So why did the test kids respond so well to DDR, when traditional team-based sports had left them cold? Murphy suspects it had something to do with how mainstream videogames have become. "Kids are so videogame oriented," she says. "Half the time I don't think the kids even realize they're exercising, because they're having so much fun."
Word of the study's preliminary results quickly reached the West Virginia Department of Education, and officials there were so impressed that they started testing out DDR in the gym classes of 20 state schools. That pilot program generated national media attention, garnering mentions by USA Today, The New York Times, Good Morning America and even MTV.
In early 2006, the West Virginia Department of Education decided to expand its pilot program to encompass all of its school systems, starting with the state's more than 150 middle schools. "That's the time in a child's development when they start to make choices for themselves," explains Bailey. The new DDR crusade, which was an official partnership between PEIA and Konami, received additional financial backing from Acordia National, Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Benedum Foundation and the Governor's Office.
DDR is now in all West Virginia middle schools, and while its use in the curriculum varies from teacher to teacher, the setup itself is generally the same. Two kids at a time can play on the dance mats, hopping to the speeding arrows, while their classmates shadow their movements on either practice pads or the bare floor as they wait for their turn. Some schools with a little more money use a video projector to cast the game screen onto the gymnasium walls.
Far from kids getting bored with the mass arrangement, Ryan says his classmates at Hedgesville Middle School love the game. "When [the gym teacher] has the mats out, the line's always a mile long," he says. "We just got two more mats, so you can get four people playing it now. So, like, it was cool before, but now you actually have a line."
If there's a kid who doesn't like DDR, says Bailey, "we haven't found them yet. Almost all the kids who've played it enjoyed it, and wanted to continue to play it."
Perhaps one of the best benefits of the study, says Bailey, is how the children's newfound enthusiasm for exercise has brought their families together. "There were quite a few people in the study who said that it's become a family thing, that instead of watching TV after dinner, they now play DDR," he says.
Tammy agrees, admitting her entire family has caught the DDR bug. "My husband and I would do the mat with Ryan. Of course, he's a lot better than we are," she laughs. "We also have a 6-year-old little girl, and she tries it too, but her legs just aren't long enough yet."
Ryan has spoken about his experiences in the study at several national health conferences and expos, and he has helped Carson and Murphy train new P.E. teachers unfamiliar with the DDR equipment. And although he plays DDR less often these days than he once did, he's still a big fan. "With DDR, I was doing something I liked," he says. "I worked up a sweat, and I felt really good when I did it. It felt like, you know, since you were sweating, you were actually getting something accomplished. I, well, I - I really liked it. A lot."
Lara Crigger is a freelance science, tech and gaming journalist and frequent contributor to The Escapist. Her email is lcrigger[at]gmail[dot]com.