Alpha Nerds Guild fights depression, suicide with video games

Eye on Veterans
October 03, 2018 - 1:16 pm

Courtesy of Alpha Nerds Guild

Even back in the days of pong, video games were a communal activity, though that social aspect was somewhat limited in the Atari/Nintendo/Sega age. You had to go to an arcade, or have friends over to your house, to share in the 8-bit fun. These days, things are just a little bit different. You can play a game with someone on the other side of the world, using voice chat and see them via webcam. It's immensely popular, particularly with the 40-and-under crowd. 

That popularity seemed like an opportunity to John Burk, who had already built a large social media following and starred on Fox's reality show "American Grit." A lifelong gamer, the former Army Drill Sergeant started broadcasting on the Twitch platform with an eye towards creating a new revenue stream for his brand. During that process, he started a Facebook group called Alpha Nerds Guild to coincide with his foray into streaming his gameplay, but something unexpected happened. One night, shortly after the creation of the group, Burk and 4 others were chatting online as they played. Everyone had a great time but for one member it was something more, it was a lifeline.

"One dude even said he was on the brink of killing himself and he said this is what he needed," Burk said during an appearance on the Morning Briefing radio show. "It gave him a sense of purpose, a sense of community. I said 'this is nuts, let's look at this, let's elaborate on this, let's go further'... and then I just didn't feel right turning it into a brand." 

Instead, Burk took Alpha Nerds Guild down the non-profit road. Along with creating a community, one that's now 10,000 strong and growing, the group provides gaming consoles free of charge to some of the vets who join, specifically disabled vets and those diagnosed with PTSD. While the PS4's and Xbox One consoles are free, there are conditions that must be met to receive one. They have to be in the group for at least 2 months and be active in discussions and in helping their fellow members before a system is sent their way.

"Essentially, I'd love to just give the systems away but you're gonna have to earn it," said Burk. "I want to see how bad you want it, and I want to see how bad you need it, and I want to see you helping other people in the process." 

Along with the online aspects of the guild, there have also been meet-ups, including attending gaming conventions. Burk says he'd like to see more meet-ups, more members and just generally see the guild continue to grow in both size and impact. He's also quick to point out, if you've got a pulse, like games, and support vets, you should apply to join the guild, and join the fun. 

You can listen to the full interview with John Burk below. To listen later, click Share and select Download from the options.

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