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Dancing on the Holodeck is an idea for an educational/art game for learning and doing social dances. It uses emerging web-cam and motion capture technology and intelligent agents as non-player characters (NPCs). NPCs are a major element of the game and function as teachers, partners, classmates, admirers, barflies, aliens, celebrities, and heads of state. Using the science-fiction concept of the holodeck from Star Trek, dance selections span different cultures and genres from pre-history, to the present, to imaginary/alien styles of the future.  Not to be confused with dance as a performance art or ballroom exposition, in this game players learn casual dances that people have traditionally shared in social settings throughout history.

For a truly immersive holodeck experience, high fidelity graphics, sound and kinesthetic realism are essential to the aesthetics of the game. The discography must be inspiring for dance, and be original, rich recordings of popular styles from many eras, including some that haven’t happened yet. New dances and discography will be downloadable to continuously expand the repertory of the game over time. The main console will include a set of core dances rated “E” for everyone.  Some downloadable dances may have mature ratings due to their settings in nightclubs and bars. No previous dance experience is required.  In fact, the hardware would allow modifications to make it feasible for elderly and disabled players as well.  The game is for one to four players and has three modes: 1) dance class, 2) invitational, and 3) free style.

Players who are beginners can use the class mode to learn a specific style and control the pace and directional facing of the teacher. Likewise, the teacher NPC, endowed with artificial intelligence, will adjust the level of instruction and encouragement according to the motion-captured accuracy of the player. Meanwhile, players see real-time, 3-D animated versions of themselves dancing in the context of a class populated with other “students.” These are NPCs whose abilities might be better or worse than the players’. With web-cam technology no floor pad will be required. Players have the freedom to move as they will and learn by imitation–matching their movements as closely as possible to the teacher and other NPCs in the class.

The invitational mode immerses players into short story scenarios in which social dances shape one’s interpersonal relations and political status.  Source material for these scenarios comes from mythology, cultural tradition, history, literature, science fiction, pulp fiction and fairy tales.  Players must pass through a minimum class time to get invited to (i.e. “unlock”) dance events, balls, nightclubs, or discos. Here, players will encounter challenges such as doing the best tango to win the girl/guy in a 1914 milonga in Buenos Aires, or failing that, dance one’s best galliard to entertain a dungeon keeper enough to escape. The Cinderella story will require learning to waltz, while joining a line dance might get one noticed (hopefully favorably) in an alien disco.

Dancing in the free-style mode allows players to mix and match venues, partners (if needed), music, and styles of dance including self-styled choreography. The player can choose to dance with or without NPCs and dance as long and freely as one wishes. This mode can be recorded and saved for play-back, or sent to other players over an internet connection. Eventually, the game will support multi-player dance events in virtual space.

With an emphasis on dance, the holodeck provides a metaphor for the core experience. It is an immersive and interactive way to give players the exhilaration of dancing well, in rhythm, to excellent music with good friends—human or not.

Why is this game worth creating?

Archeological records show evidence that people have danced since the earliest traces of human life.[1] We believe that dancing together is a form of meaningful play that in the present moment is largely  inaccessible to the general public–those resigned to watch. Further, we believe it is under-represented in the gaming industry. The mega popularity of Dance Dance Revolution, reality TV dance shows, and events like the T-mobile train station dances,  is evidence of the ongoing human fascination and enthusiasm for dance.  Here are the lessons in a box.

~Sherri Segovia

© 2009  Sherri Segovia and Catherine Turocy.  All rights reserved.

[1] See Bhimbetka Rock Shelters http://www.asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_rockart_bhimbetka.asp

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