I might not look it, but I’m pretty good at Dance Dance Revolution. I know this might seem unlikely, especially for those of you who have seen me. I’m 6’3”, 280 pounds, and as gangly and uncoordinated as they come. I very much think my parents rolled a 4 or 5 for my DEX score. My life is a game of pinball, where I am the ball. When I was 6, my mom was walking me to school, and I somehow managed to fall off a curb and embed my teeth (and several ounces of gravel) into my lower lip while holding her hand. I was not built for physical activity.
Despite this, I have somehow managed to survive 20 years of karate training. I have no illusions that I have somehow become more coordinated as a result of this; to wit, my sparring partners facing me described as “an angry jungle made of arms and legs” or (as my BFF/dojo-mate Dante from Stupid Ranger puts it so eloquently) “like fighting a giant bag that contains kittens, hundreds of elbows, and also some musk”. I’ve also been told I am very fast for someone my size. This is great, at best. The other 99% of the time it just means I have hurled myself and my tentacles at my opponent at terrifying speed and nobody knows what is about to happen.
My first exposure to dance-genre gaming was a PSX title called Bust A Groove. Well, I thought it was, anyway. Bust A Groove was played with a controller just like everything else. Dance Dance Revolution is not – it is usually played on a dance pad, where you step on arrows in time to the music. When I first played DDR, I just thought it was some variant of Bust A Groove, so I tried it with a controller (the arrows are mapped to the D-pad) and I was astounded at how quickly I became overwhelmed as soon as I ventured beyond easy. I became far more overwhelmed once somebody brought over a dance pad. Everyone who tried it was reduced to giggles as they proceeded to make a fool of themselves and we all would quit after awhile after getting frustrated.
I really don’t know why my roommate Ryan and I kept playing as long as we did. At first, we’d go to our friend’s dorm room who had the dance pads to play every day. It wasn’t too long before we were at the arcade a couple times a week, dropping $10 on the arcade machine and its FAR superior dance surface (the plastic dance mats are not even remotely capable of handling someone of my mass – I have destroyed a good half-dozen of them). It became a ritual, and we kept at it for months. Soon, we started playing progressively more difficult songs, eventually working ourselves up to 8 or 9 foot (very hard) songs. I’ll never forget the day we finished a song and noticed we had drawn a crowd of 12 year old girls who then clapped and cheered. I almost wept. With joy.
It’s important to note at this point that when I play DDR, just like everything else I do, a flailing mass of arms and legs somehow makes it happen. It is not a pretty sight. Additionally, a peculiar thing happens to me when I start getting too tired playing DDR – my core muscles loosen and my top and bottom half become independent of each other. Then, two things happen. First, my arms retract until I am holding them as a T-Rex might. Second, my dancing begins to resemble that of a drunken pirate. The “Pirate Dance”, as it became known, is basically my DDR equivalent to Ultraman’s chest-light beginning to flash. I only had a few more songs left before my superpowers fade (and I risk crashing headfirst through the screen).
With the amount of money I was dropping at the arcade every week, I decided it made financial sense to pick up a Cobalt Flux pad. Made of metal and fiberglass and not quite as sturdy as an arcade machine, but about $4,000 cheaper, these could withstand my might. Still, they weren’t cheap at about $300. As it happened, I found a friend willing to sell me one for a bit less, and for a few days it was DDR paradise at my apartment. Then a funny thing happened.
We stopped playing DDR. Almost entirely.
To this day, I have no idea why we stopped. Several years, a marriage, and a house later, my wife and I decided it might be fun to work out to DDR together, so I bought another Cobalt Flux pad. I still have both of them. After another week of DDR paradise, they’ve been used exactly once, at a party I threw when (after what I believe may have been some sort of intoxicating beverage) I showed everyone that yes, I can in fact play Double Mode. I have no clue what to do with them. (Best plan so far: pressing leaves and flowers beneath them. You know, for all my crafts.) I’m sure many of you out there have made similar purchases, fitness-related or otherwise, and had your spouse huff and ask if you are buying “another thing that’s just going to take up space”. Sadly, my wife is right to huff and ask this, as the DDR pads were not the last such paperweights to grace my home. Two years ago, it was Wii Fit. I used it for about a month. It got boring, and then it got shelved.
Now, I pin my hopes on a new device: Microsoft’s Kinect. I have to admit, it was a little weird to have my first thought upon hearing about the Kinect be “wow, fitness games without a controller”. (I do feel slightly redeemed though, as my second thought was “LIGHTSABER GAME PLZ KTHX”). I just got a Kinect yesterday, and for the moment I have resisted the urge to buy a fitness game (per se). What I did get was a game called Dance Central. I wasn’t expecting this game to be like DDR, but I was not even remotely prepared for how different a dance game is when you’re required to do more than make sure your feet are in the right place at the right time. DDR could make me work up a sweat. Dance Central, at least right now, is making stuff hurt that I wasn’t aware of. As I am currently trying to get back into shape, I find this to be a very good thing. It has a “workout mode” where it estimates how many calories you’ve burned, but I find it a little depressing when a song puts me through the wringer and I am informed that I have burned 30 calories and I can now eat an entire grape guilt-free. Right now, the game has piqued my interest in much the same way as Guitar Hero/Rock Band did a couple years ago, and that meant a solid year of obsession and practice. If that happens here, I stand to experience far more cardiovascular exercise than the treadmill/coatrack we bought last year will ever yield.
And yes, I look like a complete doofus playing Dance Central, too. If I wind up starting a dance crew as a result of all this, I’m going to call it “8-bit Tentaclez”.