The Dance Central series is probably my least-expected favorite franchise in this generation of gaming. I’ve always liked music games and loved Harmonix (and played a whole hell of a lot of Frequency back in the day), and considered Rock Band 3’s pro mode and legit music lessons to be the epitome of the genre a couple of years back. But nothing – not even the frenzied height of Guitar Hero’s popularity – can touch the pure, accessible joy of a dancing game done right, the way DC does. For parties, Rock Band/Guitar Hero was always fun, for sure, but only 2 out of every ten people would touch the goofy plastic axe. With Dance Central, absolutely everyone – male, female, young, old, three sheets to the wind or just brave – can get up there and cut a rug. No weird controllers, no prohibitive interfaces, no inputs at all aside from your own body. It is, in my humble opinion, the best party game of this generation, aside from the Wii’s fantastic Boom Blox series. ..
It fascinated me recently to read a Gamasutra piece on how the team at Harmonix designed the game to allow for different modes of gender expression in the dances themselves. This is incredible (especially in our industry), and a huge credit to the game. They didn’t just take out dance moves that appear “feminine” or only limit certain moves to male or female characters. Instead, they allow players to perform however they’d like, and score them appropriately. “So the core of Dance Central’s detection system focuses on allowing players to perform moves with as much traditional masculinity or femininity as they individually enjoy, and the game offers a range of characters that reflect different modes of body language to better enable people to play with these concepts.
Dance Central 2’s intuitive preview system lets players see what kind of moves might be in a dance before they try it — without tipping a hand toward “this is a neutral song, or this is a masculine or a feminine song.” When I throw a party at my apartment, there tends to be a fairly diverse crowd, and Dance Central has become a staple of the evening. It’s always fascinated me to see how different folks have approached it – guys and girls, gay and straight, people of color and folks as white as Wonder Bread. By the end of the night, almost all of these people have given it a go. You can bet that those inclusive design choices on the part of Harmonix are a big part of this – ensuring that no one feels out of place or pigeon-holed by the game. It has to be one of the games – aside from Bioware’s latest – that feels genuinely inclusive.
Race, gender and sexuality are less token elements, able to be incorporated into the player (or, player avatar)’s identity, not left aside at the outset, as is true with so many other games. From the Gama piece: “These notions of complex identities just resonate better with a broad audience,” he adds. “They allow for a more fun, ephemeral taking-on of other identities, and add a variety to the play… and often a levity to the experience.” “It’s sad to me to think that we’re the entertainment industry, and we’re the most technologically advanced of all the entertainment industries, and yet we seem to be lacking in a social progressivism that matches our technological progressivism,” Boch reflects. “I want to turn that around.”