The terms “casual” and “hardcore” gamer get bandied around a lot these days. The former tends to be used to decry a group of people who play games not considered “proper” games; games on social media sites, numerous handheld titles and games marketed towards young children and women.
For most, the lines are fairly clear on how we define certain games. Someone whose entire gaming life consists of FarmVille, Candy Crush Saga and Words With Friends probably won’t have much to talk about with the guy who just spent 4 days locked up in an adrenaline fuelled Dark Souls marathon. If your mum plays Cut The Rope on her mobile phone, you probably don’t consider her a “gamer” (and she probably doesn’t think of herself as one, either).
But outside this clear divide of social media games versus intense forty hour RPGs, these binaries become muddled, as “hardcore” and “casual” simply become a way to make games seem like an exclusive club: if you’re not in with the “hardcore” gang, it says, your opinion on games doesn’t really matter. Elsewhere, a myriad of games get thrown on an almost daily basis onto the pile of snobbery marked “casual” games. Mario has suffered that fate, as have most of the big Nintendo franchises, regardless of difficulty or time taken to complete. Even vast and momentous time-drain World Of Warcraft has been tossed under that banner on the (somewhat ridiculous) grounds that, as an online game, it is as much a “social” experience as a gaming one.
When you get into the nitty gritty of it, the subject is something of a minefield; when it brought it up recently with housemates, it sparked a pretty long and impassioned debate. So what exactly makes a game “hardcore”? Many would say a competitive edge, a game where a great deal of play is needed to get to a required skill level, such as StarCraft II, or League of Legends. But Call Of Duty is in many respects just as competitive, and yet two months ago, Infinity Ward’s Mark Rubin faced outraged Call of Duty fans after he was quoted as saying that COD players “aren’t hardcore gamers, or even gamers, but they play Call of Duty every night. And those guys are going to continue to play regardless of platform.”
Of course, Rubin was addressing the fact that many Call of Duty players play almost no other games, but the way in which he said it is notable in regards to the snobbery in the gaming community today. Taking it further even those who sneer at Wii-only owners, calling COD “not gamers” seems, among other things, factually wrong. I wouldn’t call someone who had a monthly subscription to Edge or Vogue magazine a “bookworm”, but neither would I label them illiterate for not being on their third reread of War and Peace.
Labelling someone a “Casual” gamer does, for many in the gaming community, bring forth highly negative conversations, there is an elitism involved that is not necessarily healthy for the community. It’s reasonable to want to surround yourself with those who have similar interests, with people who you can chat about the latest AAA gems or great undiscovered indies with. But if this is done in such an exclusive way, it risks alienating the media and non-gamers further over a medium that is already misunderstood and falsely blamed for the evils of society.
So should we begin to consider ditching these binaries and plumping for somewhere in the middle in which we are all just gamers with different interests? It seems to me that this is the way forward in getting more people interested in games: the artform we on GD are passionate about, and blurring the distinction between “casual” games and games of a similar genre that, for whatever reason, have been embraced by those who consider themselves hardcore. Your friend loves Cut The Rope? Maybe they’d enjoy World Of Goo. Obsessed with the low budget, micro-transaction laden puzzle games on Facebook? Maybe they would also appreciate some of the wonderful indie puzzlers of the last few years, from Fez to Machinarium.
Getting round this idea of “casual” versus “hardcore” isn’t just a way to be more inclusive. Breaking down the barriers between gamer and non-gamer also seems a great way to encourage more people to invest in rewarding, well made and well executed games. Where people go, money follows, and the more people want high-quality gaming experiences, the more money can be invested in such works.
So what do you think? Is the distinction between hardcore and casual gamers arbitrary, or a way of drawing together like-minded individuals?
Do you think that parallel releases of numerous games on PC and “casual” platforms like iOS is beginning to change preconceived notions of what “gaming” and “gamer” really means?
Tell us your opinion by leaving a comment.