DDR: former eastern bloc nation, video game and sport?

By Daniel Kerwin

To truly master this game, you need to have a high intensity, quick movements, a high degree of bodily coordination and the willingness to break into a sweat. I could be talking about any sport, but no, I’m talking about dancing. Actually, it’s a video game. Hold on a second, I’m writing about a video game in a column titled “Culture Sports”? It’s not as if such a technicality has been a problem in this column before, but once you really look closely at the true nature of Dance Dance Revolution, calling it a sport isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem. Just ask the Norwegians.

“It’s actually a registered sport in Norway, and national and international championships have been held in the U.S. and Europe,” Carly Salter ’07 said.

Salter, a recent Mac graduate, lived at the epicenter of the DDR culture while on campus. That epicenter was the DDR club that Salter helped to create.

“The club began when Dave Swan ’07 and I met on Dupre 5E as neighbors and discovered that we were both DDR fanatics,” Salter said. “Almost immediately we decided we needed to have a club, and we named each other co-presidents of MacDDRtists.”

DDR players would congregate in the Dupre lounges or at the now defunct Aladdin’s Castle arcade at Rosedale Mall. For a short time during Salter’s reign, the club was an officially chartered student organization.

“Our goal was to share the immense joy that this game gave us with everyone else,” Salter said. “We hoped that its infectious fun would spread, and I feel we succeeded with many people.”

The establishment of the DDR club came despite the existence of the Mac Gaming Society on campus, revealing a divide between the kind of game DDR is and the kind of games MGS plays. The MGS website states that MGS covers “pretty much all non-athletic kinds of games,” including card games, table-top games and video games. It’s DDR’s athleticism that sets it apart.

“I feel DDR is a video game/exercise video,” Jennifer Eler ’10 said. “When I think of video games, I don’t think exercise. When I found a video game where I could exercise and do a game, I felt overwhelmed with joy.”

“Especially when you work up to the hardest difficulty level, the game really makes you break a sweat,” Salter said. “It’s great aerobic exercise. I know plenty of people who have lost significant amounts of weight by adding DDR to their fitness regimen.”

DDR is in a category of video games called rhythm games, a category that also includes games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The genre was born in Japan, and the Japanese company Konami is the main developer of such games (although Guitar Hero was developed by the American company RedOctane, it was based off of an already existing Konami game titled “GuitarFreaks”).

DDR seems to be singular within the rhythm game genre in terms of the amount of physical movement involved. Researchers have determined DDR to be such good physical activity that it is being offered in P.E. classes in grade schools in states such as West Virginia and even qualifies as fulfilling physical education requirements at schools such as Caltech.

The game caters to a wide audience, from beginners who play just for fun or exercise to expert players who rarely miss a beat in the game. Just like in sports, excellence can only be attained through the proper amount of training.

“It requires a certain amount of skill,” Eler said. “It took me a solid two years to get everything down. I started the middle of my junior year in high school, but I really don’t feel I mastered it until freshman year, and I still have a lot to learn.”

Also just like in sports, for those that get good enough they can test their skills in tournaments.

“The presence of competition is something that makes it like a sport,” Eler said. “Wherever there’s a lot of interest, there are competitions.”

“Tourney-goers take the game very seriously, training as hard as they would for any other sport,” Salter said.

Unfortunately for the DDR club at Macalester, following the graduation of Salter and a lot of other DDR enthusiasts, there have not been enough serious players to keep the club going.

“While our activities still drew a lot of attention, the club finally ended when everyone, even the leaders, became too busy with finals and other things to keep up with meetings, and the graduation of its primary contributors meant it disappeared altogether after May 2007,” Salter said.

“Carly was really the DDR queen,” Eler said. “When she left the whole group aspect of DDR collapsed and the club isn’t around now.”

Eler has remained the strongest advocate of DDR on campus.

“I’m known as the DDR girl now since I used to play in Dupre a lot; I guess I’m flattered by that,” Eler said.

Despite its year-long absence, Eler has aspirations to get the club up and running again.

“If I could find some people to help me run it, I’d love to start it up again,” Eler said. “If you just play it for fun, it’s a great way to meet people.”

Only time will tell if a new Dance Dance Revolution revolution will sweep over campus. No matter what, as is said in the movie V for Vendetta, “a revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having.