Forget square dancing, relay races or rope climbing. The new way to spice up gym class in West Virginia involves the sweaty, fleet-footed rush of "Dance Dance Revolution."
The state of West Virginia and "DDR" publisher Konami announced Wednesday (January 25) that all 765 public schools in the Mountain State will incorporate the dance-pad-based video game into curriculum over the next two years.
The program will start with the state's 103 middle schools, which will each be outfitted with an Xbox, a copy of "DDR Extreme 2" and two dance mats as the curriculum kicks in during the next couple of months.
"Unfortunately West Virginia has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the country, " said David Bailey, spokesperson for the state's Public Employees Insurance Agency, the group that coordinated with state education and health groups to implement the program. "We were looking for something that we could do for our kids and wanted to find something they would actually do."
The game became an unlikely priority for the state's fitness programs after Linda Carson, a professor at West Virginia University's Motor Development Center saw kids building up a sweat playing "DDR" in an arcade. Carson launched a study of the game's physical and mental benefits at WVU last year, which led to the involvement of Bailey's group and the state program announced Wednesday.
"Obviously kids respond to this game, " Bailey said. "It just seems to us that it's a great way to introduce more physical activity for schools."
Long accused of taking the side of Cheetos and chocolate in the nationwide struggle with obesity, video games have somewhat redeemed themselves of late. The 2004 Xbox game "Yourself!Fitness" functioned primarily as an interactive workout video. The 2005 "Eye Toy Kinetic, " designed with involvement from Nike fitness experts, used the PlayStation 2's camera peripheral to stage interactive exercise sessions that put jumping, arm-swinging users into the action on their TV and counted the calories being burned.
"DDR, " less explicitly a workout tool, has gained a wider reputation for promoting fitness than even those games. First released in America in 2001, "DDR" has been popping up in gyms alongside the expected treadmills and workout benches for years. In October, Konami announced a partnership with 24 Hour Fitness to incorporate the game into the gym's youth-oriented workout programs.
The hope in West Virginia is that "DDR" will indeed help kids sweat off excess pounds and relearn the joy of just jumping around. Even though each school will start with one copy of the game, Bailey said classes will likely consist of one or two students on the mat and the rest of the students following along. Schools will also be encouraged to start before-school or after-school "DDR" clubs similar to chess and tennis clubs.