I’ve always taken for granted my ability to play video games without much difficulty; it’s something I’ve done almost daily since age four. That was until I suffered a work related accident during the spring of 2008. I severed my middle finger tip. I received several stitches, lost almost all feeling and mobility in the finger, and to make matters worse my left hand was heavily bandaged to prevent movement or premature use. For the first time in my life I realized that I couldn’t do the one thing I enjoyed most: play video games. Barely being able to hold a controller–and the difficulty and pain that came when I tried–was frustrating. I remember sitting in front of my television feeling conquered, with tears running down my face, finally appreciating the one thing I took for granted.
Prior to Evo 2011, I was oblivious to the disabled gaming community. A player by the name of Mike Begum, better known as “BrolyLegs” to the fighting game community, was on stream using Chun-li. Anyone familiar with the Street Fighter franchise understands that Chun-li isn’t the easiest character to use, that being said, Mike was making it look easy.
Truly respectable and inspiring.
Broly was born with arthrogryposis, a disease that affects the joints leading to muscular weakness and in many cases fibrosis. Playing any game imposes a physical challenge and is nearly impossible for someone with this disease. Yet, there I was watching Broly not only play Street Fighter using part of his hand along with his tongue and cheek, but perform formidably against Daigo “The Beast” Umehara who is considered the best Street Fighter player in the world. He later explained in an interview that he controls Chun-li using options selects, a very technical maneuver that allows the character to perform two moves at once, but only the best outcome happens. Mike isn’t just an amazing gamers (he’s also considered a top Super Smash Bros. gamer in Texas), but an amazing guy who’s known to joke about several things including the irony of his condition and character choice (he can’t use his legs, but uses a character who primarily uses her legs). You don’t feel sorry for him when he plays; instead you’re inspired by his ability to unleash flurries and advanced combos with an Xbox 360 controller.
There’s an entire gaming demographic deemed insufficient and unprofitable by major peripherals manufactures. This hasn’t stopped individuals from providing disabled gamers with the tools needed to enjoy their hobby. Ken Yankelevitz has made controllers for quadriplegic gamers for nearly thirty years. He began during the Atari era and has continued his work throughout the years selling the custom controllers at a reasonable price. A commendable endeavor. His site shows pictures of the controllers in use and a few testimonials.
Sadly, not all games are playable or accessible to certain disabled gamers, which makes sense as there is a wide variety of disabilities. Luckily, there are sites that exist with sole purpose of rating games based on their accessibility. Game-accessibility.com does a tremendous job of explaining how different genres cater to auditory, visual, physical, and learning disabilities. Ablegamers.com takes it a bit further and actually reviews each game based on its accessibility for each demographic, and the site is completely non-profit making their efforts much more amazing.
Developers have also taken strides to ensure that their games are accessible. Visceral Games, the developers behind Dead Space 2, did something commendable. The developer took the time to patch in custom button mapping for the PC version of its critically acclaimed game, after they came upon a disabled gamer’s petition. The same occurred earlier in the year when Legend of Grimrock creator Häkkinen added arrow key controls to his game after one disabled gamer explained his situation.
Mike Begum is only one of thousands that face these issues every day, but it’s his determination that’s impressive. Developers and manufacturers need to recognize this gaming demographic that’s usually looked over or forgotten. Yes, the gaming community is brutal at times, but it’s also a community that sticks together and helps its fellow gamer. If you’re wondering what you can do to contribute to the cause, you can head over to petition online and sign a petition which urges developers to add fully customizable button configurations. Or you could head over to ablegamers.com and donate.
My finger has never recovered its full mobility; it’s especially evident when I play PC shooters with a keyboard. I can’t move it as quickly as my other digits and when typing it’s nearly unusable. I even had to re-teach myself how to use an arcade stick. But after researching the struggles that some gamers face I’m inspired. And proud of the gaming community.