OLD ORCHARD BEACH The crowds have thinned out
on the pier and beach, the T-shirt shops are advertising sales and
there's no virtually no wait for a bucket of clam strips in the
final days of the tourist season.
But there's a buzz of activity inside an
Mike Lynch and Tom Schmidt are in stocking
feet, stepping in unison to the bass beat as arrows flow up the
video screen and curious onlookers gather around the Dance Dance
They're among the latest converts to a video
game craze that has now reached the farthest corners of the country.
Konami released the game in Japan in 1998 and
it debuted a year later in the United States, first gaining
popularity on the West Coast. Since then, DDR tournaments have
sprouted up around the country.
Players hit tiles on a miniature dance floor in
the sequence indicated by arrows on the screen. The machine reacts
to each step and misstep by flashing comments like "Perfect!!" and
"Boo!" on the screen and gives the player a letter grade at the end
of the game.
For those who'd rather play in privacy, there's
a PC version and several PlayStation music mixes including one
with Disney tunes.
It's a simple concept, but DDR devotees attest
to the game's mysteriously addictive and contagious nature.
Lynch, 17, was lured in by a friend a month
ago. Since then, he's bought the home version and has made nearly
daily trips to the Dream Machine arcade from his home in
"I have a class at 3, but I had to come today,"
he said, during a quick break for a fruit smoothie.
Like other DDR enthusiasts, Lynch spends hours
practicing. He also downloads songs used on the machines from the
Internet, follows developments on fan Web sites and has exposed
other people to the game.
"He's like the carrier of the disease, in a
sense," Schmidt, 16, said.
There's no official count of DDR machines in
the United States because many are unauthorized imports, industry
observers say. But one Web site lists 1,227 locations.
It has appeared on TV on Fox's "King of the
Hill," NBC's short-lived "Tucker," and more recently, a commercial
for Skechers sneakers. It's also been in a music video of the
dance-pop band Everything But The Girl.
Mandy Pincins, the arcade manager in Old
Orchard Beach, got the machine in June after hearing about DDR's
popularity at the chain's other locations. The game's cultlike
following quickly became apparent as it drew in locals and tourists
who needed a fix while away from home.
Some would play so intensely that arcade
operators attached a couple of small box fans to its machine.
"We put in those to help cool them. Some of
them will play for so long, they'll be dripping with sweat," she
Lynch noted that some of the best players are
from places where DDR has been around longer. He and his buddies
spoke in excited tones about a teenager from Chicopee, Mass., who
successfully completed the most difficult songs and performed fancy
tricks using the machine's guardrail.
The teen, who played for 374 consecutive days,
had to miss a DDR tournament because of his family's vacation to
Maine. But the blow was softened, they said, because he learned
there was a machine in Old Orchard Beach. Now Lynch is planning a
pilgrimage to a Massachusetts arcade filled with DDR machines.
Such trips apparently aren't all that rare.
Jesse Potter, 17, has befriended some Bethel
teenagers who drive nearly two hours to Waterville to play DDR at
Action Family Entertainment, where he works. They stay all day, he
said, and once slept over at his home.
Sarah Hevey, 18, said she has never been so
attached to a video game before but felt compelled to drive to New
Hampshire or Waterville to get in some DDR time when the machine in
Old Orchard Beach was temporarily on the blink. DDR is different,
she explained, because it offers so many possibilities among the
many songs, difficulty levels and the players' personal styles.
"Each day, your performance is different. You
can do the same song 50 times, and do it 50 different ways," she
said. "Dance Dance Revolution is kind of like your own personal
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