Unsung Heroes is our series about the many members of the Fighting Game Community who work behind the scenes to make our community a vibrant, positive, exciting place to be. If you would like to submit your own Unsung Heroes, contact us here or @toptiergg.
If you see “TokiMeki” Emily Serrato at a tournament, your first thought will probably be: Oh, cool – that cosplay is fire. Your second thought might be: Wait a minute, she’s in a wheelchair, is she okay? But don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Serrato’s mission in life is to prove that anyone can be a threat, and if you’re not careful she’ll teach you that lesson firsthand.
Serrato was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that inhibits a person’s ability to control their muscles. The condition can express itself in a wide variety of ways – in Serrato’s case, it means being unable to walk or exert fine motor control with her hands for long stretches of time. For most people in the Fighting Game Community, returning to the character select screen between rounds is a way of gathering themselves mentally. For Serrato, it’s an opportunity to recover physically as well, allowing her hand spasms to subside.
Yet, for Serrato, this added challenge is important for its own sake. Her introduction to the genre was Street Fighter Alpha 3, which her brother recommended to her as a way to strengthen her hands. It was a wise suggestion on his part, because Serrato is the type of person who likes to face a challenge head-on. Her first competitive tournament, all those years after her brother introduced her to Alpha 3, wasn’t a local or an online event or even a regular major: it was Evo 2018, where she was so consumed by anxiety after her first-round loss that she forgot to set her buttons in her second match.
Luckily, Serrato doesn’t know how to quit. For her, combat has always been a form of therapy.
Emotional and Enlightening
Serrato’s main title (and the one she played at Evo 2018) is Tekken 7, in which she plays Lili, Asuka, Nina, and Ling Xiaoyu. Incredibly, she also wants to pick up Julia, Jin, Josie, and Panda. On top of that, Serrato also cosplays, which she describes as a way to “express my love of video games.” Citing Kitty Kaboom, Romanova, and VampyBitMe as her inspirations, Serrato says that her “experience cosplaying has been emotional and enlightening”: “Emotional because I’ve gained a following of lovely people and enlightening because I’ve been able to grow and become better at my hobby.”
Serrato attended Evo this year as well, cosplaying as a gender-bent version of Ken from Street Fighter V. “I had a lot of people tell me they thought I was inspiring,” she recalls. “For me, it’s pure happiness and joy to be recognized and appreciated by others for doing what I love.”
Anything is Possible
Serrato uses that positive feedback as fuel for a simple mission: transformation. Her handle, “TokiMekiEmily,” is a reference to the morphing devices in the Kamen Rider franchise, and that theme permeates her life in the FGC. As a player, she’s working on her nerves by attending Wednesday Night Fights with her boyfriend, with whom she shares a well-balanced fighting game relationship: “he beats me in SFV but I beat him in Tekken.” Her goal, she says, is to “make it out of pools and show others that anything is possible despite physical limitations or mental limitations.” Given her resiliency and drive, it’s inevitable that she’ll achieve this one day.
An even more ambitious goal of hers is to launch TokiMeki Gaming, which she envisions as “a crowdfunded sponsorship for disabled gamers to travel and experience the FGC.” Of course, disability is not foreign to the FGC. Michael “Brolylegs” Begum, who lives with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, was voted into the first US Street Fighter League. David “UltraDavid” Graham, a flagship commentator for Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, had his own competitive career cut short by an impinged nerve. And the community celebrated in 2017 when Sven “The Blind Warrior” van de Wege took a match in his pool at Sonic Boom IV.
This marks the FGC as an exception in a society that isn’t always supportive of people who live with physical or mental limitations. The National Council on Disability estimates that people who have disabilities make up over half of the population who live in long-term poverty – a situation that is surely not helped by the fact that many (around 228,000 according to the NCD) are employed at jobs that pay “subminimum wage.” These statistics clearly show the need for communities to create the opportunities that society at large is failing to provide. The TokiMeki Foundation may only be in its planning phases, but it has the potential to do just this: to ensure, in Serrato’s words, that “the desire and passion to grow and improve” (and not a mere accident of birth or circumstance) are what determine a person’s path in life.
Making a Difference
To learn more about Serrato’s story and her plans for the future, follow her on Twitter @TokiMekiEmily – and if you see her at an event, let her know that she’s right: “You don’t have to be a big name [to] make a difference in the FGC.”
I want to inspire others and I want to show you that you DON’T have to be:
A professional player
A sponsored player
A sponsored streamer
A cosplayer with 10K followers
You don’t have to be a big name make a difference in the FGC ❤ pic.twitter.com/l5qqPVrMgQ
— ⭐🌸Emily🌸⭐ (@TokiMekiEmily) September 13, 2019
Eli Horowitz (@BODIEDnovel) once cosplayed as Prince Peach at a friend’s wedding. (His wife was Lady Luigi.) A software professional who lives in Pittsburgh, Eli is a casual fighting game player and a not-at-all-casual writer who is looking to publish his novel about the FGC.