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The First One's Always Free
Audition's avatar usage is extremely clever. Basic outfits come free or can be earned with "beats" - in-game currency you accrue by performing well in dance competitions. But this attire is unequivocally lame, garish or drab. Cool gear must be purchased individually using Nexon Cash in increments of $5, $10, or $30. Ten dollars will get you a nice high-end outfit; $5 a decent one. Really cool stuff can only be earned by competing in Tournament Mode. By and large, the community respects "pro" skills no matter what you're wearing, but there's an inescapable sense of being left out of the club unless you've customized your avatar. And in true free-to-play fashion, by the time you get to that level, you're generally quite happy to pay Nexon something for the game experience it has provided.
When I first started playing, I was convinced these high-level hot stepper kids had something I fundamentally didn't. This is partially true: They did have something I didn't, and not just endless patience or time to spare - they knew the songs.
This actually makes a significant difference in your performance. Hardcore Audition players identify desirable songs by their speed and difficulty, but a significant number of the game's "mainstream" players actively seek music that they already listen to outside the game. (And it works both ways; players have reported purchasing music they first heard in Audition.)
My CD shelves are populated with Johnny Cash and heavy metal; I would rather gouge out my eyes than sit through an Ashlee Simpson concert. Once I started playing Audition, however, a new aural landscape opened up before me. Rather than semi-sullenly tuning out environmental music at the mall, I started to recognize bands and individual songs. And because I associated them with the feelings of accomplishment and socialization I absorbed in Audition, I actually enjoyed hearing them. Whereas I had actively disliked - to put it mildly - the repetitive beat and high-pitched vocals in Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend," after mastering it in Audition I found myself tapping along with it on the radio. Audition is, among other things, an as-yet unmatched music marketing engine.
Audition Is My Anti-Drug
The indescribable flow state of a high-speed Beat Up match is more like a drug than any other game I have experienced. Other titles have approached it; Ikaruga relies on a similar sense of precision timing, as do rhythm-based games like Rez, with its infamous Trance Vibrator. But no game encourages collaborative flow quite like Audition. You know the second one of your teammates makes a mistake, and you know when you've pulled into the lead, switching smoothly into that coveted, unique-moving lead dancer position. It's a natural high produced by the achievement of a pure aesthetic state that hones your reflexes and sharpens your mind. One player on the Nexon forums said it best: "Audition is my anti-drug!"
Audition offers a transformative experience, both terrifying and uplifting. It provides naturally a host of sensations approached only chemically by previous generations. Bruce Holland Rogers, in his short story "One," writes of an online game, incomprehensible to adults, through which children enter a Zen-like state of mystical understanding, much to the teeth-gnashing of their elders. Audition is not that game, but it may be a missing link; a transverse into that thought-suspended place of oneness with the beat of the universe. This, for Audition and beyond, is the essence of "pro."
Erin Hoffman is a professional game designer, freelance writer, and hobbyist troublemaker. She moderates Gamewatch.org and fights crime on the streets by night.