One of the best things I came across in 2014 was Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), or specifically Stepmania, a free version you can play on your computer. It is a dance game that looks basically like this (skip the first minute) or this if you are very good and play in arcades.
I’m never sure whether to draw attention to seemingly large improvements to my life: mileages vary, and improvements are often imaginary (especially if excessive imagination makes it onto the list of things to be improved). However DDR solves what I think is a very basic and common problem: the problem of exercise being less addictive than computer games.
For instance, I sometimes exercise by running. A good fraction of my thoughts while running are about whether I can stop running yet, and the other ones are mostly appeals to not do that. Incidentally, ‘can I stop yet?’ is not a thought I have ever had while playing Civ IV, though I have played much more Civ IV than I have run. Conversely, ‘just one more turn?‘ is a rare thought while running.
Some other sources of exercise are more fun for me, but still mostly require an active effort to do instead of not doing. Based on gym membership’s most famous feature being its liability to be forgotten about, and the connection between exercise and willpower in the popular mind, I think I am in the majority when I say exercise does not usually remind me of playing Civ IV. Except in the sense that exercise reminds me to play Civ IV instead.
For me at least, DDR is enough like Civ IV for the analogy to be salient. I frequently get to the end of a song, and just want to play one more. Often even when I am in a state of exhaustion beyond what I could dream of achieving by running. The addictive quality is not nearly as extreme as for some actual computer games: I’m mostly capable of deciding to stop, and usually actively want to at some point. Sometimes I don’t even want to play at all. But often, the strongest temptation is to keep going.
I might just guess that some people find some exercises randomly fun, and this one happens to be fun for me. But DDR is much more like a computer game than most forms of exercise (it even involves a computer!) And computer games are known to be unusually addictive among pastimes. So I doubt that it is by chance that DDR seems so compelling to me. So, if you are looking for an exercise routine that is very easy to want to do, I recommend trying DDR.
DDR also avoids a further problem, which is less universal, but perhaps disproportionately important for people who would most benefit from exercise: that good exercise often requires you to leave your house. Exercise purportedly helps a lot with mental health problems like anxiety and depression. But anxious and depressed people are often particularly unenthusiastic about going to distant new places to do physically difficult things with a bunch of semi-strangers (I claim), which rules out many forms of exercise. And mentally healthy people too often prefer to spend less time and bother on their exercise. Being able to pull a dance mat out from under your bed and start dancing, with the option of stopping and putting it back under your bed at any moment, is a particularly easy and low commitment way to begin exercising.
Even if DDR is not that great an activity for you, an important point is that exercise can be easy to start and hard to stop, even for people to whom almost all exercises seem arduous. So if you think that exercise is fundamentally an exertion of willpower, it may be that you just haven’t tried enough kinds of exercise. I realize this is obvious to many people, but it wasn’t to me, and I would pay a lot to have been informed of it in high school, or to have just been given a DDR pad.
Here is some concrete evidence about how DDR affects my exercise routine:
The red dots are basically times when I exercised just enough to not fail; then it goes orange, blue, green. As you can see, I used to almost always exercise just enough not to fail, and often less than that. I also often didn’t start the graph up again for a while after failing, though this is influenced by other factors e.g. Beeminder’s recent policy of restarting automatically. I started playing DDR on around the 13th of April 2014, which is shortly before where the graph goes from mostly red to mostly blue and green.
Here is roughly how to play DDR:
- Buy a dance pad, probably a USB one unless you have some fancier device to play on than your computer. I use some that look like this and they seem decent.
- Download Stepmania.
- Get some songs. I did this by getting the files from a friend. You can also get them from here (or here) it seems. You probably want the ones labeled ‘Pad (4-panel) — Community Compilations’. I have mostly ‘In the Groove’ ones. Put the folder you download into the ‘Songs’ folder in the ‘Stepmania’ folder you hopefully got by downloading Stepmania.
- Plug in the pad. Open Stepmania. Press ‘enter’ a bunch. If anything bad happens, Google it. Step on the arrows. Expect to be very bad at it at first.
Option B (recommended):
- Find someone with the things listed in option A set up, and ask them if you can try it out.