Talking Disability, Street Fighter, And Defying The Odds With Chun-Li Champ BrolyLegs

by Javy Gwaltney on May 27, 2017 at 03:30 PM

Photo credit: Chris Bahn.

Mike Begum has made his name as one of the most notable Street Fighter players in the world, becoming the world's number-one ranked Chun-Li in Ultra Street Fighter IV and even being the subject of a documentary by Capcom. Begum, a.k.a. Brolylegs, has suffered from a disability since he was born that affects his muscle growth. As a result, he plays all of his games using only his mouth on the controller. Begum continues to play competitively and is renowned for his skill with fighting games.

We recently spoke with Begum about his disability, gaming, his love for Street Fighter, and what he thinks about the industry’s approach to accommodating disabled gamers.

This interview has been edited.

What is your disability? How long have you had it?
My disability is arthrogryposis. It is a muscle condition that limits its growth. I’ve had it since I was born. The muscles in my limbs didn’t grow to exactly how normal growth patterns are, so there is muscle but it’s very little. And so that stopped me from being able to grab things, to walk, to lift at a certain height or reach. My bones are also constricted. There’s also a spinal issue that’s kept me from being able to stand and stuff like that, so it’s been there since the very beginning.

How long have you played video games?
Since I was two years old, surprisingly enough. My parents bought me a Nintendo Entertainment System for my second birthday and my first game was Super Mario Brothers 3. The reason behind the purchase was because they wanted to see if I could work it with my disability. For a long time, I struggled with trying to figure out a way to access the controller. I finally put my wrist down on the d-pad and as long as I was in the center of the d-pad, I could press all four buttons there. I needed a way to stop the controller from moving because I was on the floor. I put my chin on the other two buttons and hold the controller down, and as long as the TV was on the ground or at least no taller than four feet high, I was able to game.

Games were something I was really into in the very beginning and it’s always been a part of my life. I’ve played nearly every system out there. The only ones I have trouble with are the PlayStation controllers because the sticks are lower than what I’m used to, but yeah, I’ve been gaming for a long time. I’m a fan of any genre. I don’t stick to fighting games only but right now fighting games have been the thing that has helped me go to places – traveling and meeting new people and other people with disabilities in the industry. So yeah, it’s been a really great thing for me to do with fighting games but I love all games.

How do you make your living?
I’m an author. I wrote a book called My Life Beyond The Floor. It’s an autobiography detailing what my disability is and how it affected me growing up, going to school and graduating. Also talks about the gaming side, too, how it helped me reach out to new people and how it got me into connecting with the outside world pretty much. Growing up, I always thought I’d be at home in a wheelchair and that’d be it and I couldn’t do things. But now I’m going to Vegas, Atlanta, San Francisco and all these major cities because of fighting games. I also do guest speaking at different places [about disabilities]. I’m also a tutor for Street Fighter. I get paid $18 an hour for that, got a couple of students signed up, and I’ve been doing it for a couple of years. I stream as well. I’m partnered on Twitch. I think I’ve been doing pretty well for myself.

What are some of your favorite fighting games?
Street Fighter is the number one game for me. I play Chun-Li, she fits my playstyle very well. I do like Mortal Kombat a lot. I play it every time a new one comes out, always have a fun time with it. Smash Bros. has always been a secret love of mine; the community knows me very well. I’ve been competing in that game since 2004, so it’s been a long ride with them and I always enjoy going to their tournaments and playing with them.

Basically any fighting games I can really get into. I love the challenge. When you think fighting games, you think of the technical challenge. You’ve got to do a lot of button inputs and such. I always want to challenge myself to do it even if I don’t have the hands or the placement to do it. It’s something I really like to do it. I enjoy playing these games just as much as everyone else.

One of the best things about fighting games is, in spite of the technical challenge, how accessible they are. Most of the time you can change the buttons the way you want. You can make this button do this move or map it to another button entirely, so it can be easier for me.

If it was a plain, straight button layout where I couldn’t change anything, I wouldn’t be able to play any of these games. Since all of this is interchangeable and I’m allowed to move actions around and do what I want to do that best complements my disability, that lets me play 100 percent. There’s some kind of hinders to “playing fully” without a personally customized controller, but for now, I’m happy with it. I can do as much as I can and compete with that, and that’s the most important thing for me: being able to compete.

How do you feel about how the industry is accommodating disabilities right now?
I think from a gamer standpoint, they’re doing a decent job. Games are starting to become more accessible and outside of fighting games now too they’re starting to let players customize controls. Like The Switch, for example. I can’t play with the Joy-Cons or in any of its other customizations, but the Pro Controller is a great backup [for disabled gamers]. "If you can’t do this, try it with this controller!”

I think the industry is doing a good job. Obviously, there could be more help, not with just physical disabilities but like eyesight or deafness. There are other disabilities out there that could be accommodated a lot better but the community is big and strong, and there are a lot of people out there who do work to customize controllers for disabled players with one hand or anything like that. All we want to do really is play. We just want to go out there and enjoy the games just like everyone else does and I think with Ablegamers and what they do, it’s a big help for us.

So yeah, there’s a decent job being done for accessibility. It could be improved and I think it will be throughout the upcoming years.

What’s it like competing as a disabled gamer?
It’s exhilarating, to be honest. My whole thing about it is I’ve always been a prideful person, always a competitive person. I credit a lot of that to growing up with my younger brother and we grew up playing video games together. We got to the point where we became really competitive in Smash Bros. Melee and went to tournaments together.

The thing that gets me the most is that I enjoy proving people wrong. I challenge people and I go to tournaments and people look at me, thinking “this is going to be an easy win,” and then I just prove them wrong and I beat them. I always aim to be the best I can. I don’t do it because I think it’s fun. I do it because I think I can win, because I think I’m one of the better players there. That’s always been my driving force: to be a competitor, to have those bragging rights, to say “I’m better than you.” It’s not about disrespect. It’s more of a pride thing for me.

A lot of people I know grew up wanting to be the best in something – chess or baseball or something physical. And I couldn’t do most of those things. This is something I can use to express myself that I can do with fighting games and getting to meet new people and connecting their lives to mine is great. I love it and I can’t believe I get to do it every year.

For more on disability, video games, and Brolylegs, be sure to check out my article "Gaming For All: How The Industry Is Striving To Accommodate Disabled Gamers" in the upcoming July issue of Game Informer.