The Games We Play: Hardcore vs. Casual
Here to destroy gaming as you know it.
It's not enough that some people who want to come down hard on the gamer communities as if they are the most horrible beings to plague the Earth. We have to fight amongst ourselves, too, creating more neat little boxes to divide ourselves. There are the wars over platforms, fought over different reasons (some well-reasoned, and some as beautifully thought out as “this is what my parents bought me for my birthday, so it is clearly superior”) and coming down into PC and Consoles divisions, and you would think ne'er the twain shall meet. Another dichotomy that really chafes me is this idea that there are “hardcore” and “casual” gamers, both being mutually exclusive entities with one the obvious moral and skilled superior to the other.
You can probably guess which one.
This article I read at G4, while old by industry terms, didn't do much in the way of hiding how they feel about casual games and who they are for. The evolution of video games and the “hardcore” game is clearly meant to appeal to and entertain a certain type of gun-lusting gamer, and I'm sure you know who they imply He is and She isn't. This is compounded by things like the “Imagine” line of games by Ubisoft, geared at young girls in the most stereotypical of ways. Enter: Guitar Hero and the girl-attracting Rock Band, Joe Paulding says. According to him, you have “chick songs” and the Nintendo Wii to blame for the fall of interesting games that appeal to the hardcore gamer, and the gaming industry as a whole.
Actually, there is truth to the thought that Nintendo has widened the gaming market with its cute little white box and flippy little controllers and “nunchuks.” But ruined? I don't think so. With handheld consoles like the popular DS, which was nigh unobtainable two holiday seasons in a row and is a favorite on Seoul subways, and the clever balance board (which I will talk about again in a future post), Nintendo has drawn people into gaming who possibly weren't (but possibly were) in the gaming community before. The Wii put motions and family interaction into gaming by making games like Just Dance, New Super Mario Bros., and countless racing games. They even made my dreams come true by allowing me to actually wield a lightsaber instead of just mashing buttons excitedly. Depth and diversity isn't a bad thing.
The concern is that all of this focus on so-called “casual” games is going to be a disincentive for companies to make interesting games that will continue to appeal to the hardcore gamer. That slapping a 2 or a 3 or an Eleventy-One on the end of the same game series is far better than making a wide variety of diverse games that will appeal to a contrasting array of gamers. Fresh games like Alan Wake or Mirror's Edge, however, didn't pop out of the ether.
This concern plays on a couple of assumptions: 1) That “hardcore” means “difficult,” something that only a veteran gamer of many years should be able to play intuitively, and should only appeal to that certain narrow demographic. 2) That hardcore and casual gamers are two ends of a wide canyon and they shall never cross the divide into local co-op mode.
This troubles me, because I have always known gamers who have enjoyed gaming because it was fun. It is a great pastime, and I have enjoyed it over long periods of time and have enjoyed engaging with other people, playing both games that have been lauded by self-proclaimed hardcore gamers and games scoffed at as casual. This has included exploring consoles and the games available for them back when I lived in a shared house that had a common room rivaling NASA in computers per square meter. We've always sought out different types of games because they were new and interesting, and finding ways to make our favorite hobby seem like something we could enjoy with people we didn't find particularly annoying (including my daughter). I felt like gamers had to be close-knit because we were so dismissed, our hobby looked down upon. Our time scoffed at as ill-spent.
There is a certain sect of gamers who want you to believe that they are the only true gamers. They are the self-congratulatory ones who want to take credit for carrying the market all by themselves into the modern era only to be traded in for the pieces of silver that turned out to be games that more people could enjoy and access without having to devote another full-time job's worth of hours or spoons to it. Games like Peggle and Lemmings and even Tetris were insult enough without The Sims being interesting enough to be one of EA's most popular games and apparently dragging girls into the mix (because dudes never play The Sims, amirite?). This, of course, means that no one will ever make a decent, fresh, innovative, hardcore game ever again.
I suppose that I don't see common ground between the supposed two opposite ends of the spectrum as a bad thing—quite the contrary, actually. I even see it as a way to make games more accessible to more people, which can only be better for the market, and for dedicated gamers. I don't think that dedicated gamers will be hurting for games any time soon, and I think that possibly this broadening of the field will challenge game developers to make games that are not just difficult, but genuinely engaging.
Related Reading: Evolving the Social Game: Finding Casual by Defining Hardcore (Gamasutra)
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