Older Writings: Dance Dance Revolution

Editor’s Note: This is me from nearly a decade ago writing about a former obsession with DDR. If you like seeing where a young blog writer came from, well, here’s your chance! As such, it serves as a basic primer for those who don’t know about it at all (or video games, for that matter), so you may/may not be the audience for this sort of thing. Also contains a whole lot of me bragging about being good at it, but that is pretty funny in retrospect! Minor edits for clarity. Also, this got an A+, so it’s obviously great without anyone saying so.

I should also preface this by saying that, when I was young, I can surely admit that I was rather dumb. I say that with all the love in my heart; I wrote some particularly nasty and self-righteous essays in that time frame, and I did learn a lot from those experiences. I will never hesitate to say that I make mistakes, and that I will try to learn from all my new ones. Deuteronomy 9:7 surely says as much:

Remember, do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord.

On with the article, then!

Do you enjoy dancing? Have you ever felt the need to dance, yet there was no one around? Do you feel the need the exercise, but always find it boring? Your solution to the problem is Dance Dance Revolution, or “DDR” as it is commonly know. DDR is not only a tool to dance with, but a video game phenomenon practiced worldwide since 1998. This popular pastime consists of dancing to the beat of a song for two to three minutes. However, DDR is not played with a handheld controller. Rather, DDR is played using what is called a “dance pad”. You must push the buttons with your feet rather than your hands.

Notes in the form of arrows pointing left, right, up, and down, scroll upwards from the bottom of a video screen until they reach stationary arrows at the top. These arrows are represented on the dance pad as well. When a scrolling arrow hits it matching stationary mole at the precise moment, the dancer gets a point. Trhe highest rating you can get for accuracy is Perfect (right on time), while the lower is Boo (you missed). At the end of each song a score will appear from rank AAA (perfection) to E (failure, just made more palatable through replacing the letter).

The dancer desires an AAA, of course, but from my personal experience, such a rank requires lightening fast feet, intense hand-foot coordination, and great determination. A complete lack of pride and dignity as you look stupid while dancing also helps! These are the defining characteristics of a DDR master, and by no means are these skills impossible to obtain. DDR, while being extremely entertaining, requires the player to work for success by understanding the game’s content. Studying its social aspect, basic concepts, and varying difficulties allow a player to achieve this end.

DDR is a social game at heart, having found its place as the backbone of many a party – at least every party I have attended, since it is always my responsibility to bring the game there. The initial crowd reaction is fear. Since I play at high levels of difficulty, which has cemented my reputation for this game, people either call the game “cool” or, for those who know they cannot and will never be able to dance, “stupid”. Those who fall in the latter category are those who reside within the most secluded social cliques, and thus they refuse to embarrass themselves by playing. Regardless, the Versus mode, where two players compete for the higher score, has made DDR extremely popular.

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Along with this incredibly expensive cabinet!

Your main goal in DDR is to acquire the skill necessary to conquer songs that steadily increase in difficulty. There are several things you must remember when beginning your DDR experience. You should remember that this game challenges the player. It either humbles or makes a person feel foolish during the first few weeks. In time, your body will develop what is called “muscle memory”. You will develop the ability to see the arrows and instantly press the corresponding button if your pad stays stable; this is only a problem with the plastic home mats and not the metal arcade pads for obvious reasons. Having the pad move the slightest bit can be a detriment to your ability to score high.

I have mainly experienced this with the more intense songs, as I cannot get a B on some of them because of pad movement. It is also wise to choose which part of the foot you’re going to step on the pad with. You can step on the pad with the heel, but this can pull muscles. You can also step on the balls of the feet like a boxer. Of course, you will look just as odd either way, so how stupid you look comes down to a matter of personal taste. Remember that these are steps, not jumps (which you use only for some notes), as your feet will wear out on higher difficulty modes. You will get in shape over time since the game is quite the workout, more strenuous (and weird) than a run on the treadmill. There are many general facts and rules for DDR, but all becomes second nature with several hours of play.

Beginner mode is where a DDR apprentice begins his journey depending on your aptitude for dancing and music. You must first choose your song (as you will in every other difficulty level), all of which range the gamut of genres from rap to rock. Each song is rated with one foot in this mode. Feet are the symbols used to represent the difficulty of the song and they can range from one, as in the easiest, to ten, the most difficult. In this mode, splits, pressing two notes at the same time, and freeze arrows, notes you must hold until it ends in the rhythm, will appear. Remember that splits can be any two notes together, which means you may have to jump across the pad to reach certain combinations. Personally, I never had any problems learning in beginner mode. This mode is very easy, as its only function is to ease you into the DDR basics.

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And get used to this thing.

Inevitably, beginner mode will become boring. Light mode, ranging from two to six feet, does not introduce anything new within DDR, but increases the difficulty of familiar songs. By this point, you should be somewhat familiar with the songs in your DDR version. Light mode is designed to get you off the center of the pad. Staying there restricts your range of movement; instead, leave your foot on the note you just stepped upon. It feels awkward at first, but it is necessary to know because some songs cannot be completed without this practice. My friend Joseph taught it to me for five long hours and it was strenuous to say the least. My mind would not register the new stepping method and thus I repeatedly failed light songs.

Light mode prepares you for Standard mode, the most played form of DDR. Standard has songs ranging from four to eight feet. The mode mimics the songs to a key, and thus your knowledge of the song will be tested. The notes will scroll in even greater frequency. If you have not practiced enough, the sheer speed of the scrolling notes will simply overwhelm you. Standard introduces notes that are not necessarily on the main beat of the song; any random sound on the music track could be a note you must press, which makes listening skills essential. Freeze notes will be placed in the most random ways imaginable, splits will occur in large sets, and you will step fast to keep up. This mode is the most popular due to its accesibility; any dancer can reach this level with enough practice. I call it a warm up now (not really). At first, the speed destroyed my self confidence, as this game tends to do with every advance you make. It takes a longer period of time to feel comfortable. The songs in this category are enjoyable and challenging enough to motivate one to the Heavy difficulty.

Heavy mode is for the true DDR fanatic, a title that I feel I am worthy to hold. There are many who cannot attain this level. Heavy mode tests all the notes you have previously encountered, but thrown into a complex mixtures of notes that scroll at (seemingly) incredible speed. Stamina is a requirement for long strings of notes without a break in the pattern, be placed in many different configurations you’ve never seen before. Gallops, essentially two sixteenth notes in quick succession, come into heavy use, for example. I can testify that is takes enormous effort to merely pass a Heavy song; it’s no cakewalk, more akin to an uphill battle of constant failure. Joe, again, is the only person I know who reached this level. Reaching Heavy is the pinnacle of (console) DDR; all that you have learned will be tested to the limit.

DDR, though it may be a fun aerobic exercise, is not merely a diversion. This is a serious game that requires full resolve and commitment. Many competitive tournaments are held with a multitude of prizes. Those who plumb the depth of the game will find the metaphysical rewards of DDR. It has strengthened my ability to work to the best of my potential. Willpower is needed to get through hard times in life, and the same is true for DDR’s Heavy mode. Much like life, without inward determination to succeed, you will find yourself lost and wandering without practice (and dance moves, as the case may be). This is the true remuneration for the play of the game: a sense of great accomplishment.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.