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Press Play on Healing: How Gaming Restores Light for Warriors

Army veteran William Childs poses for a photo on an aircraft in Iraq in 2009. William served for more than 20 years in the Army and deployed in the Iraq War.

Challenged by the transition to civilian life after 20 years of serving in the Army, Iraq War veteran William Childs unexpectedly found solace in an old pastime: video gaming.

What began as a simple entertainment pursuit to reconnect with his son – they’d play Fortnite – quickly revealed its potential as a powerful tool for William and a means of connecting him with fellow veterans navigating similar journeys. He now streams every day on Twitch – primarily playing the game Destiny 2 under the streaming name 'txch1cken' – and aims to foster a safe space for veterans to share their experiences.

“At first, I was like, ‘Nobody is going to watch an old man play video games,’” William said. “Come to find out, people wanted to watch me play. Ever since then, it’s taken off. This my calling.”

William isn’t alone in his experience, and Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has taken notice of the benefits of gaming. To combat the isolation and lack of support many injured veterans feel when they leave service, WWP™ has rapidly built an organic, grassroots movement of veteran gamers who lean on each other to explore new opportunities, build camaraderie, and connect virtually.

For America’s wounded veterans, the challenges after military service can be immense. WWP’s Warrior Survey* shows that more than 75% of WWP warriors bear the weight of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more than 28% have had thoughts of suicide in the previous year.

With over two-thirds of those veterans reporting feelings of loneliness and disconnection from society, there’s an urgent need for innovative peer support networks – a need that WWP is working tirelessly to meet.

WWP’s gaming program started modestly; the organization started to build robust online havens on platforms like Discord, where warriors could easily join in for low-pressure virtual hangouts focused around gaming.

Since then, it’s evolved into a network of larger sub-communities, united by a shared interest in gaming and the intrinsic bonds of military service. WWP noticed something remarkable: veterans who had previously struggled alone in silence with their post-service challenges gradually began feeling safe enough to open up about their journeys, and friendships started taking root online.

"We've witnessed something incredibly powerful through this gaming initiative," said Jackie Green, WWP's Livestream Fundraising and Gaming manager. "Veterans who had been completely isolated have developed vital peer support networks that extend far beyond just the gaming sessions. These digital connections are fostering real-world relationships and re-establishing that sense of community, loyalty, and understanding of the veteran experience."

The scale of gaming’s resonance in the veteran community cannot be ignored. WWP’s most recent survey found that nearly half (47%) actively play video games, averaging 17 hours of play per week – a testament to how gaming serves as both a healthy coping outlet and a social lifeline for veterans seeking connection.

For William, it was a gradual reentry into gaming that served as a trailhead of a life-altering journey. The online community he found was distinct from anything he’d experienced post-service. It was an accepting, judgment-free zone populated by people bonded through their unique life experiences in the military.

Warrior William Childs streams the video game Destiny 2 on Twitch under the name TXCh1cken.

Warrior William Childs streams the video game Destiny 2 on Twitch under the name TXCh1cken. William, an Army veteran, uses gaming as a post-service recovery tool.

“When we game with veterans, we joke, game, and talk. We really get to know each other and build that bond just like in the military,” said William, whose wife is active duty. “We’ve got that camaraderie.”

WWP’s approach to gaming extends beyond virtual hangout spaces. The organization regularly facilitates in-person events and competitions, allowing online communities to solidify connections outside the screen. From esports tournaments to massive gaming conventions, WWP is creating accessible opportunities for wounded veterans to rekindle the camaraderie they may be missing.

Perhaps most importantly, though, is an increasing body of research from the Department of Veteran Affairs and other institutions highlighting gaming’s mental health benefits. Studies are increasingly theorizing that the hyper-focused state induced by gaming provides a form of psychological escape akin to mindfulness practices.

More than just leisure, gaming has a proven capacity to cultivate resilience and foster new skills and confidence – crucial parts of any holistic healing journey.

"Our primary goal is to make gaming an accessible, judgment-free entry point for veterans to access the full breadth of Wounded Warrior Project’s support resources and services," Jackie Green said. "It's about meeting these warriors wherever they are in their individual journeys, removing societal stigmas, tearing down barriers to care, and empowering them to take that vital first step forward when they're ready."

WWP aims to make gaming as accessible as possible for any veteran, regardless of technological proficiency or financial status. It can be as easy as bonding over free-to-play mobile games, for example, or watching gaming content on Twitch.

WWP is unleashing gaming’s vast potential as a catalyst for healing and reintegration, and by helping wounded warriors like William gradually reclaim their sense of belonging, it can be a vehicle for feeling seen, heard, and supported by those who’ve lived the same experiences. See how you can support wounded veterans through livestreaming and gaming.

*Warrior Survey, Wave 2 (conducted June 15-Aug. 24, 2022) 

Contact: Julian Routh, Public Relations, jrouth@woundedwarriorproject.org, 904.544.0195

About Wounded Warrior Project

Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.

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