How can a video game help military veterans overcome post-traumatic stress? That is exactly what I was asking myself when I heard about With Them: Frontlines by Ore System. Their team, which includes veterans, is creating a game to engage the military and veteran community, assist veterans with their PTSD, create raw datasets for healthcare professionals, and help civilians gain perspective from real stories.
As veterans return from active duty, many of them suffer from PTSD and other mental illnesses. Until a friend of mine started a ministry focused on helping them, I was unaware that most veterans are not getting adequate help for their needs. On top of that, many veterans still feel uncomfortable admitting that they are struggling. Through more conversations with veterans over the years, I hear this story over and over. While there are many organizations trying to help, the need is still greater than ever.
Shawn Piatz, COO of Ore System and a 28-year veteran, states that it’s all about immersion therapy and returning to your comfort zone. “Believe it or not, our comfort zone is that chaos,” says Piatz. “There’s a dark humor that goes along with that; that is our comfort zone, you know?”
While there are multiple modes in this first-person shooter, including multiplayer, the campaign mode takes you through the true story of a veteran. “I think one of the big things that differentiates us from others,” Piatz continues, “is the fact that we are using real people in real situations.” In fact, they are looking for more stories to tell, so if you know of someone willing to share, you can connect them with the team at Ore System.
CEO and 22-year veteran, Lucas Hamrick, says that experience has been therapeutic for him. “The fact that you can share some of those intimate details of some of your challenges and see the outcomes from that put into the game, it really takes me back to a place when, early on, I didn’t have those therapies.”
The work goes into making scenes, characters, and stories as realistic as possible is paramount. Nick Donarski, CTO and cybersecurity and information security expert, says, “All of the areas and locations that we’re using, we’re actually taking satellite images and topographic maps to get the actual locations as close as we can.” They are even recreating sounds, making sure they are accurately mimicking things like spatial depth, and fine tuning the AI functionalities of adversarial characters, all to help players feel like they are really there.
Their goal is to go way beyond the game, though, and also provide data for healthcare professionals. They have been working alongside Dr. Stephen Tang and Dr. Dung Trinh to develop ways to connect information from wearable technology, like heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels to experiences within the game. Donarski explains the importance of getting data in veterans and therapists hands: “Being able to create those baselines over time and then actually have those various different stressors and be able to track that kind of information is something that, as you are working through your progression […], you can have something to talk about.”
The team, as you can imagine, is incredibly passionate about this project. Piatz says, “We are trying to reach anyone who actually wants to be a part of this solution, and if we can save one, that’s well worth it.” He goes on to explain it’s also about breaking the stigma that it’s not okay to ask for help.
Hamrick also explains, “We hope to help anyone that plays the game, and we can learn lessons from their data on the non-military side as well to facilitate some of those discussions with your provider.”
The game is also about helping the general public gain perspective. Donarsky shares, “It’s one thing to [watch] a war movie that’s roughly based off a real character. It’s another thing to actually play through somebody’s story.”
The team has high aspirations for continuing to produce content years down the line, including more and more veteran stories, but also supporting and networking with many veteran charities along the way. Hamrick states, “It seems like there’s an awful lot of obstacles or barriers in between where individual veterans are and the help they need, so we’re just trying to streamline that process.”
It was a joy to talk with Shawn, Nick, and Lucas, and they reminded me of how Jesus would go after the one, and urged us to do the same. Jesus also showed us the importance of gaining perspective. Who in your life is God calling you to love? And how could we begin to ask more questions in order to see life through others’ eyes, eventually helping them connect their story to Jesus’ story?
If you would like to learn more about With Them: Frontlines, or support their Indiegogo campaign, you can check out withthem.co. Ore System has also committed that a portion of the proceeds of every game sold will go to support charities that help veterans.
To view my full interview with the team from Ore System, watch the video below.