New Lease Of Life Through Gaming


Flight Lieutenant Nathan Nguyen was told he may never walk again after a workplace accident in 2017 caused a stroke.

With rehab and support from his family, in 2018 he completed his goal of walking 2.5km in the inaugural Steps for Stroke at RAAF Base Edinburgh and returned to work full time.

Before his injury, he was an avid Xbox and tabletop gamer, but significant weakness and a non-functioning left hand limited a return to his favourite hobbies.

Flight Lieutenant Nguyen’s wife Kerri-Anne reached out to Veteran Gaming Australia (VGA), a charity that uses gaming and geek culture to bolster the mental health of Defence members and veterans.

They provided a care package containing a Nintendo Switch, with games and controllers, because it was the most accessible game console at the time.

“Gaming was something that I’d basically given up on. Being able to reconnect with this old pastime was something I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do again,” Flight Lieutenant Nguyen said.

“My son is at the age where he can get into gaming, so being able to introduce my son to it as well; it’s very touching that VGA chose me.”

The idea for Veteran Gaming Australia came to founder and CEO, Army veteran Sam Harris, while he was recovering from a severe neck injury.

“I was pretty much wheelchair bound. It took me about a year to learn to walk again, so I couldn’t get to base to be with my mates,” Mr Harris said.

“For the physical recovery, using VR and a Nintendo Ring Fit helped, but those social connections throughout, just jumping on games with mates was really good.”

What started as a way to organise games with his mates has grown to a community of more than 4200 veteran and current serving members, which also attained charitable status in 2021.

The group holds online social nights, organises gaming tournaments and competes in eSports and simulated racing under the Veteran Gaming Australia banner.

They also have a group dedicated to advice for interacting with the Department of Veterans Affairs to help members discharging or applying for payments.

Chaplain Tom Killingbeck had been involved with Veteran Gaming Australia since the beginning and said the opportunity to connect was important.

“When transitions happen and people move from serving to not serving for whatever reason, all of a sudden there’s this break – what then?” he said.

“I’m 100 per cent sold on the idea that community is one of the most important safeguards or protective factors against things like suicide and self-harm.”

While he doesn’t use it directly in his work, Chaplain Killingbeck said gaming with people can help them open up, which can lead to getting the help they may need.

“The more that we are belonging, the better off we are in terms of our mental health. So that drives my engagement with Veteran Gaming Australia because I think they do it fantastically,” he said.

The charity wants to expand its social gaming hubs in veteran’s welfare centres and Defence establishments, including plans for a hub at RAAF Edinburgh Resilience and Transition Centre.

They have large table-top and role-playing groups, a 3D-printing community and run miniature printing and painting sessions in hospitals and welfare centres.

Veteran Gaming Australia provides financial support through its care package and Air Assault program, and all-expenses paid trips to gaming conventions or competitions for injured or ill members.

To find out more about Veteran Gaming Australia visit their website or join the community at

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