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Recently I dropped in at Dance Central to see how things were progressing in the Land of Gaming.
It wasn't entirely out of love and concern for my offspring that I undertook this journey. No, I wanted to find this elusive thing called Agency, which That Voice from the Twitosphere occasionally refers to when waxing lyrical about Gaming.
@geekdadgamer: "Storytelling with gestures, agency and movement rather than narrative."
Agency, as I understand it, is a thing or a state of acting through which an end is achieved - or power is exerted. Well, Dance Central looked like a good place to start if one were looking for power - without the bothersome complexities of a narrative.
As it turned out, Ms12 was busting her moves in a pretty slick fashion by the time I arrived, but I wasn't deterred. If anything, this was a gauntlet; I did jazz ballet in the '80s. I'd seen John Travolta's Strut. I figured I knew a thing or two about dancing, story or no story.
A week earlier, we had employed Dance Central for some calming bedtime entertainment at Ms12's sleep-over - a real departure for Ms12, who usually designs complex party Theatre in the local forest, complete with kidnappings, unhelpful strangers, fainting siblings and triumphant rescues.
Obviously, Dance Central was having none of that. Or was it?
To set the scene: You choose your on-screen Opponent (who also happens to be your teacher). I chose Mo, because even though he is the default opponent I figured any dude who can dance with his hoodie pulled over his eyes must have some serious moves. A worthy mentor.
So you pick your song. You pick your level of difficulty. And it's on. Mo does his moves, you do yours, and you watch carefully for bits of his body to light up if your corresponding real limb is not behaving. After you've got a few moves down, it all gets strung together into a sequence, and diagrams even scroll onscreen to show which move is coming up and how many times to do it.
And now I have to fess up and say my scores were good. So good, in fact, that Partner in Crime and our offspring joined forces, with some serious finger-waggling and huffy crossed arms. I was forced to play on Level Medium, while they were on Level Easy.
But it didn't stop there. When I reigned triumphant yet again, they forced me onto Level Hard. And thus came the beginning of the end of my Five Minutes of Fame, as I lost control of my limbs and stumbled off stage taking my two left feet with me.
Dance Central is like entering a theatre... or a coloseum.
You see, the thing about Dance Central is that it's like entering a theatre... or a coloseum. You leave preconceptions at the door. You enter the world, and the part of our brains that loves joining dots and building narratives takes over. Whether you want it to or not.
Observe: The onscreen posse cheer you on; your real-life cohort watch you like a hawk; and your 'opponent' talks to you like you're the Next Big Thing - the Gladiator in the arena. 'Thass right! You got it!' In fact, when you dial up (choose) your opponent, you even get their voicemail if you haven't earned enough points to unlock their alter-ego. (Mo's alter-ego loses the hoodie, by the way - I know this because he answers his phone for me now.)
You can see that if I wanted Power and Agency without the complications of Narrative, I didn't have a hope.
When I compare this to Ms12's forest adventures, I admit I can see similarities. While the forest theatre has no audience except the players, Dance Central is theatre with a serious spectator sport flavour. A theatre of hype, perhaps, but theatre nonetheless, as you - the agent of your journey to dance notoriety - rise to the challenge.
Authentic? I doubt it. But we have enough Authentic in everyday life, don't we?
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: