Cadet in ROTC but as soon as I commissioned, one of the first things I did was submit my membership for MilitaryGamers.com. Through them and now OGLife, I have been engaging veterans in health and wellness activities as well as professional development and benefits outreach since 2001.

Nextgov: Sometimes veterans returning from active duty have trouble talking about their experiences or connecting with people. And some also suffer from PTSD. How does OGL.tv help those veterans?

Sivret: One of the biggest tragedies I’ve witnessed is when a veteran reaches out for help, but they don’t feel like it’s enough, or they lose hope because the process isn’t as immediate as they had hoped and end their life. It’s hard enough to sometimes reach out for help, and when it doesn’t feel like it is going anywhere then it becomes even more hopeless. 

OGLife can help extend that hope by providing resources and engagement while an individual waits for care. We can be where the individuals are to provide information and share resources with them. We also provide a community where the focus is on positivity and creating relationships to help grow bonds between members.

Nextgov: Do you host special events or tournaments that cater to veterans?

Sivret: Yes, we host get togethers, group attendance at gaming conventions and have competed in several eSports events with MilitaryGamers.com teams. OGLife will continue to support and expand these offerings in partnership with several eSports leagues.

Nextgov: About how many people are actively playing games through the service these days?

Sivret: The service is not currently available in its final form, but we do have nearly 3,000 users on our Telegram account arranging game matches with another 5,000 members on MilitaryGamers.com, one of the communities for which I am the executive officer engaged in formulating efforts for OGLife.

Nextgov: Have you gotten any feedback from veterans who have used the service, or who are currently using it? What do they like about OGL.tv?

Sivret: Many of the members of MilitaryGamers.com that I’ve worked with on OGL.tv are loving what they see. To have a community built around health and wellness tied into gaming is a breath of fresh air marrying two big passions for them.

Garry Martin is one of the veterans who is using the OGL.tv service to play games with veterans and interact with the community. He joined the Army in 2004 as an M1 armored vehicle crewman (19K), fulfilling one of his life's biggest dreams to become a tanker. During his enlistment he was promoted to E-5, assigned a tank commander role, and served at Fort Knox in Kentucky and at Camp Casey in the Republic of Korea.

Today he is an active member of the OGL.tv community as well as one of the people behind the success of MilitaryGamers.com. 

Nextgov: When did you start playing video games, and what are you playing these days?

Martin: I've been a very avid gamer since the late 1980s when my parents picked up a Commodore 64. Gaming is my primary hobby.

I dabble in quite a few different games and genres these days. Some of my favorites currently are Space Engineers, Star Citizen, Arma 3 and Hell Let Loose.

Nextgov: Have you gotten a chance to play with and meet veterans using the OGL.tv service, and do you think that having a community of veteran video game players can help those with PTSD and other conditions?

Martin: Yes, my personal experiences gaming, especially within a supportive community, has greatly helped my wellness and mental health. Older veterans tend to go for groups like the VFW, which I don’t really feel have kept up with the times to support younger veterans who might have unique needs when it comes to support, things like gaming and other “younger” interests.

Nextgov: Has gaming with other vets been a rewarding experience, and do you plan to continue to be a part of that community in the future?

Martin: Yes, absolutely. Talking and gaming with the community has been a pleasure, and I’m looking forward to what the future brings.

Veterans who want to join the community of fellow gamers can join OGLife by going to https://t.me/oglifechat to find all of the details about this new endeavor. In addition, they can go to MilitaryGamers.com to register for membership.

John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology. He is the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys

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