Video Game Fever

For once in my life, I didn't regret going to the mall. There was a video arcade at this particular mall, and when I wandered in, I discovered a pair of strange new games.

First, there was Dance Freak, a rhythm game in the Para Para Dancer tradition. Each player stands in front of a pair of motion sensors; at appropriate times, cued by the usual little discs rising up the screen, one sticks out a hand to "break" one of the invisible beams. Dance Freak is distinguished from other such games (at least in my experience) by having sensors both above and below: if the disc is blue, you put your hand over the sensors, but if the disc is red, you put your hand underneath.

I guess you could string together fancy display routines, the way good DDR players can, but a few structural features of Dance Freak would argue against its potential to hit the big time. First, standing there moving just your hands feels more akin to boxing than anything musical. And second, the sensors are set insanely low: to get my hands under them, I had to bring my elbows to my sides. Any dance move you can do with your elbows touching your waist is lame. I suspect that this game was built for Korean youth who haven't hit their growth spurt.

And then there was Landing High Japan. You get to be the pilot, bringing passenger jets in for landing (the game includes takeoff segments, too, but the takeoffs are pretty easy). Sounds like fun, yeah?

Well, there's at least one problem. Even the "easy" game setting still requires you to work the rudder pedals in addition to the stick. For fascinating physical reasons, the relationship between a plane's bank (controlled by the stick), its yaw (controlled by the rudder), and its rate of turn (what you need to affect to fly where you want to) can be quite non-intuitive.

Pilots spend a long time learning to rewire their intuition. In addition to careful insttruction in the physics of flight and how to execute smooth turns (instruction utterly lacking from Landing High Japan), they practice their "non-coordinated flight" (i.e., with an independent rudder) at high altitutes, well away from the complex pressures of landing. Only once they know how the plane will respond are they at the controls anywhere near the ground.

That is to say, any fool can bring the simulated 747 in for a straight-in landing (and this fool did), but if you're required to bank and turn as part of the approach, your 747 is likely to make the acquaintance of the ground (as mine did). I didn't see anyone else even remotely interested in playing Landing High Japan: I could easily imagine the machine eating quarter after quarter as a would-be player grappled with that merciless learning curve.

Then again, in a gaming culture just a little more obsessive than the one at a suburban American mall, such could be the recipe for an enormous hit.