I am going to describe two scenarios to you. For the first, imagine yourself walking along with me, as we enter my last DDR Rave I mentioned in yesterday’s introduction. We’re about to step into a college reading room, essentially a student lounge of sorts with comfy chairs and a large television. Normally the room is well lit and welcoming; you can go here to study and have some coffee.
Tonight, however, the space is pitch black. Before you even see it, you can here loud, pumping music of a strange sort. Techno? Maybe, but there’s something else to it. As you walk in, you look at the TV and are immediately hit with a barrage of lights, colors and a strange mix of …stuff. You aren’t sure what it is, other than being distinctly Japanese.
There’re a few cases of Mountain Dew on the near table, and a quite a few people sitting in couches by the screen, looking like pale and timid ghosts in the shadows, their faces only partially revealed by the glow of the TV. The people in front of it are of course playing DDR, but they aren’t just manically stepping around on the pad….they’re also waving glowsticks in the air. It’s a strange orgy of light, sound, and obscurity, and unless you are used to this scene, you may find it more than a little strange. Let’s just go to our next stop right away.
Our next scene is a small lounge in a freshman dorm. It is a quiet night, and someone in a group of friends has brought over some DDR to pass the time. The friends look at the pad with puzzlement, as if the plastic and foam pad may swallow them up. The owner does a few songs to show everyone how it is done, and of course she then offers the pad to someone else. Awkward giggles and rejections go around, as no one wishes to either embarrass themselves (or maybe they’re still afraid of being eaten by that pad). Finally a brave soul steps up, and begins the awkward motions that accompany any first time player. He tries a few more, his friends cheering him on, and he himself getting a little less awkward and a little bit better. It seems as if the game is growing on them.
This scene started at 9:00 PM. At 9:30, it is over, the PS2 is switched off and the pad is packed away. So much for a night of DDR. Maybe it was the game’s strange style, or maybe they just couldn’t find a song they knew or liked. All I know is that I saw this event occur with a group of non gaming friends, many of whom were in dance teams, drama productions, and choirs. They all loved music, but only one seemed to love DDR.
Thus I present my first problem with DDR; despite the popularity, it is far too niche for true mass appeal. The games have a very distinct and quirky Japanese style, and the soundtracks consist largely of Japanese pop and techno (well, just techno in general). Anime characters, hearts, teddy bears and lord knows what else flash on the screen in epileptic glory.
Of course, it makes sense to see this kind of stuff in a Japanese game. But I’ve never been certain as to why it remains almost intact in the American version. There seems to be no reason for this other than for doing it the sake of it. The fans all seem to eat it up, either because they are from a younger generation that has grown up with the rising wave of anime and Japanese culture in America, or because many older players also seem to be otaku of one form or another.
Personally, however, there’s only so much I can stand of the sugary sweet and psychedelic presentation, or dancing to songs I can’t understand the lyrics to when they never really enticed me in the first place, something a lot of people probably agree with.
This isn’t to say that the game or its fans are uninviting on purpose. Quite the opposite in fact. Fans are more than willing to show you the ropes and encourage you as you play (the game itself has one of the most optimistic and kind announcers out there). I might not like DDR much these days, but I’ve never had a bad experience with the fans themselves, who generally seem to be good, friendly people.
No, the problem is that the game and the community are too damn entrenched in their niche. The best way to get more people to play the game in America would be to give players something they’re familiar with. Yet every time an American DDR release cuts out songs from the Japanese release (even if its due to licensing issues), every time American/European/Australian? songs are put into the mix, or if the style and interface are changed even a little bit from the Japanese originals, someone out there is complaining. For many of the diehard fans, “Amercianizing” the game is sacrilege.