Rocky Stoutenburgh was unlucky. 11 years ago, when he was 19, he caught a nasty fall and landed in just the wrong way, severely dislocating two of his thoracic vertebrae and severing his spinal cord. The incident left him paralyzed from the neck down. Today, Rocky can hardly roll his shoulders. But remarkably, he continues to game despite his quadriplegia and streams regularly on Twitch. He racks up and in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on a weekly basis and also enjoys games like For Honor and Rocket League. But getting back to the point where he could play comfortably and confidently wasn’t easy.
Relearning to play
Although Rocky was only hospitalized for a short time, he didn’t return to gaming for several years after his injury. He was preoccupied with adjusting to his condition, and there weren’t a lot of great options available for disabled gamers at the time. Then he heard about a controller designed for quadriplegics.
“My brother found a website for a gaming controller. And I kept telling him no, but then after a while we bought it and tried it out,” Rocky says. “I think I played Call of Duty and Halo Wars with it, and then I just started playing other games. The first model wasn’t a great model. It would fall apart a lot and break. After about five years, I just quit playing video games because they all broke. But then a new model came out and I started playing again.”
Rocky games on a mouth-operated device called a . Originally prototyped by under the name QuadControl, the controller was later picked up by designer Fred Davison. Davison rebranded the controller and, after a successful , launched production in 2014.
“There’s three holes on it that you can sip on or puff into,” Rocky explains. “Or you can sip on two holes at the same time, or all three at the same time. There’s all kinds of different combinations; you just have to pick what button you want at that particular time. And then there’s a button underneath that you can press with your lips.”
Rocky plays on the FPS QuadStick model, which boasts additional sensors and a stiffer joystick compared to the basic model, designed for less twitch-based gaming. Critically, the FPS model also comes with remapping software which allows users to create universal controller layouts—one for first-person shooters, one for RPGs, one for card games and so on—and then tweak them to each game. For instance, puffing on the right nozzle might be ‘melee’ for Doom but ‘health potion’ for Dishonored.
Slow-paced genres like adventure games and turn-based RPGs “where you can take your time” are easiest to play with a QuadStick, Rocky says. In fact, many QuadStick players rarely touch shooters and multiplayer games due to how demanding they can be. It’s a wonder, then, that Rocky is able to play a game like PUBG so well.
“PUBG was probably the hardest game,” he says. “It took me about three days to make a layout. I use literally every button you have, and there’s some stuff I can’t even do. I can’t switch car seats. With stuff like that, I ran out of options.(opens in new tab)
“In order to crouch, I sip on the left and middle hole. There’s a tube on the side of it that I rarely use for anything, and I puff on that to go prone. To shoot, I just blow into the center hole. That’s the quickest button to use so I use that for shooting. To run, I have it so it’s one analog—move and aim at the same time. That’s how I run around. If I sip, I can switch it to where my analog becomes a mouse, and if I sip again, it moves like strafing. And I [can aim] because it swivels on a camera mount.
“I would say that using it’s not difficult, it’s just memorizing and adapting to every game. It’s easy to use once you know how to use it. It’s almost like any other game: you start, you look at the controls, you keep pausing it and looking. You just have to do that a lot more than normal.”
A no-armed contender
Rocky was a diehard Xbox gamer for years and only recently made the jump to PC, which he finds to be a much easier platform for disabled gamers. Playing on PC lets him skip the USB plug-in required to use a QuadStick on Xbox One and PS4, for one, and also makes input remapping much easier. Even so, he sees room for improvement. Native QuadStick recognition would be a great start, he says, as opposed to programs which emulate conventional controllers.
In January of this year, Rocky started streaming on Twitch under the name . He also uploads his stream highlights to . For him, it’s not only a great way to socialize, but also a way to show that disabled gamers can play competitively.
“I’ve had a couple people come in my stream that have been unpleasant, but most people are nice,” he says. “It gives me something to do everyday. It gives me a way to meet people and make new friends over the Internet. Some people live close by and I’ll go meet them and hang out. There’s actually a lot more disabled gamers than I thought that stream or are on YouTube. Some of them have different types of devices, a couple use the same thing I use. I’m just the best in the world at it!"(opens in new tab)
After watching Rocky play live, I have a hard time arguing with him being the world’s best QuadStick player. It’s always incredible and inspiring to hear stories of disabled gamers finding , but on the high-stakes stage of a game like PUBG, it’s especially striking.
“A lot of them don’t play games like PUBG, games where you have to play against other people. For people trying to play really competitive games, I would say, be patient with it," Rocky advised. "You’ve got to know your limitations. You can’t just run in there like you’re going to win every battle. You have to understand that you’re playing with a little bit of a handicap compared to other people. But practice makes perfect.”
Rocky’s streams are all the more impressive considering his ongoing treatment. His weeks are filled with physical therapy and treatment for his blood disorder. He has another surgery coming up to have his gallbladder removed. But he always makes time to stream, whooping and hollering "got 'em" as he racks up kills.
“People don’t really know much about gaming with a disability,” Rocky says. “People don’t even think that it’s possible that I play with my mouth, so they’re really amazed with how well I do. I think that’s why a lot of people watch me. I play the competitive games but I also do well.”