Dance Battle Audition

Slick moves - and staying out of jail.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, there's an uncomfortable feeling that recent events have killed off any lingering hope of a career in politics. Or, indeed, in any field in which the muck-raking tabloids are likely to take a pop at you by dredging up old skeletons. The kind of skeletons that come from closets you thought you'd dumped at the bottom of the local lake decades ago.

It's not that I've ever really had any illusions about that anyway - the Internet is a wonderful repository for all manner of things you wish you'd never said. It doesn't help that when drunk, I'm attracted to my keyboard like a moth to a flame, and with similarly catastrophic results. If I ever do start a career in politics, I've always reasoned that my first act would have to be firebombing the server which stores the Eurogamer forum.

I don't think that matters any more. With shocking clarity, I have come to realise that any moment of glory later in my life - election as an MP, publication of a bestseller, rescuing 17 cats from a single tree - is already doomed. Doomed, because some Google-savvy lackey of the Murdoch press will dredge up a log of the weekend I spent pretending to be a 16 year old girl on the Internet.

Starting Young

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Show me on the virtual doll where he touched you.

It started off perfectly innocently - honestly. I was sitting at home, unobtrusively going about the business of being a 26 year old man, and not a 16 year old girl in any way, when an email from Kristan arrived.

"It's a Korean dancing game, and apparently huge over there. Fancy looking into it?"

Strange words with which to seal a man's fate, but so be it. How was I to know that such a simple request would plunge me into a twilight world, an online labyrinth populated exclusively by excitable pubescent girls? Who could have looked forward and seen what was to come?

Oh, okay - just about anyone who considered the concept of a "Korean online dancing game" could probably have guessed where this was leading. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Audition, the game in question, is indeed huge over there. By "over there", we're not just talking about South Korea, either; we're talking about the entirety of East Asia and fairly large chunks of the rest of the world to boot. Originally launched in Korea in 2005, localised versions of Audition have been launched in China, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Indonesia. This year, it has expanded to cover Brazil, North America and Europe.

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The team on the right is celebrating something - hitting puberty, most likely.

In each of those territories, Audition boasts millions of players. Millions upon millions. If you thought World of Warcraft was consuming the world's population at a worrying rate, consider this - in China alone, Audition has over 50 million registered users, and half a million players logged in concurrently. It's reportedly the number one search term on Chinese search engines. That's a whole lot of pubescent girls.

So what, exactly, is Audition? In simple terms, it's an online rhythm action game where you battle against other players. The client is a simple, low-fi affair which can be downloaded for free. It should run happily on the PC which gave up the ghost on new games four years ago and has sat in your little sister's room with MSN and MySpace open ever since. That's probably exactly what the developers had in mind.

The game is free to play, with no subscription fee involved. It's perfectly possible, in fact, to download the client and dance away to your heart's content without ever handing over a penny; the actual dancing aspect of the game, right from tutorials through to ranked group multiplayer dance-offs, is totally free of charge. Instead, Audition makes money from the second pillar of the game - the Fashion Store.

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The graphics are simple but very bright and colourful, and characters have a suitably wide range of dance animations.

The fashion store is where you kit your huge-eyed avatar out with a huge variety of new clothes, accessories and looks - all of them so cute they threaten to give your retinas cancer if you look at them for too long. It's essentially virtual doll dress-up, but with vast possibilities in terms of clothing combinations - ranging from fashionable streetwear to school uniforms through to military garb (the "Ranger" gear essentially turns you into a cute version of Solid Snake) and other various game and movie archetypes.

Clothes and accessories are, to a large extent, Audition's payoff. You compete in dance battles to earn the in-game currency, Beats, and then spend them on new duds for your avatar. You can also, however, top up your Beats with cash - and some items, however, can only be acquired for real money.

Fashion store items aren't exactly expensive, but if the UK release of the game tracks the Korean game closely, with new fashion releases every week, it could still wind up being an expensive affair for obsessive players.

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