When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say to say about who we are and the world we live in.
With the release of Just Dance 3 and Dance Central 2 two things are true of my home. My wife is happy and we are both a lot more active. My wife absolutely loves dance games. I love videogames. We love each other—it’s a beautiful marriage.
I have always been something of an evangelist for games. I have long been fascinated by them, and I have played as a hobby for most of my life. I see meaning in them that many other people seem to miss. Consequently, I like to think I understand how videogames work. Given that I write about them, I hope I am more skilled than the average person in thinking about what makes games good, bad, and meaningful. In the case of dance games, however, it would seem that my wife is equally observant.
This brings me to the key difference between DC2 and JD3 that despite my gaming acumen, my wife noticed and articulated well: feedback. Part of the appeal of videogames is the immediate feedback we get from playing them. We like games to tell us when we are doing well and to constructively scold us when we aren’t. A good game tells us exactly what we did wrong so that we can improve the next time.
DC2 and JD3 are very similar in many ways: They both provide a long list of fun songs to dance to, they both include creative and entertaining dances, and they both allow for multiplayer. Despite these similarities, my wife and I both agreed that if we could only keep one game, it would be Dance Central 2. Honestly, I like the song selection of JD3 a little bit better, and I think JD3 has a more creative art style. Yet my wife and I agree—DC2 is the stronger game.
Simply put, Dance Central 2 nails feedback. A game is at its very core, a set of rules that we abide by in order to achieve an agreed upon goal. One of the unique aspects of videogames is the real-time feedback they give us on our performance. Dance Central 2 asks players to follow its dance steps much more precisely than JD3. I know this to be true because I am a terrible dancer whereas my wife is great. I can keep up with her on JD3 but she regularly destroys me in DC2. She has beaten me by 2 million points before—if you watched us dance you would agree that this is just. There is part of me that likes the fact that the disparity between my wife and me on JD3 is smaller but that is nothing more than my pride. When I play Just Dance 3, I know I am not correctly doing the steps that are being shown on screen, yet I am scoring relatively well—it just doesn’t seem to track my movements as accurately as DC2. I am smart enough to know that Just Dance 3 is lying to me, which is actually even more insulting to my pride.
Part of the appeal of games is that they tend to be fair—they tell the truth about our abilities or our lack thereof. Dance games are one of the few games that we both enjoy. I don’t mind Jennifer smoking me in Dance Central 2—it makes her happy and teaches me how to dance. When I play DC2 and I score poorly, I generally know exactly what I did wrong—this makes me feel like I can do better the next time. We both enjoy the dancing and the feedback. Jennifer enjoys the feedback because it accurately recognizes her skill. I enjoy the feedback because it tells me the truth and makes me believe I can do better.