Why Stack Up Overwatch Program (StOP)?
I had the absolute honor of asking my fellow Stack Up and StOP members about the impact of the program, the impact it’s had on them, what they’ve been able to give, their interests, and the effect Stack Up, StOP, and their efforts have made.
Q: Why did you join Stack Up?
BRhino: I joined Stack Up after I found out what they do. I was getting into the world of PC gaming and stumbled across them at the right time. Being a Veteran and looking for a way to help with Veteran suicide prevention, it was an obvious no-brainer.
Dave (RoboCrouse): While at Walter Reed, I wanted to find a way to continue serving people. It was important to me that I channel my own struggles into something positive that I could use to help other Veterans going through challenges. Meeting Steve, and helping him get Stack Up off the ground, was a perfect opportunity for me. It allowed me to combine my military background with my love of gaming and use that to help Veterans in need. We’re in our 6th year now, and there’s still no place I’d rather be.
ES (Roughrider): My younger son heard about Stack Up from a YouTuber he likes (BeckBroJack), and he suggested it to me because he knew I was missing a friend who was also a Veteran, and he thought I might run into him there. I liked the sound of it, so I applied and got started in StOP. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t exactly realize that StOP was a special part of Stack Up and I kind of applied accidentally, but when I realized what I was applying for, I knew I wanted to give it my best shot.
KingQueso: I joined Stack Up because I am a combat Veteran, and I am a huge gamer and have been for most of my adult life while serving and post service.
Puzzle: I was sent an invite from an Air Force buddy. They’re part of a Stack around New Mexico. Overall was integrated with them, also through a DnD group, and friends met through that.
Steve (ShanghaiSix): Well, I founded it, so...you know. :)
But for real, I was working a 9 to 5 defense contracting job in DC, and I wasn’t happy. At the time, my driver from Iraq (who had gone back into the service after separating) had deployed to Afghanistan. He knew based on my hobby of playing as a fake games journalist doing reviews and walkthroughs for a gaming website. I had some contacts in the games industry, so he reached out and asked if I could reach out and send him an Xbox because they were bored as hell out there. I reached out to a lot of my contacts, and the response back was overwhelming. It was there where the spark for my charity began. I found my weekend charity work started taking up more and more of my weekends, and I felt like I had found my calling in helping fellow Veterans.
Q: What drew you to StOP?
BRhino: Aside from the obvious reasons of being a Veteran, seeing a Veteran organization run by mostly Veterans, I would have to say the programs they had and the professionalism of the organization.
Dave (RoboCrouse): We’ve always viewed Stack Up’s online community as a valuable resource to connect Veterans with similar interests for the purpose of promoting positive mental health through gaming. As our community grew, we found there were more and more people joining our server and looking to speak with other Veterans about different challenges they were facing. As a result, the Overwatch program was created to meet those needs with a reliable volunteer team so that no one was getting overlooked.
ES (Roughrider): See above.
KingQueso: I am a psychology major in college, and I struggle with PTSD myself. Anytime you can give back to others that are going through things because we all do at some time or another, it's a blessing to give back. StOP was the perfect place to do just that.
Puzzle: Basically, someone helped me when I was in my darkest hour, and I promised when I could help, I would.
Q: What is the best thing in your mind you’ve done with StOP/Stack up?
BRhino: I would say being a part of the StOP team, in general, is the best thing. On a personal level, it has the most instant gratification knowing you helped someone and they immediately benefited from it. I also enjoy my time on the Stream Team and run my personal channel as a permanent fundraiser for SU.
Dave (RoboCrouse): This is a tough one for me, honestly, because I’m so attached to all of the programs. If I had to put a finger on something, I’d say the aspect of Stack Up that makes me most proud is the unified vision shared by our programs and our community alike. All of our programs are intertwined organically with our community, so it’s all one big family, and nobody gets trapped in a bubble. Folks who receive support through our programs are given the opportunity to stay connected with the organization and the community 24/7 through the Discord server. We keep our community informed on everything we have going on.
ES (Roughrider): For other people, I think the best thing I’ve done so far in my time here is I’ve validated a lot of people. People come in in turmoil, and I think part of my job as a StOP member is helping them find a solid footing where they’re the foundation they can build from. A lot of people seem to get strength from just taking a moment to say out loud, basically, “Hey, this is my experience, and it’s bullshit,” before jumping to the problem solving or being understanding or any of it.
KingQueso: I run the CT stack, and we have done a park clean-up as well as a food drive that was pretty awesome! It was gratifying for our stack to give back during covid to all those locals that have lost jobs.
Puzzle: Coordinating with vets in Stack Up. Being there for the people, whether it’s Stack or StOP
Steve (ShanghaiSix): The growth of the Overwatch program. It’s one thing to send out Xboxes to guys and gals deployed forward, but it’s something else entirely having someone send you a private message telling you that they used your services, and it kept them from killing themselves. Haunting.
Q: What are you playing now?
*Note: These questions were answered in May.
BRhino: Right now, I’ve been playing the crypto market, lol. Tough game. When I have a little bit of time, I’ve been playing some Pokemon: Let’s Go, Evil Genius 2, and a couple of shooters here and there (Hunt: Showdown and the likes).
Dave (RoboCrouse): I’m playing Destiny 2 on PC. Like, a LOT of Destiny 2, haha. It’s been my jam for a while now, but I still enjoy spending time on my Switch with smaller titles like Moonlighter.
ES (Roughrider): I just started playing Astroneer today! I’ve had my eye on it for a while, and I decided to go for it with the reckless abandon of tax return season. I play Phasmophobia multiple times a week and have for the last few months, so that’s a staple. With my kids, I play a lot of Minecraft and Terraria, and especially with my mom, we love to play Keep Talking, and Nobody Explodes. We’re pretty good at it if I do say so myself. And finally, I just started playing A Dance of Fire and Ice and Avicii Invector, which are both rhythm games. I’m insanely into Invector, not least because the EDM and flying a spaceship through an abstract neon scape is pretty much what it’s like to be inside my head.
KingQueso: I am a huge Pokemon Go, player. I just reached level 37. I also have been playing the avengers game, which I find to be quite fun.
Puzzle: D&D, Tabletopia, Minecraft, Dead by Daylight.
Steve (ShanghaiSix): Evil Genius 2 just wrapped up Valheim’s final boss last night. I generally try to keep up with the latest and greatest to keep up with the kids. :)
Q: How do you think gaming and MH and Vets can come together?
BRhino: I think that with a program like StOP, the three have already come together. What the future holds for the three is still yet to be fully seen or appreciated. So far, it has proven to be a successful trip and seeing things like the World of Warships adoption of the Mental Health Button and such are huge steps in the right direction.
Dave (RoboCrouse): One of the cornerstones of Stack Up has always been the understanding that you can bring folks from all different walks of life together through the “shared language of gaming.” I think that our community has been the source of some incredible testimonies in that regard. It’s wonderful to see people come together, and it’s a privilege to provide a location for that.
ES (Roughrider): I think vets naturally gravitate towards gaming because it’s something that can be very social or very individual depending on your mood at the moment, but even its sociability can be in person or virtual just based on your mood, again. It’s also something that can travel pretty easily, and sharing it with other people is based on things that heavily overlap with the military experience--often working in a team to accomplish a mission or fast-paced skill-based competition, but in both cases, the environment is only as high-stakes as you want it to be, the tasks are well-defined, and the camaraderie can still transcend the circumstances of the competition.
KingQueso: I think the camaraderie is there, and it puts a lot less stress for most Veterans that have PTSD, depression, and anxiety. The platform of gaming is a less stressful environment where you can interact and not necessarily have to be in a room with a bunch of people that may make you uncomfortable. I think that gaming has been a big part of my progression as a civilian to find a level of comfort when coming back home and establishing myself in my local community.
Puzzle: Gaming can boost morale, which then helps mental health, which then can introduce Vets to other Vets.
Steve (ShanghaiSix): I don’t know what MH is? [Interviewer’s note: later defined as mental health, referred to Stack Up’s success in the space]
Q: Has Stack Up/StOP changed the way you look at gaming?
BRhino: I would say that it has helped me to see the different ways gaming can be used aside from simple leisure time relaxation. If geared properly, it can be a tool for much greater purposes.
Dave (RoboCrouse): During my time at Walter Reed, I leaned heavily into gaming as a mental health resource for myself and others close to me. I wouldn’t say my view has changed so much as I would say I’ve been incredibly humbled to see just how many other folks are out there who feel the same way I do and maybe didn’t have a community to call home before they found Stack Up.
ES (Roughrider): It’s certainly encouraged me to prioritize gaming in a different way. I haven’t had a lot of time for gaming for a number of years, but I’ve begun to use gaming as a way to have a shared social experience when it’s hard to find that otherwise (even pre-COVID). So I prioritize it more because I know its meaning in my life is not just a way to have fun in my spare time but also to engage with other people, play together, or share excitement about games. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do that.
KingQueso: I won’t say it changed the way I think because I always felt that level of comfort. I will say that enhanced the experience for me when I came to StOP/Stack Up. Finding more people that are doing the same thing or the same common goals is a great feeling.
Puzzle: It introduced me to using gaming as a coping mechanism. Using the right game as needed.
Steve (ShanghaiSix): Taking it from “hobby” to “lifestyle” and “mental health support” was a big change. I didn’t know back in the day when I would unplug and sit down in front of a game that I was taking care of my brainpan, letting it rest and recharge. For a lot of folks, gaming is a great way to escape from their brain howling at them, between the game itself and the community of people that one can interact with via social media platforms; it’s a great way to stay connected for Veterans (who generally don’t like interacting with other humans).
Q: What would you say to anyone thinking about getting involved in Stack Up or StOP?
BRhino: What’re you waiting on?
Dave (RoboCrouse): I get asked this question a lot, and I always say the same thing: If you want to learn what we’re all about, come join our Discord and hop into one of our weekly community meetings. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to this community, hear what we’ve got going on, and identify any areas you’d be interested in volunteering with.
ES (Roughrider): If they’re interested, I think they should absolutely try it out. I would encourage them to make an extra effort to be a part of conversations because Stack Up is much more welcoming of people who drop in and out of the social scene than most places I’ve found online. So it’s safe to try it, lurk for a while, and try it again, or jump in with both feet.
KingQueso: I would encourage them to join the team. There is no pressure, and it feels like a family in this community, so I would recommend it to anyone I know.
Puzzle: Go for it. It’s worth your time, and you’ll meet a whole lot of people that you wouldn’t meet otherwise.
Steve (ShanghaiSix): We’d love to have you on board, and there’s never a volunteer who is doing “too little.” We get a lot of folks who bemoan about how they can only do X or Y, and I have to remind them that they are still doing more than most :)
Thank you to everyone that participated!
Think you have what it takes to be someone else's support in a mental health crisis? Want to help make a difference along with some of the wonderful volunteers above? Fill out the StOP Volunteer Application to get started here!