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The Games We Play: Hardcore vs. Casual

The Destroyer Of Gaming

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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Comments

11 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Wow, that G4 article is truly

Wow, that G4 article is truly insulting. Man, those controllers with all those buttons and all those keyboard commands, gosh, are SO HARD to figure out with my female brain...it's amazing I kept gaming from Asteroids to King's Quest and the like on to Dragon Age!

Keep rocking it! This column is made of teh awesome.

CASUAL

Thanks for this! I am really tired of hearing that I'm not a real gamer and the money I spend on games doesn't count because a)Photorealism is not a big draw to me b) I don't want to buy a dedicated device to play games or c) I don't wish to change my preferred type of computer in order to buy the lastest games (less of a factor than previously).

I disagree with this especially from the G4 article:

"so far, 3rd party publishers have not found a way to sell or market their games to casual gamers."

Oh really?

http://toucharcade.com/2010/12/31/2010-ipad-game-of-the-year-world-of-goo/

really?

http://www.gamestooge.com/2010/12/09/angry-birds-sales-reach-12m/

really?

http://www.tgdaily.com/games-and-entertainment-brief/48599-plants-vs-zom...

(maybe Popcap is considered a major company now, but that is BECAUSE of casual gamers, so it still invalidates his point)

Another point: Why are games the only media that markets to hard-core fans and less to others? Books, movies, and music are all geared to people who only consume them a few times a year (which has it's own issues). Is duration such a big factor?

*****************************************************************
"Oh don't the days seem lank and long
When all goes right and nothing goes wrong
And isn't your life extremely flat
When you've nothing whatever to grumble at?"

--W.S. Gilber

FU G4

'It was a simpler time, when games were primarily marketed to children, and they were easy enough that your sister could jump in for a few hours and not be intimidated."

Yeah, I had a real hard time reading the rest of the G4 article after this gem. Because females have those squishy little brains that can't handle anything more complex than what's being marketed to children, right? Because women and children are basically the same thing when it comes to intellect, right?

I can't believe that a line like this is still, still considered acceptable journalism.

Big surprise. G4 goes for the lowest common denominator.

I heard G4 was actually decent before they merged with Tech TV, but I never had the opportunity to watch it back then. I imagine it had to be better than the crap it is now, after the station stripped away almost everything that was great about TechTV's gaming news. Now, it's turned into a Spike TV wannabe, and seeing the date of that article, the amount of sexism on display isn't a shock at all. It's not that the article made some decent points about the casual/hardcore divide, but it's hard to take seriously when they treat all female gamers like garbage, and all casuals like a plague that plans to destroy the industry.

And don't worry about the "acceptable journalism" part, because every gamer I know (male or otherwise) doesn't take G4 seriously at all because of the aforementioned info above. For more objective gaming opinions and news, kotaku's a better source.

Well, that's good to know.

Well, that's good to know. From what I read of the article, it seemed pretty rife with backlash against the changes in gaming from the stereotypical white-dude gamer.

Wait a minute. There are hardcore gamers dissing Tetris?

I understand the ol' puzzle game's been reduced to a phone ap, but what the hell? That's like dissing Chess or Monopoly. You just don't do that, EVER. Tetris is such a legendary, timeless game in the medium/genre, it's untouchable to criticism. Only Super Mario. Bros managed to receive the same level of respect from everybody (and maybe Pac-Man, but that's more debatable). Who are these people, anyway? I'd really love to give these guys a grilling.

On that note, for me, I classify hardcore and casual gamers by their personal knowledge and immersion they have of the medium, and not necessarily from the games they play. Some gamers really do prefer to only play games on their cell phones as time wasters between trips to work or sitting on the john, or palling around on the Wii/PS3 move/Xbox Kinect instead of playing MMORPGs/RTS games/FPS with millions of others on PCs, Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. None of this is a bad thing, and industry developers like David Jaffe (of "God of War" and "Twisted Metal") champion games like "Angry Bird" for reaching such mainstream status, and for being just as immersive as the AAA multi-million dollar games often released during the holiday season. None of this is a bad thing.

If you asked me when the divide started, it was during the PS1/N64 era. Gaming became increasingly complex, and turned off fans of more simplistic gaming during the SNES and Genesis 16-bit era, and began catering to this stereotypically hardcore mindset. That is one thing I can agree with on the G4 article. There was this whole expectation of keeping up with the new trends, and everyone who can't do it gets left behind. That left a toxic expectation to the rest of the market. Nolan Bushnell, one of gaming's forefathers, hated the direction the industry went during this time, because it reduced gaming's demographic to mostly males between 16-24. When online gaming hit in the late '90s/early 2000s, the divide split further, and the social arcade scene all but dying in America didn't help matters either. Nowadays, when people hear the term "hardcore gamer", they envision someone hooked up to a mic playing the latest, flashiest FPS games in their living room with a 40" HDTV. You'd be surprised how many gamers embrace this expectation, which seems ironic, since you'd think they'd be the last group of people wanting to be typecast.

I'm glad casual gaming hit such an apex since this console generation started. IMO, it didn't start with the Wii, but with the Xbox 360's arcade feature. Having the ability to play smaller scale games for a fraction of the cost that bigger games require was a godsend. Even the hardest of hardcore gamers can't avoid the addictive charm of the titles Arcade provided. An Xbox 360 port of Lumines and Street Fighter 2 sold just as well as the $60 titles, and later, Ikaruga, Geometry Wars 2 and marvel vs. Capcom 2. It wasn't perfect initially, thanks to how restrictive Microsoft was for each arcade game (50 MB, I believe), only to cater for people who used the memory units (which, from what I can tell, was nobody). But overtime, it gave independent studios the means to develop games without soul crushing budgets that only big companies could afford. This was something a surprising number of gamers feared, and for good reason: one bad selling game could bankrupt a company. Xbox Arcade, and later PlayStation Store and Wii's Virtual Arcade, prevented this bad outcome.

But of course, there are the self-professed hardcore gamers who hate anything and everything about casual gaming. The most extreme form of this are insular PC gamers, and they annoy the hell out of me. I'm sympathetic that they're losing support from developers who don't cater to them as intensely as they used to, but I can't tolerate their elitism, because they make it feel like it's everyone else's fault that 95% of gamers prefer not playing flight sims that require 100 GB of space and a 4 Gigahertz processor to not crash, and weeks to learn how to even successfully take off an air strip. Instead of finding ways to bring in more people to their world that they love, they use it as a shroud. And don't get me started with how entitled they feel to everything being handed to them. Whenever I'm feeling a little pissed at casual gaming for whatever reason, I look at these guys as an example of not how to act.

snerk

I had to laugh at the Tetris jab too. I get that Angry Birds isn't quite as involved as Devil May Cry in the same way air hockey is less involved than an actual game in the rink but what exactly was Tetris undermining with it's simplicity? Donkey Kong? Space Invaders? Rotating those pieces to fit together in a certain amount of time is really nothing compared to jumping over barrels...

I always thought that a

I always thought that a hardcore gamer was someone who'd pretty much play anything not nailed down and/or spent hours a day on gaming, and a casual gamer was someone who only played occasionally, or maybe only one specific genre :D. Growing up I didn't really catch on to the gamers = male, since it's my mom who games and introduced us to it, and I was always a much more avid gamer than my brother (until my youngest brother got old enough to really game: you need a level of English for it, not much is localised here). Then later on none of my (female) friends gamed at all, nor did they know the internet existed, and stuff like that. To them gaming and computers were for dads and brothers.

Which is why I've always happily named myself a hardcore gamer.
I've also never really understood the distinction between what is a casual game and what is a 'real' game (what is casual about spending 6 hours a day playing the Sims?). After some time I created the concept for myself that casual=facebook game. Now I see they mean something else by it.

I don't really understand the heated emotions over whether console games or PC games are better (and going as far as liking specific consoles but not others). All I knew was that I couldn't hold on to the controllers for console games, but fortunately almost all of the games I like are on PC anyway, and mostly I am able to play them too.
I'm not sure about difficult or easy. I don't know if I ever even got far enough to really test my gaming skills because I keep running into the wall of physical inaccessibility first. (As in, I'm not sure how well I'd do at tactics, because I always run into the "whoops motor skills can't handle the amount of keys + mouse buttons used and watching what happens on the screen while having to press buttons is pretty much impossible" barrier first. Not that I think I'm very good at tactics at all... Yay for pause-fighting). I guess techincally if my motor skills and coordination and muscle tone are much worse than average, that means I'm... not as good a gamer as other people; I do wonder why that means I shouldn't get to play these games: why not just have a variety of ways to play the game (various input devices), and a variety of difficulty settings and such?

Yay Pause Screen!

I love the pause-screen fighting style. I routinely over-use it in Dragon Age: Origins, and I hear that in DA2, the game was designed to allow you to lay out your entire fight from that option. I'll know as soon as I finish my importable game that I had to do after switching consoles *grumblesthingsIdidn'tthinkthrough*.

Conversely, the RPG, Demons' Souls doesn't seem to care if you have a real life going on around you. I hope that your phone doesn't ring or your cat vomit on the sofa while you are playing this game, because it doesn't even have a pause feature let alone a pause screen fighting menu. Talk about a game that was made with the "hardcore" gamer in mind.

I got the feeling after a while that "hardcore" was another word for difficult when I tried playing any FPS or fighter. The button combos just never work for me. This is why I have always called myself an 'avid' or 'dedicated' gamer, if that. I am a gamer. I've played them pretty much my whole life, and when I am not playing, I am watching my partner or kid play. It is a big part of our lives. I have just never understood the divide. The "PC is better than Console" discussion is something else entirely I can talk about ad nauseum another day.

You can do one of two things; just shut up, which is something I don't find easy, or learn an awful lot very fast, which is what I tried to do. ~ Jane Fonda

Oh, don't mention DA2's

Oh, don't mention DA2's import feature >_>.
I hadn't known in advance that they would have one, and I had *just* uninstalled DA1 and removed all my saves to make room for other games. I was despairing because the game only offers 3 presets for DA1-events-backstory if you don't import, and I don't like any of them. Then I found out that someone has made a savegame editor just for use of importing DA1 saves into DA2. It's not quite as good as a real save, but I was just glad I didn't have to do that endless Circle Tower again, let alone 5 times so I have all the saves I want.

I'm really glad Bioware retains its pause-fighting style even in games like Mass Effect (not quite the same as in their 'real' RPG games, but still good enough that for the first time in my life, I was able to play a sort of shooter game).

What kind of game has no pause button at all O_o? What is so hard core about not being able to take a toilet break >_>.

I'm not someone you want watching you play: I have that 'backseat driver' thing going on. People get annoyed. I did used to have to sit next to my brother and interpret so he could play through our (English-language) games.

Poorly argued BS.

I don't think I've ever read such a poor analysis of market trends.

Regarding comparing games (supposedly) created for and marketed to hardcore versus casual groups, who is to say what is good? I don't like first person shooter games or real time strategy games. But I won't make statements about FPS and RTS games being categorically bad, or even worse on average than what games I prefer to play.

Of course, this is all depending on the author's chosen definition of hardcore and casual. His box of hardcore games apparently are limited to (or at least highly skewed to) war games. Anything that doesn't involve killing must be casual. Particularily telling is ...

"With all of the controversy that followed the GTA: San Andreas Hot Coffee mod ... it’s safer for developers to create simple, family friendly games and not risk a backlash."

So in this case, the author feels that the outrage over a digitized blow job from a protitute must immediately push developers to make crappy games with bad graphics ... not make developers recognize that it is simply not acceptable to include derogatory images in their games. Also, GTA must be hardcore because you can shot people and get blowjobs, right?

Ugh ... I had so much flopping around in my head while reading this. Now I just want to say "gah, what a fool."