Online Gaming Helps Dodge County Hospice Patient Live Life to the Fullest

Rainbow Community Care Team
February 6, 2024 / 5 mins read

Online Gaming Helps Dodge County Hospice Patient Live Life to the Fullest

by Kenyon Kemnitz


Joe Schroeder is a self-described thrill seeker and daredevil who is always up for trying something new.

He enjoys being outdoors and loves going sailing, canoeing, scuba diving, hunting, and fishing. Joe also used to travel across the United States, racing dirt bikes.

“I’ve raced just about everything there is to race,” said Schroeder. “I did motocross and participated in desert racing quite a bit.”

Joe’s health has declined in recent years. After receiving palliative care on Rainbow Supportive Care Management for about a year, Joe transitioned to hospice last September.

Doing any extreme sports was now out of the question and he was forced to spend more time at home. That left him spiraling into depression and he didn’t feel like doing much.

“I didn’t want to live anymore,” Schroeder said. “I was sitting and staring at the floor thinking about dying and mentally going to a lot of bad places.”

Joe decided one day to watch some videos of someone streaming their online game play and soon found himself mesmerized by the gaming experience.

“Every day I was waiting for him to come online so I could watch him play and I decided I wanted to play too because I was already doing better just by watching him,” Schroeder said.


Joe purchased a gaming computer and the same guy he had been watching online happened to live only an hour away in Ripon, Wisconsin. He came down and set it up for Joe, introduced him to Steam, and helped him start an account. Steam is a platform and app for distributing video games online that lets you buy and install games, interact with other players, live stream your play, and has social media features and community message boards. There are thousands of games across over one million multiplayer servers, giving players a vast assortment of choices.

“You can play by yourself or with other people and anything you can think of there’s probably a game for it,” Schroeder said. “Anything from racing games, role-playing, survival, simulation, farming, and cooking. You can pretty much find something for everybody, without a doubt.”

All of this was new for Joe. He hadn’t played video games on any platform before and never owned a Nintendo or Xbox.

“The last game I owned before this had wood grain panels and twisting knobs,” Schroeder said.

But it didn’t take too long for him to get the hang of the technology. After experimenting with a few games, Joe got hooked on Rust, an online survival game.

“My ship is called the Black Pearl and I’m a pirate called Captain Big Baller,” Schroeder said. “I’m already feeling better just by turning it on.”

It allows Joe to escape into a different world, where he isn’t sick and doesn’t have to think about his terminal illness. Sometimes he even talks in a pirate voice when he’s playing and has a lot of fun in the game building, designing, and exploring new things.

“I consider myself to be an adrenaline junkie because I love that rush when I do crazy, fun stuff like jumping from way up in the air and parachuting down.” Schroeder said. “I get adrenaline rushes in this game all the time.”

His face and eyes light up when he’s explaining everything he’s done in the game and what he’s looking to do next. Hours can pass by with his eyes locked on the screen.


“It does so much for me, and I laugh until I cry,” Schroeder said. “If I don’t laugh until my eyes are watering, it’s a bad day. When people come here and visit, I’ll be all bummed, and then I’ll start playing the game and I’ll be all smiles.”

“When I come to visit, I tell him to show me something in his game, and his whole mood changes then,” said Rainbow Hospice Care Social Worker Catie Hunter. “You feel his joy and excitement and I always wonder what he’s going to show me next.”

Joe has now formed new friendships with people from all over the world. His friend, Shane, from Ripon visits him almost every weekend. His first mate on his ship, nicknamed Mad Mountain Mike, from Canada, talks to Joe multiple times a day by either chat or through the microphone. They spend a lot of time playing together and he even checks in to see how Joe is doing each day. They’ve become such good friends that Mike is now one of Joe’s emergency contacts.

“We’ve been running together for four months now as a team,” said Mike. “He admits how much this has meant to him and changed his life. He was an electrical engineer and industrial craftsman and now he’s an online gamer, and his persona is Captain Eli Petty on Rust now.”

Joe’s last job was with the Medical College of Wisconsin and prior to that he worked in every state except Alaska with cable and telephone lines.

“I worked under the sea to up on a pole in the sky and everywhere in between,” Schroeder said.

Patients who were once cooks, farmers, or truckers, for example, can rediscover their past with some of the gaming choices.

“If you got a retired long-haul trucker, they could drive the same roads in North America or Europe that they did their whole life,” Mike said. “Or maybe it’s a farmer and he can use the same tractor for crop rotation.”

Kate Trapp, Rainbow Hospice Care’s RN Case Manager for Northern Dodge County, thinks gaming could benefit other patients who are struggling at end-of-life and those who have dementia.

“Joe has taught me a lot about it, and I can share that experience with my other patients and spread the word about how it can help them,” Trapp said. “Old memories are still so intact for some people with dementia that a gaming system could help them because they remember their past and remember their jobs.”

Joe still has his good days and bad days, but now he gets excited about waking up in the morning. Gaming and Rust have provided him with the emotional outlet that he needed to live his life again.

“It just saved my life,” Schroeder said. “It’s unbelievable and I know other guys on here that it saved their lives too. A lot of people need that alternate reality. I get so lost that I forget that I’m in the game. It’s so real.”

When Joe passes away, he hopes someone else can benefit from having a gaming computer like him. He knows they’re quite expensive and can run over a thousand dollars. In his will, plans are in place to donate his computer to another person so they can have the same experience he did, especially if that person has depression, or anxiety, and can improve their quality of life.

“My computer will go to Shane, and he is going to find somebody that’s in my boat and help them,” Schroeder said. “It will float from one person who needs it and then it will go to the next person.”

“I’m confident this would help a lot of people,” Schroeder said. “There are so many choices. You type in your interest and tons of games will pop up. When I go to bed, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do in the game when I get up.”