OlliOlli joins the rare rank of video games that make me feel like I have any kind of rhythm at all.
Dancing is in my genes. My twin brother used to sneak out to clubs in the 1990s to get his dance on. My sister does capoeira—the Brazilian martial art based on dance moves— nowadays and took lessons in jazz, tap, ballet and a bunch of other stuff from the time she was three. And my dad's dad was a celebrated choreographer who traveled abroad and competed in African dance competitions. But me? I'm terrible. The first song I ever danced to in public was "Warm It Up, Kane" by Big Daddy Kane—that beat!—and it was immediately apparent that the DNA required for getting down apparently leapfrogged right over me.
I can hear how the beats and polyrhythms in my favorite music syncopate, dovetail and diverge in relation to each other. But, goddammit, I just can't make my body move to what I'm hearing. I realize that I'm probably over-thinking all of it, but there it is. That realization adds a layer of crippling self-consciousness on top of all this—what do I do with my arms?!—so that even my favorite songs don't have the power to get my ass out of a chair. Everybody I've ever loved and cared about has made fun of my dancing.
Screw them. I have video games. The busted filter that scrambles the impulses my brain sends to my limbs doesn't matter when I'm playing certain titles. Granted I'm only commanding two thumbs instead of a whole body, but when I play those games, I feel like I move in perfect time to the implicit rhythms of gameplay. It's one of the reasons I've always liked skating and snowboarding games. In a Tony Hawk, Skate or SSX level, I feel nimble and assured. Linking together a series of grabs, flip tricks and spins in OlliOlli or one of those other games, I know that it'll look effortless, cool and smooth. In other words, the exact opposite of my dancing in real life.
OlliOlli's just the latest in a skein of games that physically clumsy failings on the dance floor. My favorite Tekken character is Lei Wulong, continuously bouncing on his feet and waiting for me to make him explode into a whirl of punches, kicks and dodging stance changes. Last year, the yank-smash-slice of DmC made me feel like a lethal b-boy, shattering and slicing demonic enemies from a rival crew way better than I ever did in elementary school.
No first person game has ever made me feel hyper-coordinated, though. Something about being to see a character's whole body makes it feel like a better substitute for my own. Rhythm games don't do it for me either. Following the 'enter input now' prompts doesn't make me feel like I'm channeling the inner urge to move the way I want.
The way I think dancing is supposed to be—how it is for me at my least self-conscious, like during one of my favorite Fela songs—is plugging yourself into the flow of the music and letting your body bounce along, but allowing for the occasional rupture when you want to improvise your own thing. I have no confidence that I can do that on a dance floor. But when I blow through a whole level of OlliOlli in one massive trick combo? You can't tell me that's not dancing.
[background image by L.C. Nøttaasen]