The “Dance Dance Revolution” craze of the 2000s
The rise of home game consoles in the 1980s and 1990s transformed the video game industry, but one sector was hit by shrapnel: arcades. With their convenience and ever-increasing computing power, home systems have rendered destination gaming virtually obsolete.
But programmer Yoshihiko Ota came up with a solution: a game that no one could look away from, because no one knew exactly what they were looking at. It was dance dance revolution, a very physical rhythm game that swept through Japan before hitting North America, and it was such a unique experience that no living room could hope to replicate it. This is because embarrassing yourself in front of strangers with flailing limbs and sweating to the beat of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” could only be done in public.
Get out of
Unless you know what you’re looking at, the device that composes a dance dance revolution the imprint is unique. A raised platform is located in front of a screen; a support bar is installed at the back. It sounds like something meant for physiotherapy after knee replacement surgery.
Ota, a game producer for Konami, knew something so distinctive was needed to breathe life into the struggling arcade console market. His team initially started developing a fighting game, but thanks to the Street Fighter II and mortal combat franchises, Ota knew he was warming up the leftovers of the game.
Instead, he and his development team took note of the clubs they visited during their off hours, as well as Konami’s DJ simulation game, beatmania. Maybe, Ota thought, the answer lay in a dance simulator.
“Simulator” is a bit of a misnomer, however. Unlike other games where players take on the identity of a soldier, warrior, or sprinting hedgehog, dance dance revolution users responsible for dancing. Cardinal directions would appear on screen, which players would have to repeat on the gaming platform. The faster and more accurate a player was, the higher their score would be.
Calorie-burning games weren’t a new idea. Nintendo had released its Power Pad in 1988, which encouraged players to run and jump in athletics events at home. Corn dance dance revolution was more of an emotional tug. With its rhythmic, disco beats, players were immersed in both a game and an ambiance.
Konami is out dance dance revolution in Japan in November 1998. For the equivalent of $1.75, stressed children and adults could jump on the platform and panic. Some would bounce around for hours, sweat profusely, and deny the idea that gaming was a sedentary activity. Or a loner.
While DDR, as it became known, struck a chord in part because Japan was a dance-obsessed culture at the time — kids practiced hip-hop moves while their parents hit the ballrooms — it also resonated because it was a form of exhibitionism. The longer people played, the more frayed they became, as they tried to echo the game’s dance instructions. Crowds gathered to see players perform at their best before draping themselves in exhaustion on the grab bar, as KC’s “That’s the Way (I Like It)” and the Sunshine Band or Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” echoed through bass-heavy speakers.
Best of all, there was no barrier to entry. If you could move, you could play. Konami sold 1000 of the machines, a stellar number for arcade equipment of the time.
Coming to America
DDR was exported to America in 1999, and it followed a similar trajectory to the karaoke craze that preceded it. There was something lovely about watching amateurs try their hand at performing, and dance dance revolution acted as its own advertisement. Placed in arcades, malls, or a Dave & Buster’s, the giant flashing machine with feverish attendees spinning on it was impossible to ignore.
“You look towards DDRand you’re like, ‘What is this game?’ » DDR fan Cynan de Leon told The Ringer in 2018. “It’s this gigantic cabinet, there are lights, there is music, people are stomping on it, some people are acting crazy on it, some people are actually trying to dance. The music and the lights and everything to do with it – there was nothing like it in arcades. You’re just like, ‘I gotta try it, or at least I gotta laugh at these people who make themselves look like idiots on this machine.'”
Any sense of shame was quickly overshadowed by a need for competition. Like DDR spread, first in California and then across the country in the early 2000s, unofficial competitive dance teams formed. More experienced players began to style their moves with knee plants, flips, and hand plants. In 2000, DDR passionate Shirene Olsen told the Los Angeles Times that she spent up to three hours a day playing and perfecting moves, which sometimes had a regional twist.
“In California, we’re more about style,” Olsen said. “In Chicago, it’s more about precision. The really, really good ones come from Chicago.
In Step Battle mode, players could record their moves for an opponent to try to mimic; in Trick Double, the steps were changed from four to eight. In its most advanced form, DDR had players that looked like someone was pushing them forward quickly. A player told the Time he lost 50 pounds while gambling.
This last benefit was something school districts took note of. In the mid-2000s, hundreds of them started installation domestic versions of DDR in school gymnasiums with the aim of making physical education more exciting. This DDR having the ability to go into schools and homes was good business for Konami – it eventually released versions for Sony PlayStation and Xbox – but distracted from the more elaborate arcade version. In a way, screwing up a dance sequence in front of your dog just wasn’t the same.
Although the game has received infrequent updates over the years, it’s mainly the fan base – not Konami – that has kept the game alive. DDR the flame goes. The tournaments are organized by players from different parts of the country, even buying their own gaming stations. It’s a grassroots effort to make DDR part of the global eSports gaming circuit.
Will it happen? Who knows. But one thing is certain: DDRwhich is equal parts gaming and performance art, must be the most spectator-friendly gaming competition.