days of pale, skinny nerds wasting their free time in arcades
have gone the way of the Atari 1600. Today's teens still play
while away the hours in front of digital quarter-suckers, but
before they drop their coins in the slot, they get prepared.
by David Robert |
|A teen shows his DDR skills at Circus
Sneakers, check. Bottled water, check. Warm-up and
Only after you've adjusted your gear and stretched your
quads are you ready for Dance Dance Revolution USA, a
groundbreaking game from Japanese video game company Konami.
Instead of the much-touted hand-eye coordination that regular
video games claim to boost, DDR (as longtime players call it)
improves your foot-eye coordination.
Here's how it works:
The first thing you'll notice about DDR is the large dance
pad in front of the main console. Four big blue and pink
arrows mark up, down, left and right, and they flash when you
step on them. When you plunk in a few quarters, you'll get to
scroll through a selection of beat-heavy songs, some faster
than others. Then choose a difficulty level, and get ready to
If you choose a beginning level, animated dancers will
appear on screen standing on their own dance pads, and you can
mimic their moves as you play. In harder levels, psychedelic
graphics and bouncing animated dancers will fly around the
screen in brain-twisting patterns.
When the game begins, you'll get a few beats to get ready,
and then neon flashing arrows will start floating up from the
bottom of the screen. When the arrows reach the top of the
screen, that's your cue to stomp on the corresponding foot
pad. The trick is to do it in time with the music, because if
you don't, you'll get no points and the game will boo at you.
At the beginning levels, playing DDR is sort of like
stomping on ants, but with rhythm. You've got plenty of time
to anticipate the next arrow, and plenty of time to rest
between stomps. At the difficult levels, the DDR screen is a
completely awash in mind-boggling arrow combinations, and
players' feet are flying with amazing speed and coordination
from start to finish.
That is, if they know what they're doing. Unlike me.
Sweatin, like a newbie
Gabe and I hit the arcade
at John Ascuaga's Nugget at about 9:30 p.m. on a weekday. We
figured chances were good that the place wouldn't be crowded,
and I wasn't too keen on a bunch of teens laughing and
pointing at my DDR debut.
We each plunked three tokens into the slot and selected a
song that didn't sound too fast. I pressed "beginner," and we
prepared to boogie.
When the neon flashing arrows began flying up the screen,
it took a minute to find my footing. I hadn't decided
beforehand which foot was going to hit the up button, so as
the up arrow glided across the screen my feet did a little
shuffle-switch maneuver of indecision before deciding that
"right foot equals up" and "left foot equals down."
In my excitement, I was stomping on those flashing buttons
like I wanted to kill a large poisonous insect, and my thighs
paid the price of my zealousness. After half a song, with my
quadriceps protesting this sudden burst of activity, I eased
up on the dance pad and started hitting the buttons lightly
with the balls of my feet.
After the first song finished, I had royally trounced Gabe
in my display of coordination and rhythm. I had racked up an
impressive number of "perfect" moves, with only a few "boos"
and "almosts." But apparently, Gabe decided we needed a little
more of a challenge, so for the next song he picked "standard"
instead of "beginner."
Unless the song was playing at, like, four beats per
minute, there was no way I was going to get these foot
combinations in time. With all the flashing arrows crowding up
the screen, my brain couldn't even process where my feet were
supposed to go, much less tell my feet to move there.
About 15 seconds into the song, Gabe realized the error of
his hubris, and we both sort of stood there in amazement. Then
we started bouncing around like crazy, hitting whatever
buttons we could and feeling like total goofballs.
After the third song, I was sweating like a pig. My throat
was so dry that my eyes started watering and I had to run to a
nearby water fountain.
Gabe had had enough, and took his own sweaty body over to
another video game. In the interests of journalism, I gave DDR
another shot. I stuck with beginning levels for all three
songs and did even better than the first time, but by the time
I finished, my muscles felt tight from ankle to thigh and I
thought I might be giving myself shin splints from all the
stomping. I also wished I had worn more deodorant.
Doin, it freestyle
To see DDR players who
actually knew what they were doing, we headed over to Circus
Circus and met Toni Gomez, 16, and Eliazar Santos, 17. By the
time we hit the Midway, Toni and Eliazar were already working
up a sweat, taking frequent breaks for chugs off their water
Not only do the teens play at least four times a week,
they've also got the PlayStation version of DDR at home, which
comes with a soft dance pad you can plunk down on your living
room floor. Toni estimated that he spends about $30 a month
playing DDR in the arcades, where DDR players come to compete
and show off their skills.
"It gets really addictive," he said.
clued me in on a DDR freestyle competition that takes place
every other Wednesday at the Nugget.
by David Robert |
|Sweat dripping down their faces, these
kids played DDR like a couple of pros.
Freestyle DDR? Leave it to teens to test their boundaries.
As if regular DDR wasn't hard enough, many teens have
incorporated complicated dance moves into their game play. I
watched in awe as Toni and Eliazar dropped back onto one hand
to hit the down button, all in perfect time with the music.
They spun around in circles and flung their arms while they
stomped, making my questions of "right foot equals up" and
"left foot equals down" seem pretty stupid. And they've only
been playing for two months.
Pearcy Miranda, 15, also showed some impressive DDR
freestyle skills, though she admitted there's another reason
she plays at least twice a week. In the past three months,
Pearcy's lost 10 pounds.
"It's just like exercising, but it's fun," she said.
"That's why I love playing."
There you have it: a video game that helps you stay in
shape. Now, when your teen takes off to spend hours in an
arcade, you won't have to nag them to get some exercise.