All I had to do was say "DDR Guy," and my friend's girlfriend's sister knew who I was talking about. She was from Bloomington, and for some reason relocated up to Indianapolis following some sort of family matter I'm not sure I'd understand.
"Tall skinny guy, with glasses? Kind of a big Adam's apple?"
"Yeah," I said. "You got it."
DDR Guy had used every cubic millimeter of his Adam's apple in a campaign to have the owner of a Bloomington club purchase a Dance Dance Revolution machine. His campaign paid off, and now nearly every savvy clubgoer in Bloomington knows DDR Guy's visage. Like Takashi Shimura's character in Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru, DDR Guy had made one last impression on the people of Bloomington. Except DDR Guy didn't die. He just moved on to Boston. And his people loved drinking and smoking. And . . . videogames.
Or did they love videogames? I found it hard to tell. Did these people who flocked to that club really like videogames? Can we really call them gamers? Can the kids who first played Tomb Raider because Lara Croft's boobs bounced when flattened against a wall unequivocally be called gamers?
No. Allow me to explain why not.
To be fair, many of the pre-pubescent little bastards who never even got past level one with their pinups of Lara Croft grew up to own Japanese Sega Saturns and copies of Radiant Silvergun they won't dare ever sell on eBay. And more power to them. They became gamers. Just like I did. Only with more polygons.
To be even more fair, many of the kids who play DDR at this club in Bloomington are not the kinds of people you'd stereotype as "gamers." A lot of blonde girls with thousand-dollar smiles and rich daddies and golf clubs will probably never progress past the newest incarnation of DDR in their growth as a gamer.
Now, before you accuse me of elitism, know that I am in no way promoting hardcore gamerdom as the only lifestyle worth living. Moving on.
Yet there is a new gamer rising up, one that surpasses in silliness the gamers who jumped into gaming with Lara Croft, one that grows deep beneath those who play exclusively DDR, one that cannot ever touch those who grew up debating the worth of Alex Kidd versus Mario, of Shinobi vs. Ninja Gaiden, of Legendary Axe vs. Ghouls 'n' Ghosts -- hell, of Ghouls 'n' Ghosts vs. Super Ghouls 'n' Ghosts.
This new gamer I speak of is the pretender.
Years ago, I'll admit, I worked at a retail store that cannot be named here. I was sixteen, and I liked girls more than anything else. Being a full year away from the release of Tomb Raider, which might have well fit the bill, I took upon myself the daunting task of finding real girls. At first, the idea of finding a girl who didn't mind my gamer status struck me as ridiculous. Then, genius as I am, I figured: well, hell, she doesn't have to know I spend a hundred dollars a month on videogames!
The plan worked like a charm. My gaming stayed secret from girls until college. Some time during those years, something changed in me.
Sometime between then and now, something changed in the world.
This change in the world is evidenced in the fact that I sometimes meet girls in these very United States of America who, when told I write about videogames for fun, tell me that they, too, play videogames.
They don't, though. They're liars. They are gaming pretenders.
It used to be a shameful thing, to spend your time alone in a room crying when Tia leaves Maxim in Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals. Now, it's hip.
"Well . . . My ex-boyfriend played Final Fantasy VIII! We totally cried at the 'Eyes on Me' part!"
Yes. I won't question this move's significance in the tactics of attraction. For one thing, I'm taken. For another thing, it's not important.
Or is it?
This girl I met, the one who knew DDR Guy just by his name (a name I gave him, by the way) -- she was the sister of my friend's girlfriend. I think I told you that. Well, this boyfriend happened to be a music composer in the videogame industry. I won't mention his projects or his name or the company he worked for before being unexpectedly laid off.
Before he became a composer for this company-that-must-not-be-named, he was a hardcore gamer who spoke as fondly of the original Soul Edge as of Guardian Heroes. A fan of both Virtua Fighter and Tokimeki Memorial, he found the videogame equivalent of a brother in the original Shenmue.
He returned from a business trip to Tokyo with a taste of DDR in his mouth. It was from this point on that he became "DDR Guy 2."
Nearly two years later, he has borrowed Fighter's Megamix, Panzer Dragoon Zwei, and Bangai-Oh! from me, and I honestly don't think he's ever going to return them.
This one-time conqueror of all things Castlevania now downloads (gasp!) ROMs, and plays them on his computer long enough to make well-researched judgments like "Metroid Fusion sucks! I got stuck!" or "Pokémon Sapphire rocks! You pick your first Pokémon when the professor is, like, at a picnic!"
He asks me, really, how do you beat the Parasite Queen in Metroid Prime if you can't strafe?
He enjoys MechAssault on Xbox Live. (Actually, there's nothing wrong with that.)
He claims my perversely morbid interest in creating a "Medieval Indianapolis" in Neverwinter Nights is perverse and morbid. And boring.
I'd like to be able to prove that all of these things are related to his newfound love of DDR. I'd also like to be able to prove that all of these things are bad things -- they're not, though. How do we, as human beings, evolve, if not by using our right to form hasty judgments?
All I'm trying to say is that this friend of mine has changed. This is best evidenced by the fact that he now uses and reuses the privilege granted him by the kindly people at the Gamestop corporation: he returns his opened games, usually within seven days of purchase, because they just don't grab him.
He's returned, as of late, both Shenmue II for Xbox and Suikoden III for PlayStation2. Lover of Shenmue though he is, he just couldn't find anything to do in Shenmue II outside collecting capsule toys. Owner of a Konami T-shirt, he returned Suikoden III because its first two hours were "Boring as hell."
I take it, then, that he has ADHDDRD.
Yes, that's "Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Dance Dance Revolution Disorder."
The night I talked to his girlfriend's sister was DDR night. We were all going to the only DDR-equipped arcade in Indianapolis, Indiana, one once frequented by DDR Guy himself. DDR Guy 2 had started his DDR following his trip to Japan. He had dabbled in the DDR Diet, and is interested obscenely in getting everyone onto the dancing stage.
He'd invited two friends of mine to meet us there.
So it was, six white people convened at an arcade: my friend and his girlfriend and her sister, my other friend and his girlfriend, and me.
My other friend and his girlfriend got together following a discovery of a mutual appreciation of Zelda. I think. I don't know all the details. I do know that She loves Zelda, and He does, too, for the most part.
DDR Guy 2 had to set his persuasion switch on overdrive to get my other friend and his girlfriend to start dancing. They didn't like it at first -- and who does? It feels . . . silly -- though, soon enough, they were almost kind of really getting into it.
The sister and I hung back, and talked about DDR Guy.
"He's really good. I saw him dance a couple of times. He had his PS2 there, and . . . Stepping Selection, a bunch of Dancemania mixes -- oh, and ParaPara Paradise. You ever played ParaPara Paradise? It's fun."
I recalled my only experience at a Japanese "rave." The kids wore outlandish costumes, and danced like they were playing ParaPara Paradise, or else wading in imaginary water. Deavid Soul, were he dead, would turn over in his grave.
My friend asked me at one point, if I wanted to play. He offered to pay for it.
"Show us your moves!" he said.
"I don't do this anymore," I said.
I shrugged. "I feel like a clown."
The explanation that hadn't worked for my first acting teacher had worked for my friend. I walked to the closest Babbage's, and bought a used copy of Mega Turrican for Genesis. It was two dollars.
Between rounds, the girl informed me that her sister and my friend had gotten together because of DDR. They'd met at a DDR meet at the club DDR Guy helped imbue with a DDR machine. The girl had been dragged there by her sister. I thought over the irony for a long time, and I think over it even now.
Two weeks later, it was a vegetarian Thanksgiving party, with games, at the girlfriend's house. It turned out to be my friend and his girlfriend playing the Xbox version of Fatal Frame while everyone else sat by, eating bread, semi-bored. With a glass of ginger ale, I stood on the cold balcony with a girl I'd just met and talked about videogames. This girl worked at a game store.
"Oh, you like games?"
"I like DDR . . ."
She trailed off.
It's a strange kind of disease, this ADHDDRD.
Back inside, everyone was gathering around to play Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance on Xbox. We played versus mode for a bit, until my wrath was too felt by all assembled. My friend then enlisted me to help him unlock costumes and characters. They totally don't have any special options to make it easier, he told me.
I was reminded of Soul Blade on PlayStation, when a guy who worked at my retail store -- a guy whose first game had been Tomb Raider, whose goatee and attitude told me and everyone else that Super Mario 64 was kiddy stuff -- bought the game and bragged to me about having "Beat" the game "in one night," as "every character," no less.
All you have to do, he told me, is put the ring size on tiny, and the life meters on the smallest length possible. You can win every battle as long as you get the first hit!
WHAT THIS ALL MEANS
It might be eluding you. Like that which causes a so-called "vegan" to eat cheese right in front of me, like that which leads a young teenager to ponder switching from "punk" to "emo" to "straightedge," the shifty and postmodern ailment of ADHDDRD is not something that can be easily described. It is one part "girl-gamer-hypochondria," one part hikikomori, and one part alcohol. (That's one for the Secret of Evermore fans in the house)
I can only supply questions, not answers. That sort of thing.
To wit: why am I nearly unable to read a book of fiction that is any less than ass-kicking in quality?
Short answer: because I've written too damned much.
Why did this DDR Guy 2 friend of mine return the newest Suikoden, yet keep Kingdom Hearts?
Short (and wrong) answer: "Because my little [girlfriend's name] likes Alice in Wonderland. It's her favorite movie!"
A friend of mine whose wrongful opinions include liking that big damned idiotic bastard on That 70's Show IMed me a few days ago, asking me what a good game is to play with his new girlfriend. She's never played games before, and . . . she really likes Animal Crossing -- I should, really, see the way she giggles when she catches a fish!
I suggested Final Fantasy X. He said he didn't know about that. However would she manage to play Final Fantasy VI, which he has planned for the future, if she plays Final Fantasy X first? Think of the graphics, man, the graphics!
So I just had to ask: "Is your girlfriend just a girl, or is she a retard, too?"
This guy's a good guy. He knows I'm only messing with him.
Nevertheless, he answered: "No, she's quite intelligent. She's getting into DDR, too."
And I said, "Hmmm."
Abovementioned girlfriend of DDR Guy 2 works at a Funcoland. She got asked, once or twice, why she worked at a videogame store. Like, girls don't play videogames, do they?
There's a lot more to this medium of gaming than those who love it or those who bash it can see. Just as every moviegoer doesn't know the name of Sergei Eisenstein, there are people who play DDR without having two brain cells connected in the name of Masaya Matsuura.
There are people who walk in on me playing a game of Parappa the Rapper in 1999, move on to hang an "I gotta believe!" poster on their bedroom wall, buy an Xbox for multiplayer Halo, sit on my living room floor for hours with my bootle--er, used copy of Crazy Taxi long after my twenty interested seconds have ended, and find boyfriends who continually ask me "When's Xenosaga coming out?"
Many of these people, these sufferers of ADHDDRD, are not bad people. They're not even weak people. In fact, one might admire them; DDR Guy 2's short gaming attention span has allowed him to miss many games based on a bored first impression. If more gamers, like DDR Guy 2, become harder to please, this might just mean good things.
Or it might just mean Britney's Dance Beat 2.
No, no. I'll not let myself believe that.
ADHDDRD could have positive effects on the nature of non-rhythm games: I'd like to see a world populated by games for the hard-to-please. Hell, maybe we'd see a few games actually inspired by River City Ransom? Just as cancer patients must exist before a cure for cancer can be found, so it is with ADHDDRD. Only they suffer by doing something they love. And pumping twenty dollars' worth of quarters into a machine in so doing.
These sufferers are girlfriends or boyfriends of other people, maybe even people you know. Like the guy who recently told me he listened to "Only techno -- not trance, not house -- just techno," like the kids on my college dorm floor who listened to Dave Matthews Band and only Dave Matthews Band, they are devoted to their entertainment. Dave can be jazzy, Dave can rock out, Dave can be mellow, they tell me; DDR can be fun alone, fun in a group, fun with alcohol, and technologically impressive at the same time. It's for PS2 now, you know?
I want to avoid pontificating too blatantly here. I'm not trying to make any kind of sweeping statement here -- no "Keep an open mind, kids!" I'm just trying to illuminate something I'm seeing.
There are people like me who are immune: who can put an MP3 of "Crash" (no, not Bandicoot) before some Korean hip-hop song on their Winamp playlist, people who can balance a steady diet of Umjammer Lammy and Dragon Warrior VII.
This is not to say that I am 100% free of this gaming attention-deficit disorder. Lately, I just can't get too excited about RPGs. The last one I played with any real fervor was Final Fantasy X. Could this be because I'm getting older and more jaded?
Maybe. Maybe the RPGs aren't keeping me as interested anymore. Maybe I never beat Breath of Fire IV because I just don't have the time. I prefer a short game I want to play over and over again to a long one I'll only play once.
Or maybe it's because the RPGs today really aren't as good as they were back then? Oh, this is to make an elitist comment. This is also to totally discredit Dragon Warrior VII, which I play almost daily.
On the other hand, to claim to play only such long-lasting adventures is to deny me my weekly playthrough of Gradius III.
To call me a lone wolf the likes of which Shigeru Miyamoto discourages is to deny me my mostly-regular multiplayer Halo sessions, and my not-yet-off-the-ground group-effort Neverwinter Nights module.
It's a tricky business, analyzing the behaviors of gamers. So I'll simply advise you: don't do it. Just keep playing the games. I got you covered.
*       *       *
Now, to close:
If Mortal Kombat 3 and Tokimeki Memorial 3 are the bookends on the great shelf of gaming, DDR Guy and DDR Guy 2 are the bookends on the shelf of modern multiplayer gamers.
On one end: a man so consumed with his love for that one type of game that he sees nothing else, and at some drunken points during some drunken happy hours laments not being able to find a girl who understands him.
At the other end: a man who plays one game more than others, one who finds what he calls "love" in a girl because she understands what he does, because she does it too.
Single-player games made multiplayer, multiplayer games made single-player; people who love a game so much they love nothing else, people who love a person so much they love the games they love.
One of these makes it all possible for all the others. Creator and destroyer, manufacturer and consumer, non-corrupt politician and rewarded public.
In between here and there are you and me, and everyone else who plays videogames for whatever reason.
Let's hold hands around the world, and sing:
tim rogers doesn't actually condone that sort of thing