Pants off dance off: House parties in the video game era

Over the weekend, my wife and I had a few friends over to hang out, play some video games, and burn some calories.  Wait, what was that last part??  I thought this was about video games?  Yes.  We turned on the tv, powered up the Wii, cranked the surround sound, and gyrated around the living room to Just Dance 2.  My wife’s family introduced her to the game over Thanksgiving, and she was immediately hooked.  As soon as we got home, she added a Wii to her Christmas list along with Just Dance 2.  Mind you, my wife has no interest in video games (and I’m not much of a gamer myself, but I do enjoy killing some time and brain cells from time to time, plugged in, while sitting in front of our entertainment center).  So I saw this opening as the blessing that it was…we were getting another gaming system! 

This led me to thinking though about video games gaining acceptance in social settings and their role in socializing society.  Since the 80’s, home gaming consoles have brought people together.  Remember the Atari 2600?  If you were the first person on the block to the rock the joy pad, then you had every kid in the neighborhood pounding on your door and drooling at the screen, admiring the technology of having an arcade right in your living room!  Pong gave you the chance to play table tennis where there wasn’t room for table, and you could hone your skills against the computer until you could handily whip everyone in a 5 mile radius.  However, the extremely limited graphics and prehistoric technology made creating and marketing games very difficult.

Enter the Nintendo Entertainment System, a.k.a. – the NES.  Mario and his brother Luigi brought a whole new world to your television screens.  Mushrooms as big as your character, hidden rooms discovered by exploring tunnel systems, medieval castles, and a shooting range.  Hold on right there – a shooting range?!  Just in case you got bored with Mario, the overachieving developers at Nintendo graced us with not one, but TWO games on the same cartridge…and it came with a gun!  Now you could challenge your friends’ skill at shooting.  Talk about hand-eye coordination!  (Too bad you couldn’t shoot that smarmy dog though with his greater-than-thou attitude!)  And just when you mastered piloting jet fighters in Top Gun, maneuvering monster trucks in Bigfoot, hunting sharks in Jaws, and going Back To The Future, you were barraged by a gaming war.

The Super Nintendo was released with graphics that were twice as good as the original and story lines that were deeper and more complex.  But now there was a choice to be made;  The Sega Genesis had also been released and had graphics twice as good as THAT!  Without the name recognition though, Sega  had an uphill battle to win fans and convince buyers to go in their direction.   By releasing their franchise mascot, Sonic The Hedgehog, they could go toe-to-toe with Mario and his Nintendo cronies.  And that’s when Mario got a vehicle.  Arguably the best video game franchise of all time – Super Mario Kart.  This game was overflowing with fun that you and your friends could envelope yourselves in for hours on end.  By setting up a simple competition-style bracket, you could lock yourselves in your room with your friends until only one remained.

Rise of the first-person shooter (FPS)

I remember when my best friend unwrapped his last Christmas present the year the Nintendo 64 was released, and there it was in all its glory.  We instantly tore into the games he had to go with it, but none compared to  Goldeneye 007 – the father of modern-day shooting games.  With the system having 4 controller plug-in ports, it was a platform made for multiplayer madness.  We couldn’t get enough of sneaking around computer generated maps and blasting each other with machine guns, the all-too-famous golden gun, or with a nice little cheat code…paintball guns.  There is no telling how many weekends we lost by engrossing ourselves in these pixellated fantasy lands with our friends. 

Fast Forward to college.  Video games lose their appeal with the exciting new surroundings of college life.  It’s time to get out of your dorm, meet new people, and experience new things.  And I did.  I loved college.  So much so, that I crammed 4 years into 7!  And somewhere in there Microsoft threw their hat into the gaming industry and I discovered Halo.  Perhaps the most unanimously game tagged as the best franchise ever.  Master Chief (Halo’s main character) has a following that rivals the Lord Of The Rings, Harry Potter, and Twilight.  With updated hardware such as modern processors and controllers with buttons on every surface, this FPS revolutionized the gaming industry.  The XBOX offered online capabilities, which meant that you could play with people from around the world.  And for an additional charge (of course), you could buy the necessary equipment to communicate too.  More importantly for my group of friends, we could hook several systems up throughout a house, and have multiplayer games spanning several televisions.  This turned into a weekly occurrence, and our group continued to grow as more people were invited to grab their equipment and stop by. 

The rhythm is gonna get you

Video games have inevitably encroached into the music industry with the first well-known arcade smash hit, Dance Dance Revolution.  I have adamantly avoided these games seeing as how I dance like a robot…even when I’m not DOING “the robot!”  This rhythm-based dancing game bore the idea of other rhythm-based music games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band.  Having played in a few different (real) bands, I thought a video game of this nature would be a disgrace.  If you want to play guitar, then LEARN HOW TO PLAY GUITAR.  I loathed the idea of these games.  Only video-game-playing-nerds with no life would play these games.  Then, one night at a social gathering I gave in and gave it a whirl.  I was hooked.  Immediately, I got all the equipment for my Playstation 2 and all the software that had been released and played until my fingers bled.  (Well, not quite…without strings, your fingers don’t bleed.)  There weren’t enough songs to keep me interested in the long run though, and that’s when I noticed SingStar, Karaoke Revolution, and other like-minded games involving microphones.  This, for me, was a terrible idea.  Karaoke night was bad enough, but at least there was usually alcohol to make it tolerable.  These games gave anybody and everybody access to a live microphone and the song selections were usually pretty terrible to boot. 

With DDR outliving its usefulness, if you can claim it ever had any, new rhythmic dancing games have sprung forth.  As previously noted, my wife fell in love with Just Dance and the Wii.  When introduced to the masses, I firmly believed that the Wii was a dumb idea, and that nobody would want to feel like an idiot while jumping around in their living rooms trying to control video games.  I thought it was a last-ditch effort by Nintendo to stay relevant in the gaming world.  I was wrong.  Some games have been VERY poorly executed, but others have been designed wonderfully and make for an entertaining way to pass the time.  I have even become an enormous advocate for the Wii Fit.  With games such as Just Dance and Michael Jackson: The Experience, you can invite your friends over and laugh at each other until you cry and your stomach feels like you’ve been dry heaving all night, or you can close the blinds, lock the doors, and dance your little heart out like nobody’s looking! 

Bust a move - Admiring the view

Even more recently, Microsoft has released the Kinetic – an alternative way to control video games by using cameras to track your motion, enabling your body movements to dictate the action on your screen.  Sony has attempted to update their version of the Kinetic, the Eye, which was released for the PS2 many years ago and failed miserably.  Based on reviews, they may be on to something this time.  Gaming is even more enthralling now and actually require you to submerge yourself into the action…to get involved with the storyline.

Video games have garnered a bad reputation throughout the years, being blamed for making our nation obese, clumsy, unsocialized hermits.  But when you step back and look at the big picture, they can easily connect just as many people from around the world that may have never previously had such an opportunity.  And as for obesity, I challenge you to play Just Dance and NOT break a sweat!  Clumsy?  Video games promote hand-eye coordination and finger dexterity out of sheer necessity.  I was never allowed to have a gaming system until high school when I bought and paid for a Playstation with my own money, because my parents thought that it would rot my brain and be detrimental to my schoolwork.  Do you know which country is at the forefront of the video gaming industry?  Japan.  How many people have ever accused them of being overweight, mindless underacheivers?

Thank you, that is all.



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