A Discussion on Casual and Hardcore Gamer
I was asked an anonymous question on Tumblr earlier today, in response to this post I made.. I ended up writing an essay about it.
I’ll post it here so you don’t have to click that (you will have to click the first one for context if you need it though)
Anonymous asked: “Reddit did a poll on dark souls, out of around 2400 people, only 66 were women. Those polls of “45%” and “55%” were made using games played during childhood and stuff like Angry Birds, facebook games played once a year, etc. as making you a “gamer”. I’m not sexist, but I can be angry when people mess with statistics, fuck them. Women need to WANT to play normal games, it’s not a sexism problem, it’s an education problem, which I guess is the same, but not my fault.”
Now this is where we can have some interesting discussion unrelated to gender representation in media. Tumblr’s all about that shit, but fuck that I want to talk about video games.
Now, my question to you (you being the collective readership of this post), what is a /normal/ video game? Is there a specific definition of what makes a game casual, or hardcore, or any other terms? Can a game cross a certain threshold and “evolve” into a different category? When you say the word casual, you immediately think of a mobile game, something that your kid cousin or your uncle would play; Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Brain Age, Wii Sports Resort, among many others.
But what about Call of Duty? It’s one of the best-selling franchises of all time. Men in their 40s and 50s are active fans and have already played the newest in the series more hours than I played any game in the year 2013 (for the record, I played 394 hours’ worth of games on my 3DS, and my rough estimate for other systems is probably another 75 onto that, and with PC games another 15 onto that.). My uncle, my father— they have all expressed great interest in the franchise. And it’s a First Person Shooter, the most prevalent genre in modern gaming. It would hardly be considered casual. And for another example, Assassin’s Creed; it’s nearly as celebrated as Call of Duty, and yet its broad appeal has surprised even me in the past. My cousin almost exclusively plays Assasin’s Creed games on her Xbox, rarely turning it on any other time except at family gatherings to play Just Dance. I don’t think that would be considered casual, would it?
Now I have to ask the most important question— what does a casual game even mean? If it means something that can broadly appeal to the masses, the people who do not regularly play their game systems, then why are we calling them casual games? Why not call them simply successful games? Popular games? To one person, Angry Birds can be just as fun as Heavy Rain. Sure, it doesn’t have a story, and it’s a simplistic game, but they are both interactive experiences that can captivate and enthrall the player. To use a more relevant comparison, how are Angry Birds and Portal different? They are both physics-based puzzle-action games, and they are both fun in their own way. Sure, Portal’s got nice and shiny graphics and some clever writing, but gamers are always the ones that want to make the case for visual style over graphics, and I would definitely have to say Angry Birds has a good visual style, one that has been able to spawn an entire media franchise.
If you wished you could make the argument that causal games are ones that you don’t have to put any effort into, that you can sit back and relax while playing. Then you’d immediately realize that games like Mass Effect, Super Mario, and God of War hold your hand the whole way through, at least on lower difficulties, and games like Battlefield serve the same purpose to some people as would Where’s My Water; to help you unwind after a long day of school or work.
And if we’re going with the Casual = Popular distinction, does that mean unpopular games are automatically hardcore? Is Toki Tori 2+ a hardcore game? Is Nidhogg a hardcore game? Is Touhou a hardcore game? The only real distinction you can make about these games is that they aren’t well-known to a wide audience, but each of them is a completely different type of game, and ones that have direct analogues to very popular games. Toki Tori is a puzzle game, a favorite of mobile gaming, Nidhogg is a multiplayer dueling game, which is essentially a simplified version of something like Super Smash Bros. that sells tens of millions a year, and Touhou, the most hardcore of them all, is not entirely unlike the Dash genre of games that have permeated the mobile market in recent years. And if a game truly is hardcore based on popularity, does that mean once a game sells well enough, it becomes casual? Fire Emblem Awakening was the first in the entire series to pass one million copies sold. Its quotes and jokes have become memetic for a large segment of the online gaming community. But could a strategy-RPG with dating sim elements actually be considered casual? Could it?
Now, to figure out what we actually want to refer to as a casual game, we must also figure out what to define as a hardcore game. This I suspect will be even more difficult. What first comes to mind when we think of the phase “hardcore game”? We think of Batman: Arkham Asylum. We think of Dark Souls. We think of Baldur’s Gate. We think of Fez, we think of Spelunky, we think of Touhou. In reality, what do these games actually have in common? I myself cannot think of anything to unite them. A game like rymdkapsel, on my smartphone right this moment, has just as much appeal to me as my copy of Super Hexagon. I’ve played Spelltower just as many hours as I’ve played the new Bravoman, or Star Wars Tiny Tower. And I cannot say that any of these games are casual or hardcore.
Each of the potential separations between a casual and hardcore game falls apart almost instantly. Free-to-Play vs Paid? League of Legends. The Old Republic. Pick-up-and Play or Large amounts of time investment? Hell, any 3DS game on the market today lends itself to playing in quick bursts. The only reason I couldn’t finish Project X Zone is because I burnt myself out trying to play it all at once. Popular vs. Unpopular to the population at large? The many examples I have already provided.
The distinction between casual and hardcore seems to be arbitrary; something that gamers use to seal themselves away and block outsiders. And that is what creates a niche audience. The video game industry is the most rapidly-expanding section of the entertainment industry right now; do you really want video games to become like comic books, where the stories are mostly catered to longtime readers with heavy nostalgia, or anime, which relies so heavily on otaku and their love for moe that most shows won’t be renewed if the CDs don’t sell well enough? By creating a barrier between what you perceive to be a threat to what you have claimed as your community, and yourself, you are creating a culture of toxicity and hipsterism.
Twenty years ago, the base of the video game audience was children and teenagers. The best-selling games were Mario and Sonic and Earthworm Jim, things easily marketable, yet still very fun. Now, once again, the video game industry has reached this point. The newest generation of children, those who were born in the post-9/11 era, those who can barely remember a time before the iPhone, are becoming the new base for the industry, and what trends they latch onto will dictate how the industry moves. Their lives are different from yours— While you may have had fond memories playing Clayfighter Sculptor’s Cut, rented out from Blockbuster, while you waited for your dial-up to load the Buffy fansite you wanted to visit, these children are creating fond memories of their own, but with a completely different life perspective. When they enter high school and college, what type of video games will they want to play, having spent their formative years with Disney Infinity and Flappy Bird, rather than Luigi’s Mansion and Sly Cooper? What will we be able to call a hardcore game in ten years, when the vast majority of games are free-to-play? Will you reject their games as casual once their preferences become the dominant force in the industry—and they will—, and be that 45-year old Marvel fan who sends death threats to Fox because they are making Johnny Storm black in the new Fantastic Four?
So, can you really say a woman is not a gamer because she doesn’t play normal games? No. Because there’s no such thing as a normal game at all. They are simply video games, that all serve the same purpose— to entertain, to impress, and to generate positive memories.
Please feel free to discuss this, debate this— I like discussion, not just back-and-forth rants. I want to see other peoples’ opinions! Tumblr is often a place where dissenting voices cannot thrive, and where one will automatically overshadow the other. But I hope that is not the case here. So please, do comment if you want. Even about the gender representation part that I barely discussed.
Of course, that last paragraph applies here too. If you want to comment on how wrong I am, go ahead! I would like to hear what you have to say, regardless of what it is (unless it’s like “Go fuck yourself and die in a hole”; that’s kind of stupid and pointless).