An important lesson in inequality, brought to us by…a video game?
I had never really played console games before my roommate brought home a Nintendo Wii and the game Just Dance. In the blink of an eye, I could transform from a nerdy civil servant into Blondie, a Beach Boy, or even MC Hammer. Evenings at our apartment suddenly got a lot less boring.
But the real excitement came when my roommate told me that a musical theater game called Dance on Broadway was being released. I’m a huge Broadway fan, and as soon as I looked at the song list–which includes songs from Hairspray, Chicago, and The Rocky Horror Show–I knew I had to get it.
Instead of the single, abstracted avatar in Just Dance, Dance on Broadway lets you pick from four pre-determined characters per song, which are supposed to be true to the musicals. Both the box cover and game trailer are filled with pictures of people dressed in musical theater costumes, demonstrating how you can put yourself in the characters’ shoes:
On the one hand, having four characters to choose from (each with slightly different moves) lends more variation to the game, but the downside is that there are a lot of people who won’t find themselves represented in the character choices available.
The truth is, the Dance on Broadway trailer says it’s “fun for the whole family,” but it seems the game is primarily targeted to skinny, white women and girls.
For starters, the trailer shows no men and only one boy, and many of the songs in the game have no male characters to choose from. To me, this exclusion seems only to reinforce the view that liking musicals is unmanly. It’s disappointing to guys who are genuine musical theater fans and it’s certainly not in the spirit of the featured musicals, since many of the songs which exclude men–like “All That Jazz” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat”– included men in their original, Broadway incarnations.
Another huge departure from the source musicals is the material from Hairspray. I was pretty surprised to see that the designers had chosen to have all the Hairspray character options be skinny. And of eight characters (four for each song), only one is black. Those choices are ridiculous considering the whole story of Hairspray is about the struggle for acceptance for people who are overweight, and integration for African-Americans.
Admittedly, having set characters might make it impossible to have equal representation for different genders, races, and body types. What I would have liked the producers of the game to do is to let players customize their avatars, like they do in Wii Sports or in games like Karaoke Revolution. That way, you can adjust the height, weight, skin and hair color, and even gender to make the character look however you want.
Maybe if the designers had taken a lesson from Hairspray, they’d have figured it out the first time. But for now, I’m just going to send them this commentary and keep my fingers crossed for some changes if they ever make Dance on Broadway II.