Revolution like no one is watching

I owe a lot of who I am today because of Dance Dance Revolution, but let me start at the beginning.

My friends and I first ran across a machine in an arcade attached to a mini-golf course, I was the only one who tried it and I was instantly hooked. It was the summer before I started college and I had been working at K-mart, so I bought a PlayStation, a cheap dance mat and I started playing every day. The mat was one of the super cheap ones you had to duck tape to the floor to keep from moving. At first I was the only one who played, though after weeks of going to different arcades to watch me play on different machines (each with a different song list) my friends gave in as well. It sort of took over our lives.

For whatever reason Wisconsin had a lot of machines spread about that you could look up online on websites like DDRFreak.com. I spent hours reading about differences between versions and people who were much better than me. We drove all over the state to play, to try the different machines, play songs you could only get in a specific edition, and to kill the idle time that teenagers in the Midwest have far too much of.

We ran into people who would hang out at the arcades, we stumbled into scenes. We always tried to avoid this, the competitive aspect of the game never appealed to me. Despite the fact that two people could play at once, I always tried to tell people you were only competing against yourself.

When I started college in the fall DDR was one of the ways in which I was able to connect with people. I went to school in downtown Milwaukee and there was only one machine nearby at a bar slash bowling alley, Landmark, located underground a movie theater. You had to walk down a flight of stairs from street-level just to get in. It was kind of a dive bar but we loved it anyway.

The bar had a rule that past 9pm you had to be 21 or older. Most of my college friends were of age, meaning they could go any night of the week and often did. They would talk about their nights of drunken fun on LiveJournal and I remember feeling very jealous, to the point that I considered getting a fake ID. Not to drink, just for the DDR.

I did manage to get a group of fellow under-agers to go two or three nights a week with me. We left right after dinner and played as much as we could until they kicked us out. Some of my favorite memories from college were nights walking back from the bar in the cold Milwaukee air.

The very first time I organized a day trip to Landmark, only one person came along. We were both members of the nerd club on campus, though he was a senior and I was a freshman. I admired his intelligence and knowledge of programming and everything else, somehow he tolerated me. Years later he got a job at Yahoo and put my name in for an internship before my senior year, which led to a full time position and my moving to California after graduation. In a way, I owe him everything.

Every time I started to lose interest in DDR I would go through a phase, maybe six months or so, where I stopped playing. And then inevitably something would bring me back. I kept taking different friend groups to Landmark to play as my social circle changed, I was somehow always able to convince people that it would be fun. This included my senior year roommate who I convinced to play despite the fact that I did not know he was dyslexic. I felt bad about that but he was totally cool with it.

After I moved to California, I was working with two people who I knew from college and we still continued to go to play at arcades around the Bay Area. There were a surprising number of them given the general state of arcades in the United States at this point. We would go on the weekends or after work, but as time went on that happened fewer and fewer times until we were maybe played once a year or so. I don't even remember the last time I played.

I was never great at DDR, I was competent enough to play some songs on Maniac or Heavy (the highest difficulty), but anything 9 or higher was always a struggle. I hit a wall that I was never able to overcome, though I kept trying and had fun even if I was never able to beat Tsugaru.

Lately I've been playing Dance Central for the Xbox and the whole experience bums me out. I'm incredibly bad at it, and I feel frustrated because when I comes to video game dancing I know I can do it. DDR Freak, which miraculously looks exactly the same today as it did in 2002, says that there might be a few machines near me in New York. I wonder if I can still do a Butterfly spin, I think I will go find out tonight.

Postscript: After writing this I found out there is a DDR machine in the arcade at the Port Authority across the street from my job, so I went and played. It was glorious.