Micro-essay: Scared of the controller? Get In The Groove!

Upon reading Behrenshausen’s article on (Kin)Aesthetics and DDR, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own experiences with Bemani games and how it changed my view of what it meant to “play video games”.   When I first saw people stomping away on a DDR machine, I thought it looked silly, and did not fit my view of what being a “gamer” was.  I was used to sitting down in front of a TV next to my brother, controller in hand, and mashing buttons to try to win at whatever game I was playing.  My parents would scold me, urging me to do something productive with my time.  At one point, while waiting with my family for a movie showing, we stepped into the arcade, and upon seeing the DDR machine, my dad urged me to “give it a try”.  I immediately felt like I was out of my “gaming” element, I had no familiar controller to try to “show off” with, and I was stumbling around, missing steps and eventually failing an easy song.  That was just the beginning.  I began going to the arcade a little more frequently, and I’d play DDR bit by bit, until eventually I was beating some of the hardest songs in the game, and creating a crowd during busy hours.  There was one particular security guard at the mall that my local arcade was located in that would recognize me and encourage me every time he saw me play.  I was wondering why the non-gaming crowd would be so interested in seeing me play DDR, and not any of the other “standard” games that I was used to.

This is where I feel that Behrenshausen’s point comes across in a clearer way.  Regardless of how skilled someone is with a controller, a passer-by would not be able to recognize the achievements being made without some understanding of the controller, platform, or game being played.  That controller is an “obstacle” to the understanding of the viewer.  Bemani games eliminate the controller, and make the games react directly to bodily motions, which is a “controller” that everyone understands.  It’s as if you were watching a sport you did not understand, and you see the athlete straining to perform.  Even of the rules of the sport are foreign to you, you can admire and respect the physical actions needed to pull off whatever feat is being done.  Bemani games opened up “gaming” to a larger crowd, by eliminating the daunting requirement of being coordinated with a controller in hand.  It’s very possible that this is one of the reasons that the Nintendo Wii was such a huge hit in the “casual” gaming market with its iconic motion controls.  By reducing the barriers of interaction between the player and the game, the game becomes easier to understand and enjoy without prior knowledge of the software.

Eventually my passion for DDR grew and I went into other Bemani games: Drum Mania and Guitar Freaks.  When a new “iteration” of DDR game into the arcades, In The Groove by RoXoR Games, I was immediately captivated and enjoyed the new game that featured more “western” songs that I could relate to more.  I introduced my brother to the genre, who took an immediate liking.  Seeing as how he is an Olympic level athlete, he was enjoying the idea of working on his cardio while playing video games.  We eventually bought our own ITG machine, which we still play regularly to this day, still being praised by Mom and Dad, who still have puzzled looks on their faces when they watch me play anything on console.  My brother even began streaming his sessions online and connecting to the community that now struggles to survive as the Arcade Era of gaming rapidly fades away.  I’ve included a link below to one of my brother’s “performances” just in case anyone in the class is curious as to how “professional” In The Groove looks like. Enjoy!

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