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Enhancing a Veteran’s Life: The Transformative Power of Virtual Reality Gaming

BILLINGS — Virtual reality gaming has been described as an escape by some, but for a Billings veteran, it has become a way of life. Darwin Oak, a former nuclear war technician, helicopter crew chief, and combat medic with a 30-year tenure in the U.S. Army, has found solace and purpose in the world of virtual reality gaming after battling years of depression.

In a recent interview at his Billings residence, Oak expressed, “You know, I feel as youthful as I do in that photograph today.” Reflecting on his numerous deployments around the globe, he shared, “I’ve been deployed, I don’t know how many times, five, seven, something like that, to all over the world. A lot of places, back sided countries that you didn’t know about.”

The toll of such experiences weighed heavily on Oak, leading him to a point where he questioned the value of his own life. Recounting his struggles, Oak revealed, “I’ve been shot at and stuff. Got a plate in my neck from getting shot at. I was getting depressed. And I was on a lot of medications for pain and mental health.”

However, everything changed for Oak four years ago when his son introduced him to the realm of virtual reality gaming. Describing it as his form of therapy, Oak emphasized, “This is my therapy…it’s helped me because I’m here. And I feel great.” Immersing himself in the first-person shooter game Firewall: Zero Hour, Oak found a new sense of purpose and hasn’t required medication since.

Occupational therapist Max Holden from the Rehabilitation Hospital of Montana highlighted the benefits of virtual reality for individuals like Oak, stating, “The idea of being able to escape a little bit and to get into a different world creates such engagement for patients.” Holden, who incorporates virtual reality into his therapy sessions, noted the positive impact it has on patients’ well-being.

Oak’s dedication to the game has not gone unnoticed, as he has risen to the 18th spot on the global Firewall leader board by devoting 10 to 12 hours daily to gaming. Looking ahead, Oak humorously remarked, “It’ll take about another year to get to number 10 on the leader board.” For Oak, engaging in an activity he is passionate about signifies time well invested. “I’ve got a plan now for the rest of my life. I’ve got to live to be 145 to get what I want done,” he quipped, highlighting the newfound sense of purpose gaming has brought to his life.