Recently my friend, who for this article we'll call "Dan," was over at my apartment for beers and video games. We'd gone through most of the big fall releases—I showed him some craziness from Saints Row: The Third, got across the gist of Catherine, and played some (shockingly fun) split-screen Modern Warfare 3 spec-ops. The Kinect had gotten a go as well, and we'd laughed our way through several levels of Gunstringer and gotten our asses kicked by the surprisingly difficult Child of Eden.
"You know, I've got Dance Central 2 here, let's play that!" I said, pointing to the shiny, colorful box of Harmonix's Kinect-only dancing game.
"Sure," Dan said, though in retrospect he was doubtless entirely unsure what he was getting himself into. And so we played Dance Central 2, two dorky bros in the mid-afternoon, standing in front of the TV and swinging our hips to "Toxic" and "Bad Romance." It was funny, it was dumb; it was uniquely uncomfortable.
After we played for a little while, we took a break to have a beer and Dan remarked to me, "Man, that game is kind of uncomfortable for straight guys!" (I'm paraphrasing—he said it much more thoughtfully than that.)
I agreed, because I knew what he meant—I mean, one plays Dance Central by dancing. It requires an entirely different sort of physical interaction than most other video games. It was as though Dan and I had been sitting around pondering what to do and one of us had said, "You know what? Let's go dancing together, just you and me at the club!" Suffice to say, that is not something either of us would likely ever suggest. We're fairly boring.
(It's been pointed out to me that the above paragraph can kinda be read as homophobic. Rather than just assure you that's not the case (it is not!), I'll clarify and say that I'm picturing me and my friend, alone in a club with no one else around, dancing (which is what we were essentially doing). I meant only to point out how that is very different from sitting in front of a TV playing a video game. I apologize to anyone who was offended.)
In a very cool piece published yesterday at Gamasutra, Dance Central's project director Matt Boch talks about gender and self-expression in his game. "I think what's interesting about dance is that it's incredibly performative," he says, "and it implicates the body in a way a lot of other video game-type interactions don't."
True that. Whatever I've written in the past about the dance-like, rhythmic qualities of great games, playing most video games and actually dancing are two very different things.