Texan plays video games without use of hands

April 19, 2011 at 7:01 a.m.
Updated April 18, 2011 at 11:19 p.m.

MCALLEN, Texas (AP) - With the power and intensity of a Chinese warrior, Mike "Broly" Begum fought his opponent to the death.

A flurry of kicks and power punches left his enemy bloodied and motionless.

But it wasn't over yet. It was time for round two. As his adversary frantically attacked with a series of combinations, Begum quickly defeated him once more. Round after round, Begum clobbered his opponent.

The 22-year-old has become a master at "Super Street Fighter 4," a video game that pits various bone-crushing fighters against each other. The game has made Begum a popular attraction at tournaments across the state. But it isn't just his gaming skills that draw a crowd - it's the way he holds his controller. Begum doesn't use his fingers to annihilate his adversaries - he uses his chin, tongue and cheek.

Begum suffers from a rare condition called arthrogryposis, a disease that causes stiff and abnormal joints at birth, which left him without the full use of his legs or hands. However, the debilitating illness hasn't stopped Begum from becoming one of the top gamers in the state. Last week, he placed fifth at the NE1 gaming center tournament in McAllen.

"I think I'm getting there, I just think I need a little more practice" Begum said. "Once I do that I think I can break the top five."

His fighter of choice is the voluptuous Chun-Li. Her flexibility allows Begum to use specific combinations to execute certain moves he cannot normally do with other characters.

The gaming community only knows him as "Broly," the powerful Dragon Ball Z character. Begum used the name Broly in his very first tournament, and since then, it's become his identity.

"(Broly in Dragon Ball Z) was strong, tough and fierce and his physical features were the direct opposite of me," Begum said. "But in my mind, that's how I envisioned myself as a competitor."

Josie Auten will never forget the fateful day she was told her son was destined to be different. The young mother-to-be was living in Tampa, Fla., and eight months pregnant.

"We owned an auto repair shop, and this German lady came into the shop with her Volvo," Auten recalls. "She just kind of touched my stomach and said 'I don't want to alarm you but you're going to have a special child.'"

The stranger predicted her son would be born with complications, but assured her the baby would grow up to be a respected figure.

"At that time, it meant nothing to me, but two weeks later, (my son) was born and it was very devastating. He couldn't do very much . . . he could roll but he couldn't sit up or stand up or raise his arms," Auten said.

At first, she was baffled by the condition, but after she sought the help of several geneticists and specialists, Begum was diagnosed with arthrogryposis.

"It was basically the brain didn't tell the muscles to grow," Auten said.

The disease only affects one to three children in every 10,000, according to the Children's Hospital in Boston.

Begum has very limited use of his limbs - he can only move by rolling. It wasn't until his late father constructed a special chair that he could move freely and comfortably - something Broly remains eternally grateful for.

But even though the gaming expert is mobile, he still requires assistance for everyday tasks like showering and getting up off the floor. His mother said it takes three people to lift him off the ground.

The supportive mother becomes emotional when she talks about her son.

"He's amazing for what he goes through every day, and we tend to forget that. We seem to complain about walking out to get the mail but to watch this young man go through life's struggles just to get in the shower," Auten said through tears, "It's humiliating to complain about anything."

When Begum turned 2, his parents gave him a gift that would change his life forever: a Nintendo.

"I started with 'Super Mario Bros. 3,'" Begum said. "I used my finger on the control pad and used my face for the buttons . I was able to play the game and was surprised I was actually able to beat some games."

After his success with his first Nintendo, Begum was motivated to see what else he could master. He began to adapt to different controllers on different gaming consoles.

"It wasn't like I was going to play basketball or football." Begum said. "It was a good thing I found video games because it really helped me grow up, learn in school, and it helped me use my mind and gave me something to do instead of sitting at home, looking outside and watching other people play."

Begum uses his cheek for each device's joy stick and his tongue to push buttons through the bottom of his mouth.

He has been able to use the method on a variety of controllers including the GameCube and the Xbox, but he still hopes someone will create a controller that would better fit his needs.

"Right now, I'm looking for someone to make me a custom remote that will give me all the buttons I need to play the games," Begum said, "That could really help."

The gaming community has been supportive of Begum's gaming.

He admits many are often taken aback by his rare condition and remarkable abilities, but he's made many friends - some who have even set up a fundraiser to send Begum to the EVO World Finals, a worldwide fighting game tournament in Las Vegas. They've set up a PayPal account where donations can be made to fund his trip to compete in the "Super Street Fighter 4" tournament. The page has been inundated with comments, such as "you're an inspiration" and "you rock."

For now, the Rivera High School graduate is majoring in business at the University of Texas-Brownsville. He takes his courses online - with the help of a chopstick, which he uses to press each key on his home computer.

"He's the fastest typist in the house," Auten said. "Sometimes you have to give him a little massage on the neck, because it's all in the neck - that's all he moves."

With only 18 hours left to complete his bachelor's degree, Begum said his dream is to open up his own gaming center where people like him can play.

"Gaming has allowed me to go farther than I ever thought I would go. Gaming has lifted me up and helped me take another look at life - it's a positive look," Begum said. "Maybe I'm not winning every tournament or being the best that there is, but as long as I'm having fun and as long as I'm able to help people see me and let them think 'Hey this guy can do it, why can't I be good just like him? I have no excuse if he's there.' then that's why I want to compete."


Information from: The Monitor, http://www.themonitor.com



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