I was twelve when Dance Dance Revolution first reached the US, though the game didn’t gain steam in our area until I was closer to sixteen.
Like many things in my household, it was something disregarded as “ridiculous” early on. A video game where you have to move? Giant metal pads with arrows that light up when you step on them? What kind of gimmick was this? My siblings laughed at the idea, but not for the first time, I found myself peering through the windows of the arcade and wanting to try it anyway.
The laughter kept me from it for a long time. The same way it kept me from playing Kingdom Hearts for a long time. I eventually did buy Kingdom Hearts and sneak it into my room to play. My sister inevitably caught me, but instead of laughing at me, it transformed her opinion of the series. With that in mind, I should have taken the leap a lot sooner.
Arcades are rare these days, but they were common in my childhood. I grew up in the age of laying a quarter on a machine in use to claim the next challenge. By the time I was a teen, arcades were growing scarce. Only two could be found within an hour radius of our home, so we didn’t get to them often, but they were in malls, so it wasn’t uncommon for us kids to hit them up while our parents shopped.
I was terrified of being laughed at, but on one occasion when we were in the arcade, we all had the chance of watching a guy with really cool pants rock a round of DDR.
That was the tipping point.
If that guy, with the really cool pants, could keep looking awesome while playing a game lots of people around me laughed at, why couldn’t I?
I went to speak to my elder brother. He had the game, though he feigned ignorance whenever the subject came up. At 18, he was an “adult” and could get away with hiding things like that. I’d never laughed at him for playing the game, but I’d done a good job of hiding my interest, so he seemed a bit surprised when I asked to borrow it. Still, he was a good sport; he loaned me his game and his dance pad and told me to have fun.
I locked myself in the basement with a small television and my PlayStation 2 for every afternoon that week. I was determined to play, but I was also determined not to have anyone laugh at me, so I decided I would practice until I could clear a song somewhat gracefully before I let anyone watch me play. I picked one song that had a beat I was comfortable with and repeated that track over and over until I could clear it easily.
Then I showed my siblings.
Instead of laughing, they ended up being impressed. Not only that, but it started a new household hobby. After I broke the ice, everyone was eager to jump on the dance pad–even my parents. They bought a game and a couple dance pads so we could keep playing after we gave my brother’s game back; the dance pads had to be replaced every few months because they were used so often we’d wear them out.
I’ve never been good at the game, despite my love of it. I only have a handful of songs I can clear on heavy mode and I’ve never been able to figure out that weird gallop step my younger brothers mastered. But I did pull together the courage to play the game whenever and wherever I wanted, regardless of who was watching.
A few years after I first stepped on the pad, I visited the arcade and stomped out a decent AA rating on Twin Bee in heavy while wearing enormously clunky goth boots with a six inch heel. It impressed my friends, but more importantly, it impressed a little girl who watched from the back of the arcade. When I jumped off the machine and laughed my way out of the arcade with my friends, I saw her approach the machine and heard her ask her dad for some tokens.
“I want to try this one now,” she told him. He was hesitant, saying she might not be good at it because she’d never played before.
“That’s okay,” she said. “I just want to try.”