You’ve noticed the thumping echo through Wilson Commons. You’ve seen the quirky-looking dudes float like ghosts across the dance pad as “Perfect!” flashes endlessly across the screen. You’ve heard the whitest guy in video games shout those three words with as much enthusiasm as if he’s just invented sliced bread.
Those who’ve never had the guts to try out DDR still know what it is. It’s impossible to miss – the giant hulk of an arcade machine outside the Hive that’s got some kind of floor attached. Most students also know to stay away from it – go cold into a DDR dance and the arcade will surely reward with the worst kind of humiliation: public.
But there’s a select group that doesn’t let this worry plague their lives because they’re good at DDR. Scary good. If you’ve danced on the arcade even once, you’ve seen them – they’re the ones waiting around to use it next, probably snickering to themselves.
Actually, if DDR pro and junior Chris “Mang” Manglitz is any indication, the stereotype of being either weird, Asian or both, is way off base. Manglitz, is a typical student who simply became interested in an odd video game.
“The first time I played I was 17, the summer before freshman year,” Manglitz said. “I thought it was a funny, clever game. It was just a casual thing.”
It was when Manglitz arrived at college that he realized there could actually be a DDR community.
“I showed up freshman year in Hoeing 1, on an all guys hall, and I heard from my friend Evan, ‘Wow, the school has a DDR machine.'” After casual play on the arcade in the Hive, Manglitz and his friends took the next step. “Eventually we bought our own pads online and played in Evan’s room.”
The PlayStation home pads are the key to DDR success. If you’re ever at the Hive wondering how much money that guy spinning on the dance pad has poured into the machine to become that impressive, the answer is probably very little.
After all, why play on an arcade when you can play in the luxury of your own dorm room? “[Playing in our rooms] was very fun for us,” Manglitz said. “But probably very annoying for the people around us.”
The pads are where most of the DDR dirty work is done – the messing up, the starting over, the cursing, the sweating, the getting dizzy, the lightheadedness, the vomiting. It’s how the professionals improve. But though the home pads get more use than the arcade, Manglitz was hesitant to tout their greatness.
“In my opinion you can learn a lot playing on pads at home, but eventually you have to play on the real machine,” he said. Nevertheless, by the time you see a DDR pro making the arcade look simple, he’s well practiced. Even Manglitz admits to using the arcade as a means to show off.
“Every once in a while when there are a lot of people pouring into the Hive, I’ll put in some money and play a double,” said Manglitz. The “double” is one of the various ways to play the machine, using both players’ dance pads as one dauntingly large dance pad. According to Manglitz, “It’s flashier.”
Another facet to the DDR world is break dancing, where dancers improvise their moves, not necessarily intent on scoring accuracy points. Instead they’ll get on their hands and spin on their heads. There are also tournaments, for both break dancing and regular DDR that are generally held once a year in the Hive.
Unfortunately, a recently fixed malfunctioning arcade processor forced temporary postponement of this year’s tournament and halted all Hive DDR activity for months. The machine went down in November and has returned only recently. Not surprisingly, it put a crimp in the Hive’s overall arcade intake.
“It takes in by far more money than the rest of the machines,” said Jeremy Mravlja, who manages the Hive. “We’re one of the only places in the area that has one. It probably doubles what the other machines take in combined.” He wouldn’t dismiss the notion that the recent mechanical problems are related to the three-year-old machine’s heavy use. “This is the first year we’ve really had a problem with it,” he said. “It’s used a lot more than the other arcades.”
But Mravlja doesn’t anticipate the annual DDR tournament being cancelled, hoping it will happen sometime later this semester. “[The tournament] offers a good opportunity for DDR players around here to meet one another,” he said. He also acknowledged a problematic trend in recent tournaments. “Sometimes kids from RIT win, which is frustrating.”
Manglitz, who entered last year’s tournament, learned this first-hand. “I got dominated by a kid from RIT,” he said. “I also competed a couple of times against a kid who must be 10 or 11, and he mind-wrecked me.”
The DDR community is indeed full of depth, and it takes a certain strangely determined personality to achieve the ultimate pinnacle of the game, a grade of AAA. Manglitz has never done it, though he claims to have seen it done twice.
Manglitz also gave some analysis on who would constitute a good DDR player. “It depends on your dedication and sense of rhythm. Drum players would be good.”
For now, Manglitz is on a relaxed hiatus from DDR, having lost some enthusiasm after reaching the highest levels. But the recent return of the arcade may re-inspire him.
“I definitely got two or three phone calls from friends saying ‘Hey, the DDR machine is back, we should play sometime,'” he said. The question of his return will have to wait until lunchtime at the Hive to be answered.
Fountaine is a member of the class of 2008.