If you listen to the marketing or doom and gloom, there is a clear distinction between casual and hard-core gamers. Casual gamers play on mobile devices or Wii, hardcore gamers devote a large part of their lives to games; casual gamers are being wooed by developers while hardcore gamers are ignored and relied upon to just keep supporting the industry. Casual gamers are killing gaming. Is it really so cut and dry?
I was introduced to video games by my older brother. He played on the Atari and NES, while I would watch and get blamed if he lost. When he was away or busy, I’d get the opportunity to play for a bit, but the games were his. Over time, I got more and more involved in the games – drawing maps of dungeons, strategising battles and generally acting as the navigator. Eventually, I usurped his role and became the main gamer – actually holding the remote and playing the games from start to finish.
As a kid, I didn’t have much disposable income. My games generally came as presents for special occasions. Back in those days, there were some gaming magazines, but I never subscribed. The internet wasn’t readily available, so I gained my knowledge about new games when I would walk into the store and talk to the guys behind the counter. I’d tell them what I liked to play, and they would recommend a few new games. After choosing one, I’d go home and play – generally satisfied with recommendations (especially when they recommended Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, and Secret of Evermore).
Now, I know about games long before they’re for sale – I watch trailers, play demos, and read developer diaries to get as much info as I can to determine if I’ll like something. I still get recommendations from people, but I am able to make my own educated decisions (plus some franchises I play no matter what – looking at you Final Fantasy). At any given time, I have a game that I’m busy with – often getting new games before I have a chance to finish the old one. There are titles and development houses I’m passionate about, and plenty of genres that I don’t like or can’t play (not being able to play first-person games without puking can limit some cool sounding games).
I still also play plenty of flash games – I love going on Kongregate and playing a fantastic tower defence, puzzle or simulation game. Also, I enjoy playing silly games on the tablet or phone. It doesn’t have to be a huge, epic AAA title to hold my attention – casual and indie games can also be a great form of entertainment. But I’m a hardcore gamer – games are a big part of my life. So what does a casual gamer look like?
Is a casual gamer someone who only plays games on a mobile device or Facebook? Farmville is often sited as the quintessential game for casual gamers. That said, there are people who have poured hundreds of hours into playing it. Or Hill Climber. Or Angry Birds. Or Alchemy. So many casual games that become vastly popular and become a central part of people’s daily lives. Just because they don’t play on a console or gaming PC, does that automatically mean that it somehow doesn’t count?
Or maybe we should define it by how they choose their game. Like the childhood version of me, do they rely heavily on recommendations? Maybe they base their purchases on word of mouth or online reviews – only finding games interesting if popular opinion tells them that they will. Although, generally speaking, casual gamers (like hardcore gamers) will only sink hours into a game if it has an appealing hook. Otherwise, they will just abandon the game and move on.
Sure, I understand that there are people who don’t play often – those who occasionally get into a game and play for a few days or weeks before moving on to other (non-gaming) things. However, most people who define themselves as non-gamers are still really interested in a game on their phone, tablet or browser at any given time. And let’s not even mention people who enjoy playing cards or board games.
Perhaps we need to tear down the artificial walls between gamers. If you use a game for entertainment, then technically, you’re a gamer. Even our parents who played Monopoly for hours are gamers. I’m not sure why we need to define casual gamers as so different from hardcore gamers. If the game is interesting enough to them, they will also play for hours on end – people made ‘professional’ Wii Sports leagues! What about those of us who might be hardcore gamers but just don’t have enough time to play as much as we’d like? Would we become casual hardcore gamers? Are those others hardcore casual gamers?
It all just seems like a waste of time trying to define, which means it’s a waste of time deriding people for their gaming preferences. Maybe our next step is getting rid of gamer stereotypes so that people don’t view it as a lifestyle choice to be defined as a gamer. If you play games, you’re a gamer, just as if you read you are a reader or if you write you are a writer. You may not be pro, or even particularly adept, but you are still those things.
Otherwise, you might as well define me as a semi-casual hardcore gamer. Plus, I’m not always very good at the games I enjoy (still trying to get through ZombieU without dying)… oh, and let’s just throw my gender into the mix as well, seeing as that apparently matters, too. So semi-casual mid-range-ability hardcore girl (or gurl or female) gamer.
Do you see a value in these definitions? In which pigeon-hole would you put yourself?