Dancing Scheme

I wrote the other day about how I preferred the skillfulness in Skate 3 over that in the various shooters. I went on to say that I thought playing Skate 3 was the closest thing I could think of to dancing in a video game. Playing more the game over the past couple of days I’ve found that opinion bears out.

For one thing, I think it’s fair to say that, along with being “extreme” and all the rest, skateboarding itself could be thought of as a form of dance. It’s expressive, largely of great personal skill, but also of understanding and interpreting space in a physical way. It has a kind of primal exuberance to it, too, that I connect with dancing. It’s rhythmic in a sense, too, with the connections between movements needing to be thought through and a requirement for understanding pacing and so on.

At the core of skateboarding are the technical skills, which perhaps makes it most akin to something like ballet, I imagine. The idea that there are particular moves, very hard to master, that can be made to look effortless by skilled artists. They even involve similarly fluid motion, spinning, leaping, and more. As I’ve said before about Skate 3, this is translated nicely to a video game experience by making the player “enact” the movements with controls beyond simple hitting a button to do something “interesting”, but rather making related, coordinated movements to perform.

This all adds up to Skate 3 being a highly aesthetic experience, very much about the visual joys generated from kinesthetic skill. Again, this would seem to relate to the pleasures of watching dance, as well as performing it. But additionally, skateboarding is aesthetically very tied to the concept of video and recording, which is part of what makes Skate 3 work so well. Skateboarding is inherently about not just the performance in a physical sense itself, but about the presentation of that performance in a maximally aesthetic way. A lot of skateboarding video is heavily stylised with fisheye lenses or cameras positioned at low angles, which can look tacky, but speaks of a strong love of representation, a real interest in it.

It’s this idea of recording and presentation that takes Skate 3 to another level in terms of this “dance” idea. It’s all very well to say that you perform technically skilled moves in sequence, but there’s much like that which isn’t dancing. The focus in Skate 3 (and skateboarding) on presenting the dance is just as important. Thus is particularly important in Skate 3 when you complete some specified move and watch the replay that it looks right. Often, you can “technically” get a sequence right (according to the rules of the game you get a “tick”), but it looks off. Very often I find myself doing something I succeeded at again in order to perfect the aesthetic elements – to dance it well. I can’t think of any other instance of this in other game’s I’ve played.

So, although there are dance-like elements to other games – a perfect _pass and catch in _Madden, a lovely run in FIFA, or even the balleticism of a rocket jump in Quake – I think that Skate 3 is perhaps the first game to be about dancing. In fact, it’s oddly easy to imagine a game, based on Skate 3‘s basic mechanics and control scheme, that would be about doing ballet. Many or all of the same kinds of rules and challenges could apply.

Instead of a 360 flip to 5-0 grind the game would challenge us to “jetée to arabesque”.

21 January 2011
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