When he was 17 years old, Dennis’ life changed completely from moment to another. He was an avid mountain bike rider until he injured himself severely. The accident made him a quadriplegic, meaning that he’s paralyzed from the neck down and can’t use his legs or arms.
After a long stay in the hospital, Dennis decided that it’s no use to focus on the things he can’t do anymore and rather focus on the things that he’d still be able to do. And the accident sure as hell wouldn’t stop him from pursuing one of his most beloved hobbies: gaming.
Aerials and awesome Flicks
Nowadays he calls himself Wheely, is still a notorious gamer, and he just started streaming on Twitch. While one might think that the 31-year-old Wheely, who comes from the western parts of Germany, plays mainly turn-based games which don’t require a lot of motoric reaction, he’s out there playing Rocket League. With the help of a special controller, called the Quadstick, he’s able to control the car, do Aerials, awesome Flicks and all other maneuvers that Rocket League fans are familiar with.
When we first came across Wheely’s Twitch channel we were not only surprised, but highly impressed by his gameplay as well as his sense of dark humour. So we decided to reach out to this inspiring German gamer for an interview and have him tell us his story.
Wheely, how long has it been since the accident that changed your life?
Well, that was the summer of 2005, so 13 years already.
Browsing through your web page and seeing you on stream gave me the feeling that you’ve actually established some sort of humour regarding your condition. But I can easily imagine that it took you some time to be able to crack jokes, right?
Sure, after the accident I was in the hospital for 11 months, and of course there were moments where I just thought: “Screw it all” and “I can’t deal with that”, but those moments were rare. Even in the hospital I was already thinking about the things I would still be able to do instead of focussing on what I wouldn’t be able to do any longer. And after a while you realize that with the right devices you can do a lot more than you think. You get to know other people with the same handicap, who possibly have suffered from similar accidents and you learn from them and the things they do in there life, and you discover the devices or tools they use to get by.
“You can do a lot more than you think”
Have you been a gamer even before the accident or was that something that you resorted to after it happened?
I have always been a gamer. Truth be told: In the years before the accident not so much, as I was spending basically any free minute on my bike. But there have always been time spans in my life where I’d just play for days on end. I started with the first Game Boy, then came the C64, the first Playstation and all Nintendo consoles.
What was the first game you picked up after the accident?
Uh, I don’t recall. To me it was just important to play anything at all and that I’d still be able to pursue that hobby in some way. Before I found the Quadstick, which opened a lot of possibilities as far as gaming goes, I played a lot of Point-and-Click Adventures. Mainly the ones from Daedalic (editor’s note: German game developer studio, which is famous for its Adventure games). These games really kept me alive and I played basically the whole repertoire. “Edna & Harvey: The Breakout” was probably one of the first ones.
“It was just important to play anything at all”
You just mentioned your controller, the Quadstick. I’m looking at an image of it right now, but I have no idea how it’s supposed to work.
You have a joystick as well as these three holes. You can suck and blow in these holes to trigger the necessary buttons. Then you set up a profile for every game you play. You can basically define which in-game function the sensor should trigger and also define combinations of them. There are many options regarding the pressure strength, so you can have more than one action put on one of those holes.
So you have to create a different profile for each game you play?
Exactly. For example with Rocket League I have defined that the Boost is activated if I blow into the middle hole. If I suck on the middle hole and the right hole simultaneously I switch the ball camera and so forth.
For how long have you been using the Quadstick?
Two years, maybe even a bit longer. I got in touch with the Quadstick after I went to an exhibition about rehabilitation training and met someone who was familiar with it and thought that this might be interesting for me.
“There are no limits in general”
Which games are you able to play with the Quadstick?
Any game, really. I have a complete mouse sensor, keyboard commands, can simulate every button. The controller is compatible with Playstation, Xbox and Switch as well, so there are no limits in general. Of course there are certain games that are a lot harder for me to play, for example games that require both analog sticks on a controller. Setting up such a profile for the Quadstick is a bit tricky but not impossible.
If I picture myself blowing into the controller for a longer amount of time, I can easily imagine that you can get a headache from that. Or is that just a practice issue?
Nah, that works. Plus: You can also toggle commands. For example: If I want to run in Watch Dogs I don’t have to blow all the time, but can also just blow once and then the command is triggered until I blow again. In the end it all comes down to practice.
“Rocket League is more than just racing and kicking the ball around”
Okay, so let’s talk about Rocket League, a game that you play a lot right now. How did you get into Rocket League?
I used to play it early on, but just for fun. Recently I started to dive into Ranked Play and have been practicing Aerials and Boardshots a lot. Rocket League has me hooked for a couple of months now. Actually, I don’t recall how I first came across it. I guess it went the usual way: I saw it on Steam, watched someone play it, all of a sudden it was on sale and I got it. I always liked games with cars. And kicking the ball around sounded like fun too. However, after a couple of weeks I realized that Rocket League is a bit more than just racing and kicking the ball around.
You mentioned that you just dived into Ranked games. How has your performance been so far?
I can keep up. Of course there are matches where I just look stupid, but everybody has those. There are also a lot of matches where I show my opponent who’s boss. Considering that I played Rocket League for only 200 hours so far, I’m quite happy with my performance.
“More fun with friends”
Do you have regular teammates or just stick with randoms?
I have a couple of players that I often team up with. I used to play games just by myself, sometimes not even online, but that has changed a lot recently since I’ve realized that there are also a lot of cool people out there. I met my regular teammate and streaming partner at an exhibition where people could play Rocket League against me up on the stage. We got to know each other, stayed in touch and nowadays we play a lot together. Rocket League is way more fun if you play it together with friends.
You just mentioned your stream. Over at Twitch you show people your skill. What was the reason you picked up streaming in the first place?
At first I started to create a few YouTube videos, but then I realized that it would be a lot more fun for people to see me through a face cam, so that they can actually get an understanding of what I’m doing and how this works. When you write in a video description about your handicap, people might not even believe you, so I wanted to show them. I bought a webcam, built a setup and now I’m having a lot of fun with it. I try to stream as often as possible, but since I also have a full-time job as an online editor it’s kinda hard to stream regularly.
“Many people are just baffled”
How has the feedback been so far?
Great. Many people are just baffled. The most common question is: “How do you do that?”
I love it if people say that I pull off maneuvers they aren’t able to do with their controller. I mean, sure, I am not on Grand Champion level or anything, but I’m not an amateur either and it’s nice that the community recognizes that. Many are also interested in joining my games, so sometimes we open up a lobby and play together. That’s something I intend to do more in the future.
What’s the toughest part for you in Rocket League right now? What are you currently practicing?
I find it tricky to get off the wall and into an Aerial, steering the ball with the nose of the car through the air. That’s a very tricky move for, because I have to blow but without moving the joystick.