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Special Video Feature: Meet a Dance Machine Master

At 15, Wayland Chin fell in heart-pounding, sweat-inducing love. With DDR.

By Christopher Cheung 16 Jun 2016 |

Christopher Cheung is editorial assistant at The Tyee and covers urban issues and migration for other publications as well. Find his Tyee stories here.

If you ask Wayland Chin when he first played the game, he can remember in a heartbeat: Dec. 6, 2003.

It was Chin's 15th birthday party, and he invited his friends to the arcade. He saw one friend playing an unusual game that day. There was no remote control, only a screen and a metal platform to dance on. The game was a popular one from Japan: Dance Dance Revolution, or DDR.

Chin fell in love with it immediately.

"I've played 12 hours non-stop before, when the arcade opened to when the arcade closed," Chin remembers. "In the middle of classes, I'd be thinking about getting a better score."

In recent years, arcades across North America have vanished as large game consoles became too expensive for owners to maintain. Customers have also dwindled as gaming moved inside the home.

Chin, however, never stopped seeking out DDR consoles in Metro Vancouver out of his love for the game.

[Editor's note: Watch the short documentary above, Way's Favourite Machine, to see just how someone can be good at a dancing video game. It recently screened at the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival.]

Dance 'til you bleed

A DDR console is a six-feet-tall cabinet with a screen, and attached to it on the ground is a metal platform. On the platform are four arrow pads. As music plays, the player has to "dance" on the pads as cues show up on screen.

The dance music is usually hit Japanese songs, but there is also a smattering of seemingly random English songs, like hits by Duran Duran and Earth, Wind & Fire.

Chin has the top high scores at three Metro Vancouver arcades, but he also has another reason to play DDR.

"It counts as my cardio for the week," he said. "You're running on the actual machine. There have been times where I've collapsed out of exhaustion, and my feet were even bleeding."

Chin is now 27 and an IT analyst. While most of his peers go to the gym to balance sitting in offices all day, Chin instead plays DDR for exercise. He always shows up at arcades with a large gym bag.

A cult classic

The golden age of arcade games is agreed to be the late-1970s to the mid-1980s. Once filling spaces like amusement arcades, movie theatres and shopping malls, arcade games have been on a decline as companies like Nintendo and Sony moved playtime inside with home-based consoles.

Arcade games today are more of a novelty or cult hobby than a pastime. However, it's become a trend for bars to stock a cabinet or two, a nostalgic throwback for drinking patrons who might've rushed to the arcade after school with pockets of quarters.

But in Metro Vancouver, a few arcades are alive and well due to ongoing immigration from East Asia, where an arcade gaming culture still thrives. A few local arcades have added the latest games from overseas for newcomers on Canadian shores who are used to the nightlife of Asian cities.

582px version of Wayland Chin at Richmond's Aberdeen Centre arcade
Wayland Chin at Richmond's e-Spot arcade. He always brings gym clothes with him to play DDR.

One of Chin's favourite arcades is e-Spot in Richmond, B.C., a city with an immigrant population of 60 per cent. Inside an 18,000-square-foot warehouse with no windows is a slew of game machines, rooms to play mah jong, a billiards hall, and a stall with instant noodles if you need a snack. It's open until 2 a.m. on weekends and 1 a.m. on weekdays.

When he was in high school, he made a lot of friends around the game, and even competed in local tournaments and one in Victoria in 2007 (he was a semi-finalist).

"We had some pretty good players here," said Chin. "I met hundreds of people."

DDR fans around the world also share in their passion online. They've posted their scores in a Facebook group to challenge one another virtually. There are fans as far away as Texas, the U.K., France, and Sweden.

While Metro Vancouver's arcades haven't aged and disappeared, most of the faces Chin once played with have. Chin often played alone these past few years, but recently, he's met many young players at arcades interested in the game. Perhaps a sign that some cult classics are here to stay.

Disclaimer: Christopher Cheung and GP Mendoza, who made the short documentary, were introduced to Wayland Chin through mutual friends, and have become friends since.  [Tyee]

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