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New Japanese Video Games Promote Dance, Physical Activity - 2004-07-21

Parents often complain that youngsters spend too much time playing video games instead of staying active. But a new generation of interactive game is addressing the complaint by encouraging youngsters to get off the couch and dance.

The trend began in arcades in Japan, as young people jumped and gyrated to a musical video game called Dance Dance Revolution. The Japanese company Konami realized its appeal and has sold millions of copies for Sony's PlayStation and PlayStation 2, and Microsoft's XBox.

Marc Franklin of Konami Digital Entertainment-America describes the moves of a dancer.

"He uses the dance pad to correspond to the arrows that are coming up on the screen, or trying to," he explains.

The dancer stands on a plastic mat configured in a grid, each section marked with a symbol. The dancer follows the scrolling instructions on a television screen to move his feet to different sections of the dance pad.

A more elaborate version of the game, called Dance Dance Revolution Extreme, will be released in the United States in September. The company spokesman says it will come with the standard dance mat and an additional device called an Eye Toy, a small camera that sits on the television.

"And it lets the user interact with the game in a kind of virtual way," he said. "You can actually see yourself on the screen. Your functions that you do on the dance pad and the movements you do are seen and recorded on the TV."

Konami's Peter Nguyen demonstrates one of several activities in the game system, called "Coconut Panic." His image appears on the screen as he stomps on the pad and moves his hands to make his onscreen image grasp the trunks of two coconut trees.

"So you're shaking the palm trees," he said. "And then as you shake the palm trees, coconuts fall and you use your hands to catch the coconuts."

Konami's Marc Franklin says the game appeals to older people who want to lose weight, as well as younger players who just want some fun and excitement.

"It hits many different segments of the gaming population. So if you look at kids, this is a great video game," he said. "For people that want to lose weight and use it as an activity, they can use this as a weight-loss tool. And for people who just want to learn how to dance and check out the number of songs and different genres that are in the game, it's unique for that audience as well."

Other companies have gotten in on the action. A firm called Cateye Fitness produces a video game that hooks up to an exercise bike and allows exercisers to race against an imaginary partner.

For players who see exercise games as a little too interactive, Konami offers a sing-along video game called Karaoke Revolution, another popular transplant from the arcades of Asia to American living rooms.

The game is competitive. It assigns singers a score, rated by pitch and rhythm. But they can set the level of competition, so it won't be too disparaging of their singing ability. A new version of the game goes on the market this month.