In 2012, Xopher (as he’s known among the dance game community) was told by a doctor that if he didn’t lose weight, he’d be needing a heart transplant. So began an intensive and life-saving exercise program built around the arcade game series Dance Dance Revolution.
Growing up in central Arkansas, Xopher has struggled with obesity most of his adult life. But in the year 2000 he got very into DDR when a local arcade installed a DDR 3rd Mix machine.
“I would play as often as I could,” Xopher tells Kotaku, “but the closest machine was 30 minutes from my house and I could only go there with friends. We would gather up in the car of the only friend who had one, and make road trips to the arcade.”
It was a fun time, but as the popularity of the game began to wane a couple of years later, Xopher also left town to go to college, and while he kept playing DDR on his travels (for six years he played the same machine at a local cinema), his obesity was becoming a serious risk to his health.
By 2012 Xopher was up to 147kg, and was told by his cardiologist, “You need to lose weight or you’re going to need a heart transplant by the time you are 50 years old.”
Terrified of the consequences of his fitness regime (or lack of), he started hitting the gym. Although this was initially successful, as he lost “about 30 pounds [14kg]”, by the time Christmas 2012 came around he had “ballooned back up” to over 300.
A couple of years later, two things happened. The first was that Xopher found an “excellently-priced” DDR machine on eBay that just happened to be located in his town. The second was that he purchased a house, which gave him the space to store a game that massive.
Without hesitation he bought the cabinet, and upon arriving to pick it up found serendipitously that it was the same DDR SuperNova unit he’d been playing on at a local movie theatre for the last six years. That was the good news; the bad news was that “it was in rough shape”.
“I learned a lot about arcade machine restoration and repair,” he remembers of the two weeks that followed, but he soon had the unit operational and was ready to start playing.
Beginning on standard difficulty and playing just three games a night — ”I hadn’t played in so long, this is all I could handle” — Xopher found that over time his skill and stamina were slowly improving.
Combined with an improved diet, within six months he’d advanced from the game’s medium-tier difficulty all the way to pulling off Perfect Full Combos on Heavy Difficulty.
From 2014-16 he kept this DDR regime up, which resulted in a loss of around 23kg. Then from 2016-18 the weight danced right off, as Xopher dropped down to under 91kg, a loss that has transformed his body.
“I’ve gone from a blood pressure of 140/80 to 112/65," he says, with a “resting heartrate in the high 70s to a resting heart rate of 45-50. My goal was accomplished. I was healthy for the first time in my life.”
Xopher credits his changed body (and years of practice) for his new-found skills in DDR, as for the first time he’s now “playing at a competitive level”.
He now owns a DDR cabinet that can play various versions of the game, from 3rd Mix to more recent releases, along with Stepmania. He’s also branched out and bought a Pump It Up machine, as well as StepManiaX.
Having found that over the last 12 months his weight loss has gotten “a bit stagnant”, he’s added weightlifting to his exercise program to try and increase his muscle mass and burn more fat. He’s also hoping that bulking up his muscles will help “tighten up” the “significant amount of excess skin” he has from such drastic weight loss.
“I encourage everyone to find your closest arcade and give DDR a try,” Xopher says. “If you’ve never played, or if you played a decade ago and want to play again, DDR is growing again. We have a robust, supportive community and lots of large gatherings around the country like DDR Storm, Raj of the Garage and The Big Deal.”
That’s harder than it sounds. In 2018 Konami will only sell new DDR cabinets to ROUND1 and Dave & Busters, meaning loads of players, like Xopher or Twitch streamer happyf333tz, either aren’t near a machine or aren’t allowed to buy one for their homes. Despite this, Xopher urges everyone who has ever dabbled in the game to try out the latest iterations.
“DDR A is the new modern release of DDR that came out in 2016 and is the highest quality, most-welcoming DDR game ever made. With this release, DDR finally has online scorekeeping and rival systems in America. This was a Japan-only feature until DDR A. Additionally it should be noted that 2017's DDR World Championships were won by an American, Chris Chike.”