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18 and Under

Video game has teens in a whirl

Monday, January 5, 2004

By KRISTIN PROULX / Monitor Staff

Concord

The revolution will be dance, dance

The third floor at Fun World trembles when they arrive. A few times a month, carloads of Concord teenagers descend on the Nashua arcade with a single purpose: to further master the Japanese video game that beckons them to step, stomp and jump along to the Asian techno-pop songs they memorized long ago.

Dance Dance Revolution - an arcade game that debuted in Japan in 1998 and made its way to the United States a few years after - is an obsession that's hard to break, says Brooke Bouldry, a junior at Concord High School who has been playing for a couple years. She replays the video game dance routines in her head all day and has grown to favor Japanese pop tunes she never liked before.

"It's so addicting. I'm not even a big fan of this music, but I'm buying the CDs and playing them in the car," she said.

"When there's a song you can't do, you can't sleep for a week," said 17-year-old Brad Kiehl, also from Concord.

To someone watching a round of Dance Dance Revolution (or DDR for those in the know) for the first time, the game looks like a combination of high-impact aerobics class and a legs-only version of Twister. A player stands on a metal pad in front of the DDR machine and chooses a song. Once the song begins, the game screen shows a series of arrows pointing

up, down, left and right. As the arrows move toward the top of the screen, the dancer steps on the corresponding arrow on the metal pad. The faster the song, the faster the player has to step and jump. And the more accurate and timely the player's steps are, the higher he or she scores.

Though some seasoned DDR players spend their time creating hip-hop freestyle routines featuring jumps, turns and floor moves, you don't have to be a good dancer to be good at DDR, say the players from Concord. You just have to live and breathe the game.

There are plenty of products to help young dance revolutionaries perfect their fast footwork. Some of the Concord players play a version of the game on their video game systems at home. Others type out step combinations on a computer simulation program, using their fingers to memorize what their feet will do later.

Andrew Trider, 17, practices almost every day at home. A senior at Concord High with a long, thin ponytail, he takes his game of choice very seriously. On a trip to Montreal during his holiday break, Trider spent some time in a Canadian arcade, where he tried out a new version of DDR, not yet released in the United States. His New Year's resolution is to come to Fun World every weekend.

After school most days, Trider sits at his computer, hoping to memorize the step patterns to new, faster songs.

"You do it so the arrows don't come as a shock to you, so you'll know they're coming," he said.

Trider's diligence seems to pay off at the arcade. He is known among his friends as a high scorer who keeps pace during breakneck songs with a scientific precision. Like some of the other male DDR practitioners from Concord, Trider doesn't really like to dance. But the lure of competition draws him in.

"It's the fact that it's a video game and guys like to show who's better," he said.

Of course, DDR's mix of skill and rivalry is always more fun in a crowd.

Last year at Concord High School, a couple dozen students decided to form a DDR club. Once or twice a week after classes end, they meet in the school cafeteria, where they hook up a game system to a television set, put a mat on the floor and showcase their recent successes. On some weekends, they carpool to DDR tournaments around New England. Recently, several members of the club entered a contest at Game Zone, a new video and computer game store at Movie Gallery in Concord.

But nothing compares to the genuine arcade game, with its double mats and metal bars used for fancy freestyle moves.

In New Hampshire, Fun World is one of the only arcades that has the real DDR machines, tucked in a private corner overlooking rows of more standard shooting, flying and driving games. When the Concord crowd makes its pilgrimages south, the teens spend hours at the three machines, taking turns playing, watching and eating french fries.

Elsewhere in the arcade, game players flex their trigger fingers against plastic pistols and their thumbs on bright buttons. But DDR's physical requirements oppose the stereotype that video gamers are couch potatoes.

Within an hour or so, the air gets humid. The floor shakes with the stomping and the conflicting drum beats of pulsing songs with names like "Baby Baby Gimme Your Love" and "A Little Bit of Ecstasy." Teenagers wipe their foreheads with sweat-soaked T-shirts and talk in a secret language about maniac-level songs, music mixes and freeze moves. They watch the screens as their friends score "Perfect," "Good" or "O.K." on each step they take or miss.

Bouldry always brings several changes of clothes for the night, retreating to the bathroom when her shirt starts getting damp.

Few people are good when they start, she said, and you can always get better.

"It's all about coordination and stamina, and most people come in with very little of both," said Bouldry. "It's the best workout I've ever gotten."


(Kristin Proulx can be reached at 22405301, ext. 304 or at kproulx@cmonitor.com)

Monday, January 5, 2004



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