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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 February, 2004, 08:18 GMT
Playing games on the dance floor
By Jo Twist
BBC News Online technology reporter

Video games have often been criticised for creating a sedentary hobbyist, content with sitting in front of a console for hours.

Two players dance it out
Watching two at a time is mesmerising
Physical or party games, like PlayStation 2's EyeToy, have gone some way to change that perception and have set pulses racing.

But there is a growing community of European gamers who are truly sweating it out weekly, even daily, on the dance floor - one that is about a metre squared.

DDR, Dance Dance Revolution, started life as a Konami arcade video game back in the late 1990s.

Since then, there have been several version of the machine with catalogues of tracks on them. A huge community has grown up around DDR in the USA and Asia, particularly in Japan, who are well-known lovers of musical games.

The US and Japan have professional teams and are well organised in terms of competitions.

But after taking some faltering baby steps in Europe, DDR has started to strut its stuff officially in the last three years.

Sporty jigs

"It has become very popular in several countries, but in many it is still completely unknown," says Ole Petter Hoie, managing director of Positive Gaming, co-organisers of the first official DDR Europe Tournament.

"But in the UK, Italy and now in Norway, it has become very big and it is growing in other countries also."

To many within the DDR community, it is considered to be a sport, and it is about to be registered officially as such in Norway.

The tournament, held in London last month, was the first official competition using rules which have been decided on by the DDR community.

Myst (Colin Barker), DD:UK
The online community powers the game, it's what actually gives people the urge to actually go on and continue playing the game
Myst, DDR:UK

Competitors from across the UK, as well as from Norway and Italy, were there to put their best foot forward.

To compete, dancers or players step on coloured arrows corresponding with directions displayed on the screen in front of them.

Steps have to be taken in time to the beat of loud tunes, with names like Boom Dollar, Butterfly, and Dam Dariam. The competitors are judged on accuracy and are scored accordingly.

The cumulative result is a maniacal mix of "doof, doof, doof" of the songs and the rapid "thud, thudding" of trainer-clad feet. And the harder the level, the faster and louder the action becomes.

One of the reasons why DDR has started to enjoy more prominence in Europe is down to the part the net has played in strengthening and sustaining the community.

Myst, or Colin Barker as he is known in the offline world, runs one of the biggest DDR community websites on the net.

With about 100 new members signing up a day, the site largely consists of web logs, forums, and downloadable simulators which allow DDR to be played on home computers.

"The online community is very important. It's what powers the game, it's what actually gives people the urge to actually go on and continue playing the game," he explained.

"Even when they have played a song maybe 10, 15 times, they get bored of the game.

"So, the online community help them out by saying 'I'd like to challenge you, I'd like to meet up with you' and with that, you get people meeting up to have fun."

For many, the appeal is the combination of social, technical, and musical elements all rolled into one game.

Japanese fashion

The best players have been doing it for two or three years, but some have started to shine after just over a year.

Many practice first on the plastic home dance mats, which can be played on PS2 and Xbox, before they publicly brave the arcade and the audience. Some, like Myst, go so far as to buy their very own arcade machine to practice on.

(L-R) third place Stel (UK), first place Lion (Italy), second place Snut (Norway)
It was a close-fought battle right until the closing steps
"Nowadays it is very fashionable to enjoy Japanese culture and DDR as well as other musical games that come from Japan," explained Benoit Cotte, from M-Games, a non-for-profit organisation which promotes musical games throughout Europe.

"It targets mostly video games players, people who like innovation. But it also combines music, which everybody likes, video games and sport."

Perhaps one of the biggest draws is that DDR is very much a spectator game, says Mr Benoit.

When the hot players like Lion (Italy), Snute (Norway), Usagi, Stel and Ryosuke (all UK) take to the pads, it is a truly mesmerising game to behold.

The final stages of the tournament were nail-bitingly close. Stel, the only British hope left in the competition, and hot favourite, lost his footing and rhythm in the closing seconds of the final round.

The crown eventually went to Italy's Lion, the quiet, black track suited figure who beat the 12-year-old Norwegian Snut by 100 points.

Ultimately, it probably did not matter who won. For most, being able to express themselves, having fun, getting a bit of exercise, meeting old online pals and making new friends, is what counted.

You can hear more on the Dance Dance Revolution craze on the BBC World Service programme, Go Digital


WATCH AND LISTEN
Dance Dance Revolution
"It combines music, which everybody likes, video games and sport"



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