I apologize, really. I was in Japan for a long time, and I didn't think about Dance Dance Revolution until January of 2002.
Friends were constantly emailing me, asking precisely how cool the DDR scene was in Tokyo. While I'd checked out the wacky routines of the kids in Akihabara and Shibuya every time I walked through said areas, I never really paid attention. I had my own music playing in my own ears. I didn't need to stop to listen to that DDR music -- that music that technically didn't even qualify as J-pop.
I suppose you could say I don't like DDR. That wouldn't be a totally untrue statement.
Look at it simply: If I were to say "I like DDR," that wouldn't be true.
"I don't like DDR." That's more true.
"I dislike DDR." I wouldn't say that.
In college, I played DDR. Or, at least, I tried to. I was able to do all the basic dances, even do some intermediate stuff, and not look bad doing it.
I took two years of ballroom dancing classes in college. I used to go to raves. Believe it or not, I went to raves for the music.
I took a Korean girl to a rave. It was our first date. She couldn't dance. She learned all she knew about dancing from a bootleg Korean DDR machine in a Korean pool hall in Koreatown, Los Angeles. She was a little under the influence of something when she stood up and showed me her DDR routine. She threw up later. I'd like to think it was because of the DDR routine. She was pumping her fists around like a woman on an aerobics video.
Flash forward to me in Japan. I meet a girl named Mami, and we hit it off pretty nicely despite the fact that I have a girlfriend and she has a boyfriend. I mention my pseudo-career as English teacher, and how I'm trying to make a semi-living with private lessons.
The two of us were trapped in a café overnight. I told her about my experience with ballroom dancing. She seemed interested. It was then that I got the idea to start teaching Japanese college kids to cha-cha and tango and waltz, all the while looking for someone to swing with on a regular basis. Damn it, I need to get back into swing.
I didn't find anyone worth finding. Mami at one point admitted to me: her interest in ballroom dancing stems from extensive experience with DDR.
So let's go ahead and make that statement: I, Tim Rogers, have rhythm like you wouldn't believe, and DDR strikes me as silly -- though not because I'm no good at it.
The first nail in DDR's coffin of incredibility came when I and aforementioned Korean girl were at my friend's house in Bloomington, Indiana. We went over to mess around with the Samba de Amigo maracas I'd helped him procure through my contacts at the local game shop.
It's helpful to have contacts at the local game shop. I have them in almost every city in the world. Ask the kids at the Tottenham Court Road Electronics Boutique in London, and they'll tell you, "I know that guy." I'm still working on Paris. Those people are so damned antisocial.
So we were playing Samba de Amigo, all those assembled aside from me getting pretty inebriated in so doing. I was drinking ginger ale. They were drinking things that kill more than just a sense of rhythm. I wasn't complaining, because I find drunken peoples' quests to play DDR kind of funny.
It was dark in my friends' living room. One of their roommates was studying for a final in his upstairs bedroom. I beat a drunk guy several hundred times on my friend's Street Fighter II Turbo Hyperfighting cabinet.
Back in the living room, everyone was still laughing it up over Samba De Amigo. We only had the one set of maracas -- the other pair was coming the next week -- so they were playing the alternating party mode. My Korean girl/friend was just getting the idea of "pose" when someone suggested we play some DDR already. Competition was universally craved.
My friend, the guy who hosted these parties: we called him DDR Guy. Whenever I mention him these days, I call him "DDR Guy." The name hardly describes the way he looks: he's tall, he's wiry, he wears glasses, he gets invited to every E3, and he's single. A guy at Konami offered him a job during E3 2000. DDR guy didn't take it. He prizes his copy of Virtua Fighter 3tb, signed by Yu Suzuki. He's never played it. I take it he never even played his Hyperfighting cabinet.
DDR Guy is called DDR Guy for many reasons, most of all because he loves DDR. Still, loving DDR alone doesn't net one the worthiness of being called "DDR Guy." You need an extra something else. DDR Guy had that extra something else. For one thing, he refused to use those dancing pads -- even duct-taping one to a piece of plywood was silly.
DDR Guy makes DDR platforms. Though his major was business (I think), he took classes from many concentrations, even wood shop and electrical engineering, and managed to graduate once in his six years at Indiana University. He now lives in Boston or thereabouts, still making DDR platforms, from all I know.
As a person, DDR Guy was funny. I picked up a lot of my perfect imitation Boston accent listening to him talk. We often went to the Kilroy's on Kirkwood Irish Pub in Bloomington, Indiana, for happy hour. He ate chicken wings and drank Guinness. I had onion rings and drank Sprite and got mostly sick. We talked about the state of videogames, exams, linguistics, and DDR. Mostly DDR.
I got the impression that DDR Guy didn't like videogames. When I told him I was looking forward to Skies of Arcadia, long before the secret was out on the high random encounter rate, he dismissed the game as a "snoozer."
He'd designed a new platform around that time. He needed to go out and buy more Plexiglas and corner brackets. He needed me to take him to Radio Shack after dinner so he could get some cables. He had three guys waiting for platforms -- he was charging them $500 each.
His platforms were by hardcore, for hardcore. The buttons clicked, quite loudly. If you didn't have a strong enough sound system to drown out the clicking, you didn't deserve one of his platforms, as far as DDR Guy was concerned. He sold his platforms under a gaming-vegetarian regime, the same regime that forced him to say to a crowd at the game store where I worked on PS2 launch day: "Anyone getting a PS2 and an RF switch needs to go to the end of the line." One guy had gotten an attitude with DDR Guy: "I ain't going to the end of the line for nothing." Poor mullethead didn't know DDR Guy was trying to be funny. Even those without mullets had trouble distinguishing sometimes.
You know those Performance PSone control pads? They look like they suck -- yet they're the best when it comes to making a DDR controller. DDR Guy assured me of it. He walked me through the process late one night while me and my girlfriend were over his house. His new pad -- it was going to have lights.
DDR Guy had this way of sounding confident and right. So when he took off his shirt and started sweating to the beat of Captain Jack that one night in an apartment living room smelling of beer, he seemed to fit into the scenery. He seemed like he was there, doing DDR for a reason. Just minutes earlier, he and a drunken frat boy put down their beers to track upstairs and grab two of the massive controllers. And then the dancing, and screams of "I'mma kick yo ass, bitch" began. I hung back with a warm two-liter of caffeine-free Dr. Pepper, whispering with my girl/friend about something or other.
One of the sweaty guys sat down, and asked me if I was going to play, or what.
"Nah, not tonight."
"Why not? Don't like dancing?"
"I like dancing well enough," I said. "Just not like this."
"Don't like the music? Is that it?"
I might have laughed. I don't remember.
"So you study Japanese?"
"Yeah," I said.
"I've been getting into Japanese music, lately."
"You know anything about Japanese music?"
Did I ever.
"I've been listening to a couple people. You know Morning Musume, or Ayumi Hamasaki?"
I scoffed. What entry-level garbage. I informed this guy that he needed to get some vintage Dreams Come True up in him.
DDR Guy came back and sat down with a towel in his hand.
"I've got the Dreams Come True Dancing Stage," he said.
"Yeah, they suck ass."
This is where DDR Guy lost his credibility.
Now, one may call me biased. Though I have, since high school, harbored a deep and angry and maybe somewhat girlish desire to marry Miwa Yoshida (I just know she'd see past the age difference), you must understand that DDR Guy didn't lose his credibility because he had dissed my favorite Japanese indie pop band. No, he'd done something far worse: he'd made a rash judgment based on a videogame.
To put it into perspective, it's like saying I don't want to be a cowboy because Val Kilmer died of some sweaty disease in Tombstone.
DDR Guy had -- and still has, I'm guessing -- about eight trillion different versions of every available Beatmania game. He refused to call the genre anything other than Bemani. That night, I listened to him debate with his friends which one was best, which one was not worth playing, and which ones were to be looked forward to. They talked it over like Japanese businessmen at a bar discussing their upcoming projects.
DDR had warped this guy in a way he couldn't see. It warped him to the point where he deemed a music group's incredible eleven-year discography as sucking ass because it doesn't fit into the confines of a DDR game.
DDR Guy had dissed Dreams Come True in a way that suggested no forethought to the dissing: it was dissing without thinking, like the eight-year-old who received an NES for Christmas dissed the Sega Genesis.
DDR had clouded DDR Guy's judgment, is what I'm trying to say. Slowly, through job offers at Konami and a lucrative wood-shopping hobby and late nights at Radio Shack, he was becoming an entirely different kind of gamer.
Before you stand up and accuse me of saying this is a bad thing -- I'll stand up and accuse myself:
This is a bad thing.
It's not a bad thing because of the money, or because of the social aspect of DDR in general. It's a bad thing for an entirely different reason.
Allow me to explain.
[next: part two: a game that can't be won, only played]