Pondering the revolution

Three weeks ago I bought a Sony PlayStation 2.

I made the purchase with misgivings.  I left it in the closet while I wrestled between the desire for our family to have a cooler gaming system than Nintendo Gamecube and the shame of gross consumption with the potential of violent behavior.  I had visions of my children screaming in the car, “10 points for the old lady,” of flunking all their classes, wearing floor length cloaks and calling each other names like “Orthian the Warrior Warlock.” I struggled to accept that my “Mario Party” boys were finally becoming “Final Fantasy” men.  

Then I realized that the PlayStation 2 did not need to be about the children at all, I could present it as a gift, enjoy the momentary accolades, and then monopolize it myself.  The answer to my dilemma was the discovery of the most amazing game: “Dance, Dance Revolution.”

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For the one or two people in the universe (other than me up to last week) who have not seen this game, players stand on a floor mat with arrows printed on each side of the square.  The TV screen scrolls corresponding arrows that combine into dance steps.  Music blares, anime characters gyrate and the virtual crowd either cheers or boos.  Players are scored and graded on how well their feet hit the arrows on the mat in time with the arrows on the screen.  It is cartoon Arthur Murray with a Japanese hip hop soundtrack.  And it is as addicting as heroin.

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I play all the time.  I find myself nagging people to get dinner-homework-cleaning done quickly so I can dance.  I rush home from work to dance.  I stay up too late to dance.  In quieter moments, when I am waiting to dance, I think of everything I am learning about life from “Dance, Dance Revolution” now that it has become my life.  I decided to start keeping a journal of my DDR musings and meditations–collected here with summarizing titles.

Resiliency vs. a good grade

Some people will be doing fine, hitting all the steps with “great” or “perfect” accuracy, but inevitably the pug will start chewing on their socks or their mind will wander for a minute and they will miss.  They will see a “boo” or an “almost” on the screen.  If they miss enough, their lifeline will start to fade and they will hear jeers from the virtual audience.  Some players refocus and get back in groove; others will just step off the mat and give up.  If they can’t get the highest grade they don’t want to play anymore in that round.  Their lifeline runs out and they are buzzed off—“failed.”  They would rather quit than receive a grade lower than “B.”  

Rules and creativity

Beginners look ridiculously stilted—staring religiously at the screen, arms stiff, biting their tongue tip, feet clomping back and forth like a marionette.  But then, after the seventy third time dancing to the same song, something magical happens.   Arms start to swing in time, fingers get jazzy, hip bones jut east and west and suddenly it starts to look like real dancing.  From a distance (pretending you can’t see the 3×3 mat) each player seems to enact a unique, personal expression and certainly not a slavish imitation of an impossibly long legged animated girl in hot pants and go-go boots. 

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Practice makes perfect

One of those dumb saying you hear as a kid, in most activities practice just makes you tired.  But in DDR it really works.  Rote and repetition increase your scores and you get new songs the more they play. 


Why music covered by Japanese girl bands is strangely compelling

Somewhere in my memory I vaguely recognize the tunes as familiar.  Pop or club or Muzak sung in either another language or randomly assorted English words.  Concentrating intently, trying to guess what the root song might have once sounded like, I actually perform better, able to block out all distractions, hoping there might be clues to the mystery in the arrow arrangement.  It is the odd mix of same and yet oh so different that engages me.  The search continues as my dreams will be punctuated by high-pitched yeah, yeah, yeahs for the rest of my life.   


Letting go of the center

I still bring my feet to the center square of the mat between each step.  But better players have learned that they can dance smoother, faster and more accurate by never going back to the center.  Instead, they move their feet from edge to edge as directed, replacing the marching with a fluid, rocking motion. The more responses become intuitive, reacting to some deep communication between eyes and feet, omitting the cerebral cortex completely, the more natural the dancing becomes. 

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I should note that I was never much of a dancer when I was younger.  Never took ballet classes, never wore a sparkly leotard or tap shoes.  I was bookish and walked around in my body like it was the shell of a mollusk.  Now as a grown-up, I buy a machine meant as a rite of passage, only to push aside the kids to prove my own agility, if not with always with movement, then perhaps metaphor.  I chat about my observations, drawing brilliant conclusions until it is my turn.  Then as the music starts again, my thoughts are forgotten, and I bounce with anticipation on the balls of my feet, waiting for the cartoon girl to give me my cue.  

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6 responses to “Pondering the revolution”

  1. ssw says:

    I totally groove to play that funky music because it’s really um..easy…and slow…i actually get the illusion of feeling competent. now i know what we’re going to do together on our next visit ;)

  2. Robyn says:

    Damn, I feel like one of the only people on earth who hasn’t been won over by DDR (my brother used to own the game and pad, but sold it because no one in my house felt like using it). It’s gotta be the best way to make anyone dance/move around a bit who wouldn’t normally want to, which tells me there is no hope in getting me out of my chair.

    …Maybe I had to play it 73 times?

    If you get the chance, you should watch really good dancers (well, at least with a DDR pad) play the game. It’s scary and makes everyone else feel vastly inferior. Also, check out this video that proves students at Cornell have too much time on their hands and that the DDR club is…insane. (It’s really funny.)

    Not that this is a similar game, but I could get addicted to Taiko Drum Master. You just have to flail your arms around a lot, but the music is less scary and the characters are a million times cuter.

  3. Missy says:

    Yay for a PB post! All week I had a craving to read something from you. This didn’t disappoint.

  4. ssw says:

    Robyn, that video *was* funny and a welcome break mid-day. I second missy–yeah for PB

  5. ann neighbor says:

    i have finally read all of your posts. brilliant. so round and exploratory. vivid, funny, articulate. you manage to give your opinions in such a humble way. i love it.
    re: DDR. the worst is when you get one of those songs stuck in your head. the chipmunky, anime version – not the original. and yes, you do like it – in an otherwordly way. you can’t listen to that stuff in reality – but once you get yo feet on that grid – the sky is the limit.

  6. Anonymous says:

    1 air force gucci…