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By Caroline Kettlewell
Friday, April 28, 2006

HELLO, my name is Caroline, and I'm addicted to "Dance Dance Revolution."

Six weeks ago, I'd never even heard of this game. Then one day the junior member of the household began clamoring for it. A video game you play not with the usual handheld controller but with a touch-sensitive mat on the floor. A dance pattern scrolls on the screen, and you have to match it with your feet on the mat.

If you don't count a brief and engrossing fascination with "Pong" around Christmas 1975, my general interest in video games could safely be described as nominal and my playing ability worse.

"Eh," I said dismissively to my 8-year-old. "It sounds like one of those things you'll play with for a day and never touch again."

Then two weeks ago, I got my first try at "Dance Dance Revolution."

Two days later we had a PlayStation 2. The next day we added a second dance mat. Now my feet are bruised, my shins ache, my child begs piteously for dinner while I mutter, "Just once more, just once more," and I fear I may be in the market for a couple of knee replacements.

But really, I can quit anytime.

"Dance Dance Revolution" (known by the less cumbersome "DDR"), introduced by Konami Digital Entertainment as an arcade game in Japan in 1998 and two years later in the United States, was released in a home version for PlayStation in 2001, making "DDR," in the warp-speed world of electronic entertainment, the ancient, if spry, ancestor of the new video-gaming trend dubbed "exergaming."

Seeking to put the "active" in "interactive," exergaming -- anything from inexpensive video games that get you off the couch to high-end exercise equipment for the commercial fitness market -- premiered as a self-identified category barely more than a year ago at the huge International Consumer Electronics Show in January 2005. Though it's too early to say whether it will be the hot new thing or a mere blip on the radar, the success or failure of exergaming is likely to rest on two essential questions: Is it fun, and is it exercise?

Pedal Power

My initiation into exergaming began with the Gamebike from Cateye Fitness. A stationary bicycle with the game controller built into the handlebars, it comes in two sizes (for kids and adults), connects to a PlayStation 2 (with adaptors for other platforms) and works with video racing games. You pedal to move your racer and steer with the handlebars.

A round of "ATV: Offroad Fury" led, unfortunately for my game character, to a series of brutal onscreen accidents incompatible with a lengthy cyber life span. I could see, however, that a person with better gaming skills than mine (no big challenge there) could easily get lost in playing and hardly notice the exercising; my kid, who hates sitting still, would probably love the Gamebike and want one immediately, which is why (at $349 for the consumer model) I didn't invite him to try it with me. And imagine an adult Spinning class at your local fitness club (the Gamebike costs $1,169 for upright and $1,600 for recumbent commercial versions) where you're matched against several fellow riders in an onscreen race.

"You get so focused on the competition, 30 or 40 minutes will pass and you won't even realize it," says Russell Triebert, who is Cateye Fitness's regional sales manager for the Southeast.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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