Categorically Incorrect

pigeonholes, with pigeons in them

...nothing pisses a person off more than being shoved into the wrong pigeonhole. -- Pam Davis, House M.D., "It's A Wonderful Lie"

The terms the gaming media uses for everyone who isn't a multi-player FPS gamer leave a lot to be desired. I know it's a hard thing to figure out, but we have got to come up with a taxonomy of gaming that doesn't imply a hierarchy of experience and motivation.

Gamers and the game media all over use the term "casual" to describe just about anything that's not an online FPS. Puzzle games on every platform, platformers, and most lower-ESRB-rating adventure games all get tarred with that same brush. It riddles every discussion of kid's games. It's a real misnomer on every level; there's nothing casual about a kid playing games. He just has a different set of parameters than you do, and within those parameters he's just as picky and obsessed as the very 'leet-est. And if you want to experience some laser-pointed intensity, try Wii Bowling with the little old ladies in the assisted living complex down my street.

I know that part of the reason this rankles so much is because of my own play style. Take a favorite whipping boy for an example: Halo. Unlike many players, I'm not there to count some sort of digital coup on an aetherial representation of a friend/acquaintance/pubtard smack-monkey. I'm not there to shoot my fellow Spartans. It really bugs me in the multiplayer modes; especially when they're representations of my children or my friends.

So why do I play the game? I'm there to thrash my way through the trash until I get to the Prophets themselves and then beat them bloody until they go back on their self-genocidal pilgrimage to oblivion and leave my people the frak alone with their planets and the various other things that the Progenitors put on a high shelf so they couldn't touch them. Then their various subject races can make their own way and we'll deal with them on an individual basis.

Cooperative mode is where it's at for me; I love working with my peeps to achieve the goals. But even then, odds are it'll be offline because I've got hot-and-cold running wingmen at my house. I'll be very frank and admit that my first play-through of a new game is always an Easy run to unlock all the cinematics and see the story. Because of my approach to the game, I'm not considered "hardcore."

Getting beyond the hardcore/casual dichotomy isn't as much help as one would hope. Mitch Krpata, for example, has sorted gamers into several categories. If you read the whole series, he has some interesting ideas here. I really like the underpinnings of how he broke it out. But by his taxonomy's definition my gaming style is referred to as "tourist", and that's where the terms start to grate on my nerves.

The word "tourist" implies a lack of seriousness and carries connotations that the story-driven experience is more superficial than the min-maxing skill player or completionist types he sets it against. Ask anyone who ever grew up in a place where tourists are known to gather how they feel about it. In the town I grew up in, everyone referred to them as "tourons" (an awkward but usually accurate portmanteau of tourist and moron).

There are about as many definitions of "hardcore" gamers as there are people speaking, but no matter where you look it boils down to kill-counts in online multiplayer FPS in whatever the latest M-rated, Super Blood-soaked Smashum that's sloshing around in the foam at the top of the hype-ocean. But if you analyze the common markers that are used to discuss how "hardcore" a gamer is, you'll see that they are not the sole purview of "hardcore" titles:

  • Cash on the Barrel-head: Those matchlist players haven't spent any more than I have. I am deadly earnest when I say I want the Prophets to die in a fire, and I have invested over $250 dollars in this effort over the years. I will be investing more next year when Halo: Reach comes out. I have just as much cash investment in their simulated deaths as any pubtard smack-monkey "perfectionist" has in humping my digital carcass.
  • Focused Resources: It's not just any particular game. If you want to count pound-for-pound all the gaming paraphernalia in my house, I come in way above the average soi disant hardcore gamer. If you play games my way, you have to have this much stuff. There's no fanboy allegiance to limit my appetite for game hardware; I have to have all the platforms and all the dreck to support them to play the wide range of games I enjoy. And this comes with attendant investments in living space focused on them. But even a single-genre type will often surprise you with the amount of attention they pay it. I bet your niece with the Wii saves her allowance just as avidly as her FPS-focused brother. There are a bunch of someones out there somewhere who bought those cheerleader pom-pom 'Mote attachments used to play Wii Cheer and it damned skippy ain't me.
  • Time: All gamers invest the time they have to the degree they're willing/able to work their life around it. Your hardcore FPS gamer invests their gaming time online blowing up their college buddies punctuated by 10-hour single-player chunks. Great. I spent all the gaming time I have for the last month or so working on being able to sing and play bass at the same time on Expert difficulty in The Beatles: Rock Band. A game of Bookworm Adventures literally takes me hours even on the free online version, due to the fact that I'm more than a bit over-educated. And don't even get me started on how many hours my JRPG fetish has cost me over the years.
  • Game Type: Just because a game does not involve directly killing folk doesn't mean it's not intensely contested. Just because there's no kill count to measure by doesn't mean the effort isn't there. You count it in things like the missed homework assignments and lowered grades that accompanied my daughters on their all-consuming, three week long quest to take out Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts II. (At least it did until I found out about it and put some limits on it.)
  • Demographics: Every year the age-range of gamers gets wider as the original gamers grow older but don't lay down the hobby and their children and grandchildren join in. And everyone gets into their game, whatever it is. Just watch a kid who is whacking away at a digital representation of his best friend in a hotly contested Wii Sports Resort Kendo match, or his mother who just got the word "euclidean" in Bookworm Adventures II and called her best friend to crow about it. Or for that matter, my daughter smashing her newly-minted husband out of the ring in Soul Caliber IV.
  • Powering Through to the Goal: Again, kill-counts aren't the only way to measure skills. When he was younger, my son invested I-don't-even-want-to-think-about-how-many hours in tuning his cars in Need For Speed: Carbon to the point that several of them have enough torque to do a standing kick-flip. This requires a Lifeless Goob level of knowledge of the game and it's metaphors for car configuration, hours and hours of racing and completing missions to get the in-game cash for the upgrades, and way way WAY too many hours playing Tony Hawk Pro-Skater to provide the initial motivation.

As someone who almost never plays online FPS (and if I do I never play with strangers), who has spent more time in Bejeweled than in Half Life, who revels in turgid JRPG's and adventure/platform gaming in between my sneaking and shooting and bouts of stomping around the landscape in a giant robot, I usually fit some other category--the one that always seems to end up being referred to by a dismissive term.

Games matter to me just as much as they do any frothing forum-dweller or pubtard. I'm not casual about it. I'm not a tourist just dancing around. And I don't think we're going to get the gaming digeratti to truly take alternative approaches to gaming seriously in their decision-making until we come up with a nomenclature that doesn't imply that we're less important.

Comments

Good article.

I cannot help you with the pigeonholing, though. One of my personal pleasures in life is to be pigeonholed (he types, knowing full well someone will take that out of context and make him look bad) and then obliterate that characterization by doing something that is wholly normal for me but doesn't fit the mold.

In college I wore cammo pants, and all my winter gear was military surplus from various countries bought from The Sportsman's Guide. Yet in my room, I had a poster of all of the pokemon that were then available. When asked about it I would reply "I am not without whimsy."

The funny part is that I didn't even play pokemon, the card game or the video games. I just found the poster abandoned under a desk and thought it was cool.

As for gamer taxonomy, I don't think level of perceived seriousness is the way to categorize us. It might be more instructive to define by most played genre, the way they break up music stations on the radio. EG Country versus R&B versus Rock.

The problem you run into there is the problem raised by the article about Brutal Legend: Games themselves are trying to defy categorization, so saying "I play RTS games" is becoming a meaningless statement.

I'm sure that the categories will develop organically without intervention from experts. Unfortunately, people in one category will always hold people in the others in contempt. Even within the same category of game. Have you ever heard the jokes that get passed around by Electrical Engineers about Mechanical Engineers and vice versa? Human beings just aren't wired to respect differences. Especially trivial ones.

Sorry if this sounds coarse, but why get so hung up on it? Yeah, it's pretty much human nature to pigeonhole: it makes things simple so we don't have to think as much. But reality isn't split into these neat little chunks with labels. Trying to justify why you should fit into an over-simplified category seems a little pointless to me, especialy when one considers that such categories are made by others to place themselves in, with pretty much the sole purpose of self-agrandisement. It's ultimately meaningless. You like the games you like and you play a lot of them.

Similar to music or film, as you cosume more of them, your tastes broaden and you fit less and less into any given category, although it may have been comforting at one time to place yourself in a specific category. People with the capacity for obsessiveness are often the most vocal and are also those who find it easiest to create and place themselves in such categories - a narrow range of interest does that. In the case of both music and games, this is more often than not, younger folk (e.g. 'I am a goth, I like goth music'; 'I am a metalhead, I like metal'; 'I am a hardcore gamer, I play online FPS') who, as they discover new things and broaden their tastes, will become less vocal and more rounded in the things they appreciate (e.g. 'I like all sorts of music, including lots of metal, I'm... a music lover?'; 'I play loads of games, including FPS', sometimes online! I'm... a gamer?'). This leads to the strange disonnace where the most narrowly focussed are the most vocal and the majority of people with more rounded tastes don't have a category to fit into. But we don't need one. Do we?

I don't agree with your characterization of hardcore. My understanding of a hardcore gamer is someone who plays to win and trains to do so. They are the ones posting videos on youtube showing where the best hiding spots are, best fighting tactics, insane tetris playthroughs, unbelievable ikaruga performances. They are the ones who can talk about WOW using enough vocabulary that non-WOW players won't understand.

I don't consider myself a hardcore gamer, even though I spend hours at a time playing a given FPS or TPS. I don't have the patience to study the game and train at it. I just want to jump in and play, and I love co-op as much as deathmatch, sometimes more. I see nothing wrong with not being a hardcore gamer, and I see nothing wrong with calling myself a casual gamer, which I am, even though I never like playing on the easier difficulty levels--if I only cared about story and cinematics, I'd go to a movie.

Now regarding the categorization of games as casual may be worth debating. How can a game inherently be 'casual' or 'hardcore' when there are so many ways to play? The only game I could consider to be casual would be one that can only be played in one way and doesn't reward the player for making progress, but how many of those are there?

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

One of my personal pleasures in life is to be pigeonholed (he types, knowing full well someone will take that out of context and make him look bad)

Is that a euphemism? Is "pigeonholing" something they do to guys like me in prison?

Great read! I think of "hardcore" as caring enough about your experience with a game to take it to a certain level. Grinding unlocks and leaderboards in Modern Warfare 2? Hardcore. Learning to play bass and vocals at the same time in The Beatles RB? Equally hardcore. Wiring your real electronic Roland drum kit into Rock Band (that's me)? Hell yes, that's hardcore. You better believe when we play Beatles RB and there are three people on the mics, we better be playing at least hard, preferably expert, and we better be singing all the parts! I'm fraking hardcore when it comes to anything RB related. Yet, I've gotten scoffs from people who find out that, despite owning all three major consoles and playing games across all three, the one I spend the most time with is RB (Beatles more-so than regular) on my 360. It's like I betrayed their gamer trust or something. Then they find out about my setup.

Chairman_Mao wrote:

I don't agree with your characterization of hardcore. My understanding of a hardcore gamer is someone who plays to win and trains to do so. They are the ones posting videos on youtube showing where the best hiding spots are, best fighting tactics, insane tetris playthroughs, unbelievable ikaruga performances. They are the ones who can talk about WOW using enough vocabulary that non-WOW players won't understand.

Yup. The FAQ-writers, in particular, would be my definition of 'hardcore'. When you know more about a given game than the official strategy guide, it's tough to entertain the thought that you could still be a 'casual' player. Call it a point of no return.

Pignoli makes an excellent point as well. The ones who care most about characterization are often those who try to draw the lines around themselves.

There is nothing wrong with categorization when it serves an honest and useful purpose. Certainly, no one really objects when I rate their physical status ASA class 2 and then proceed to assign them a none-too-finely researched chance of death at the table.

The problem is that major media sites have been co-opting the terms "hardcore" and "casual" to refer to events and phenomena they don't even understand, and then lash out accordingly when they feel threatened. The terms themselves are a study in passive-aggressive verbal attack and contradiction.

The normal usage of the term "hardcore" is supposed to be reflective of an unusual amount of dedication to a hobby or activity. When we say that a person is a hardcore climber, or a hardcore music lover, we are referring to someone who is not normal, and we expect them to act accordingly.

A truly hardcore gamer is not a pigeonhole but simply a normal usage of the speech. I know how it is because I used to be one. Arrogance?

You tell me.

Before I gave up gaming for a real life, I practiced 8 hours or more of Counterstrike on a daily basis in order to halfway qualify to even be on the map against a competitive team. Of course, you need that much practice in order to matter - any less and you're just a pile of cash waiting to be harvested.

Really competitive teams that earned cash practiced 4 hours of gunplay a day just so their skills would not deteriorate. No improvement is expected. No teamwork practice or whatever - it's just so you won't completely suck when you get back from whatever other thing you're doing.

That is hardcore gaming. A similar amount of gaming is expected from competitive Starcraft players. Just to get your APMs up to 80 takes a considerable amount of familiarity and practice, and that's nowhere near national level.

Most of the console and PC gaming market is decidedly NOT hardcore because they're in it just for the fun, as they should be. It's a bad term usage for a term co-opted for the purpose of a morally questionable agenda. The sooner the new usage fades from memory, the better it will be for everyone.

To build on what Pignoli said, just as in the music industry, I wonder how much of the pigeonholing, especially the "hardcore vs. casual" debate, really has its origins in marketing. The phenomenal success of the Wii, particularly with the so-called "casual" market, has companies in a rush to define and mine that demographic. (One need look no further than Natal and the "Gem," or whatever Sony is calling their motion controller.)

The Wii hardware continues to be a sales juggernaut, but look at the mountains of shovelware that have been (and continue to be) released for that platform since its debut. Yes, there are many quality Wii games out there, but I think even the most devoted Nintendo fans would admit there are tons of junk games sitting in bargain bins. This isn't to say targeting the "casual" market results in lousier games; consider the truckloads of crappy FPS's that have been cluttering shelves since the debut of Quake.

Like any industry, the video game industry follows consumer trends. (Much more transparently so, I would argue, than other industries.) The interesting thing to me in the current environment is how the hardcore/casual debate, juvenile as it often is, is influencing both purchasing habits and game development. Because gaming is more widespread (in terms of demographics) than ever before, it's not surprising that long-time gamers are thinking more critically how they self-identify. When millions of people suddenly have invaded your (what for many years has been considered, and could still be considered) niche hobby, it's natural to want to distinguish yourself somehow. This, in turn, can influence which systems and games experienced gamers buy. Gamers who consider themselves "hardcore" according to a particular set of criteria might scoff at the idea of playing any Wii game, no matter how innovative or fun it might actually be. On the other side, someone who's only played Mario Bros. might be hesitant to jump into BioShock, fearing the FPS control scheme too much to get into it despite the fact that they might actually enjoy the game's art and story.

The Left 4 Dead franchise is a curious example of a blending of a "hardcore" and "casual" experience, I think. It's complex (and gory) enough, given the recognizable FPS setup and varied play modes, to appeal to the "hardcore" set, while also being relatively easy for people with limited experience to pick up and play, without a great deal of commitment. Granted, there is something of a learning curve, as with any game, but I wonder if one of the reasons L4D has taken off is that it's nailed that balance.

Clemenstation wrote:
Chairman_Mao wrote:

I don't agree with your characterization of hardcore. My understanding of a hardcore gamer is someone who plays to win and trains to do so. They are the ones posting videos on youtube showing where the best hiding spots are, best fighting tactics, insane tetris playthroughs, unbelievable ikaruga performances. They are the ones who can talk about WOW using enough vocabulary that non-WOW players won't understand.

Yup. The FAQ-writers, in particular, would be my definition of 'hardcore'. When you know more about a given game than the official strategy guide, it's tough to entertain the thought that you could still be a 'casual' player. Call it a point of no return.

Pignoli makes an excellent point as well. The ones who care most about characterization are often those who try to draw the lines around themselves.

What about those who write thesis-length explications of game narratives, or novels' worth of fan fiction?

pignoli wrote:

Similar to music or film, as you cosume more of them, your tastes broaden and you fit less and less into any given category, although it may have been comforting at one time to place yourself in a specific category.

I'm not sure I believe this. Rather, I find that the more I get into something, the more I specialize so that I'm not wasting time and money on anything less than what I'm really interested in.

There are some great points here that I want to get into once I get to a real keyboard, but I want to reiterate something. The issue I'm having here is not about the term "hardcore", but the term "casual". However you want to draw that fuzzy gray line between the two, the use of the term casual for whatever isn't hardcore implies a lack of focus and investment on the part of the gamer referred to as casual. I'm saying we need to find another word that doesn't imply that.

momgamer:

I think you've already bought too much into the "casual"-divide propaganda if you think that there IS such a thing as either category, or that there is such a thing as a fuzzy gray line.

A hardcore gamer distinguishes himself by the usually borderline insane things he does for the sake of gaming. Anyone else is just another gamer, and no further words need be used.

Jesper Juul adds fuel to the fire.

wordsmythe wrote:

What about those who write thesis-length explications of game narratives, or novels' worth of fan fiction?

I personally have trouble thinking of most games studies academics as 'hardcore'. Mostly because they simply don't seem to be very good at playing games, above and beyond the general gamer populace.

Unlike momgamer, I see 'hardcore' primarily in terms of raw ability (which, of course, is usually trained and exhibited in a multiplayer context).

wordsmythe wrote:
pignoli wrote:

Similar to music or film, as you cosume more of them, your tastes broaden and you fit less and less into any given category, although it may have been comforting at one time to place yourself in a specific category.

I'm not sure I believe this. Rather, I find that the more I get into something, the more I specialize so that I'm not wasting time and money on anything less than what I'm really interested in.

Very fair point. I think both situations occur, sequentially. For example, when someone first 'discovers' music, they don't know what they like. Then the first thing that appeals, they are likely to latch on to. This normally coincides with the vocal teenager obsessive fan stage that I was alluding to previously. I think that after that stage though, a lot of people find themselves drawn out of their pigeonhole as they find that actually, those other genres do have some merit. In my personal experience, this sequence occured with most media that I consume regularly. Obviously, the extent of these changes (or whether they occur at all) will differ between people. I'm sure that a lot of these "hardcore" FPS players will broaden their horizons as they become tired with the genre / there reactions dull / they seek new experiences. Certainly going back to music, there are plenty of people who are consatntly consuming new music in an effort to recreate that 'buzz' you get on first discovering something you really love.

Sorry, that's a bit rambly. But basically I both agree and disagree.

How do you feel about the names of the XBox Live zones? They have pro, family, recreation, and underground. I didn't have any kind of problem with being in the family or recreation zones, or an connotation of the nomenclature. Do you feel that recreational or family are better descriptions, or are they still not right for your !hardcore category?

If I was to be forced to attempt some kind of characterisation, I think I'd have a 2-axis system with percentage of free time spent gaming on one axis, and maybe some sort of game complexity metric on the other axis with Bejewled and Peggle at one end and competitive online game modes and Rogue at the other end. There are possibly social gaming measurements the could go on some kind of third axis. It seems that someone that spends a massive amount of their free time playing bejeweled, for example, should have a different bracket from someone that plays for 5 hours a night in a COD clan, or someone that plays a few hours of games a week, but does it playing dwarf fortress.

And then you have to ask what this pigeonholing is for. Just to give names to stereotypes? I imagine that the money people in the big publishers have particular brackets they aim their games towards (you could make a case that that fact is causing stagnation the industry at the moment). An 18-25 single male is presumably a distinct market segment from a 30-40 married female with children (did I say 30-40? I meant 21, naturally).

It really boils down to how you define "hardcore" or "casual." Everyone seems to have their own interpretation of it, as well as personal significance as to how they classify themselves. Some people are meh about whether they are a hardcore or casual gamer - it doesn't matter to them, as they just want to play games. That's like me. On some days I feel like min/maxing my MMO avatars, on other days I just want to play a relaxing, easy game to take my mind off things. But because I play "hardcore" as well as "casual" games, typically I would still be considered a hardcore gamer right? That's what it seems like.

I've seen people online where their gamer sub-classification really matters to them, and that they'd be offended by being called anything less than hardcore. Humans tend to like categorization - even among the "cool kids" in grade school they had their own hierarchy of coolness.

Again, I'm not trying to define the categories. I'm trying to get people to think about how they're labeling the categories and the effect those labels have on people's behavior.

Let me try to frame this another way. What if we could magically change all media and industry uses of the word "hardcore" to "loser". Not changing the way they use it in any way, just the word itself.

It's as good as any other word. If you're playing for competition purposes, then it's true for at least half the people in any game session. How would you feel about carrying that label? Would you proudly refer to yourself as a loser gamer to all your friends? Would there be hundreds of 'leet ways of incorporating the word loser into a gamertag? Would you aspire to fine-tune your loser skills? I don't think so.

If it was just gamer behavior it wouldn't be such an issue. But do you think marketing would aim their biggest, showiest efforts at the losers? Do you think game publishers would greenlight big budget games aimed at that essential loser demographic? Would the industry mavens spend their time debating the fine points of loser issues? Not the same way they do with "hardcore".

Whatever you call them, the other game markets are dreadfully underserved by the games industry. They don't get the marketing money, they don't get the journalistic attention, they don't get the publisher's attention nearly in the proportion of the bottom line that they command. Why? Part of the problem is they do not take them seriously at all. The words used to describe them are both a symptom of their attitude, and a cause of perpetuating that attitude long past the time where facts and figures have shown a far different story.

If you ask me, the gaming industry could use a serious collective water dunking or head-rapping to get some sense knocked into their heads. Rewriting current "hardcore" into "loser" would be the most beneficial change in gaming language in years.

Well, I think you've chosen to attach those negative connotations to the word casual. As far as I'm concerned, the l33t-type people who self-assign the hardcore epithet and do use the word casual to mean "loser" don't carry opinions I care about anyway. If someone is so obsessed that the only way they grade the worth of their life is in their K:D ratio in some multiplayer shooter, or what gear they have in an MMO, then I reckon they're the losers, anyway.

I'd say that the industry does take notice of the casual game market, in fact. EA have recently bought playfish to try and boost their portfolio in that market, and Nintendo's quiet opting-out of the MS/Sony c*ck-measuring contest whilst destroying them both in sales has clearly not been lost on the industry. Some industry designers have gone in that direction (e.g. Soren Johnson, Brian Reynolds). I think you're right that the marketing money and games media tends not to look in that direction, but some sites are noting this fact. I suspect that it's simply a case that the marketing money is roughly a percentage of the production cost for the bigger studios. The games with the largest budget get the largest marketing purse to get the larger sales they need to break even.

It'd be amusing to start putting "gamer classification" tags on the back of game boxes...

"Buy Super Terrorist Killer Blood Brawl: Nuclear Edition, and gain 2 points towards your silver loser rank!"

DudleySmith wrote:

Well, I think you've chosen to attach those negative connotations to the word casual.

Seriously. Since when is "casual" a pejorative? The only time I see so-called "casual gamers" portrayed in a negative light is when some self-labeled "hardcore" gamer is sneering at people playing bejeweled. Who cares what that guy thinks?

See: IGN, Gamespot, Gametrailers, 1UP.

Another thought: why the heck do we keep trying to label ourselves anyway? I'm not a "casual reader" or a "hardcore film watcher", I'm just someone who enjoys a good book or film. Other forms of media seem to function just fine without breaking down consumers into arbitrary categories.

When gamer just meant MUD crawling, hex-grid running, 23rd level Paladin pushing, mom's-basement-dwelling-troll, it was a perjorative term.

Now we've got football jocks who call themselves gamers because they play Halo on the weekends.

How can they be "hardcore" if they never had to calculate THAC0?

It's not that they're pejoratives. It's that they're ignored/dismissed/marginalized.

How much mainstream gaming press did the blockbuster sales of Bookworm Adventures II get outside of Tycho reminding everyone of his word addiction?

Everyone talks about 10 million users of WoW. Neopets had eight times that last I heard. The numbers for Maplestory are similar. Who talks about it? Who's making making gaming development decisions based on it?

How many people played the original Star Craft on local multiplayer because they just wanted the story or didn't want to go mix it up with half the planet? Well, thanks to laser-focus the industry has on multiplayer competitive gameplay, they made a prioritizing decision and now there's no local multiplayer in Star Craft II. Judging by the freak outs on the various forums about this, I wasn't the only one doing this. But it was ignored, and as the game currently stands once one is done the 10 hours or so of single-player content that thing is useless to anyone who isn't interested in being competitive.

There's many other ways. Lets talk about the shrinking focus on games with single-player content. How many column inches dismiss anyone who plays a Wii game out of hand? I'm not talking about forum rats - I'm talking gaming media.

muttonchop wrote:

Another thought: why the heck do we keep trying to label ourselves anyway? I'm not a "casual reader" or a "hardcore film watcher", I'm just someone who enjoys a good book or film. Other forms of media seem to function just fine without breaking down consumers into arbitrary categories.

They do it all the time. Within the industry film goers are sorted by "opening night" attendees and long-tail attendees, and then get into the video renters.

And the word casual is used exactly like we use it in literary circles to denote who isn't reading Tolstoi or Proust. It's usually a thinly veiled suggestion you should stick with Tom Clancy or Danielle Steele and leave the suede elbow-patches crowd to their own pursuits.

momgamer wrote:

They do it all the time. Within the industry film goers are sorted by "opening night" attendees and long-tail attendees, and then get into the video renters.

I'm not sure that's a very accurate parallel, since they're just sorting people by viewing habits. We could do the same for gamers by grouping release-day purchasers, used game purchasers, renters, etc. It's a bit different from the whole casual/hardcore thing.

And the word casual is used exactly like we use it in literary circles to denote who isn't reading Tolstoi or Proust. It's usually a thinly veiled suggestion you should stick with Tom Clancy or Danielle Steele and leave the suede elbow-patches crowd to their own pursuits.

True, but those guys are pretentious douchebags, just like the hardcore gamers who sneer at casuals. Every hobby has some group of self-proclaimed elites that look down on everyone else, and in every case they are largely ignored by the general population.
I guess what I'm getting at is that you object to being called casual, and then go on to say we need a new term instead. We don't need a new term. We're just gamers, and a small subset of us are hardcore; just like you have film buffs or literary snobs or whatever.

Momgamer,

I think you bring up a couple of distinct issues here. I tend to agree that many developers are focused very heavily on online multiplayer play, to the detriment of rewarding single-player experiences - but while somewhat related, I think that may be a topic for another thread. I'm not convinced that "competitive online multiplayer" necessarily implies "hardcore," if that's the connection you were making. I don't know many people who would label XBLA Peggle Duels "hardcore" gaming experiences. But I'm going to leave that alone for the moment.

I do agree that a lot of game media - like those outlets LarryC mentioned - are sometimes annoyingly condescending toward the "casual" market, however that's defined. However, I've heard those same outlets geeking out ad nauseum over many "casual" games, Peggle being the primary example. I agree that a ton of "casual" games that deserve to be geeked out about, for sure. But, while it's true that the latest Halo game will always get more attention than Peggle, the truth is that I probably would have never heard of Peggle, period, 5 years ago. Companies are realizing there's a big chunk of money to be made with games like these, and I think right now we're seeing the early stages of a massive expansion of this sector of the industry.

What I've detected in lot of the more bitter commentary from game media, and from self-defined "hardcore" gamers, is sort of an extension of the idea Gains is getting at above - that the concept of the "hardcore gamer," and possibly the concept of the "gamer" in general, has been diluted by the expansion of what is perceived as the "casual" market. There's an understandable backlash against the idea your Wii Bowling-playing grandma or the drunken frat guys in the dorm next door suddenly qualify as "gamers," with legitimate influence on game development, simply because they have buying power. They haven't earned their stripes. I'm not saying that's a good or a bad thing. It's just sort of inevitable, given the heavy emphasis on "credibility" in gamer culture - again, however that's defined.

I have to disagree, though, that the casual markets (or non-hardcore markets, or whatever) are marginalized by the industry; in fact, I think it's the opposite. The very existence of the Xbox Live Arcade, for example, owes itself to the belief that consumers want games they can pick up and play without investing a ton of time or money or attention. The PSN, WiiWare and DSiWare all operate on the same assumption. That's not to say excellent, engrossing games can't exist in these formats - take Shadow Complex, for example - but the fact that the Big 3 have invested so much money, technology and manpower into creating and refining these kinds of content delivery systems speaks volumes about their understanding of the bottom line. XBLA has got to be a massive cash cow for Microsoft, given the relatively low production and distribution costs; no doubt Sony and Nintendo are hoping the same proves to be true for their brands. And from a hardware standpoint, it's hard to argue that Natal and the PS3 motion controller aren't blatant attempts to wrench a big chunk of that casual gamer market share away from Nintendo.

If you want to be cynical about it, you could argue that the game companies are perfectly content to let us all argue about "hardcore vs. casual" - that just means we'll be talking about their products, if only to rant about how stupid they are. And any publicity is good publicity.

muttonchop wrote:
momgamer wrote:

They do it all the time. Within the industry film goers are sorted by "opening night" attendees and long-tail attendees, and then get into the video renters.

I'm not sure that's a very accurate parallel, since they're just sorting people by viewing habits. We could do the same for gamers by grouping release-day purchasers, used game purchasers, renters, etc. It's a bit different from the whole casual/hardcore thing.

But that's what many people suggest we're doing with the whole casual/hardcore thing. Plays four hours every morning before school just to keep a clan post, etc = hardcore; plays an hour a day after the kids have gone to bed with social group = casual.

Thing is, I don't mind distinction, per se. But when one of the names has connotations of how burly someone is and the other is about they aren't paying attention, then is it any wonder that people don't value the second one the same way.

muttonchop wrote:
momgamer wrote:

And the word casual is used exactly like we use it in literary circles to denote who isn't reading Tolstoi or Proust. It's usually a thinly veiled suggestion you should stick with Tom Clancy or Danielle Steele and leave the suede elbow-patches crowd to their own pursuits.

True, but those guys are pretentious douchebags, just like the hardcore gamers who sneer at casuals. Every hobby has some group of self-proclaimed elites that look down on everyone else, and in every case they are largely ignored by the general population.
I guess what I'm getting at is that you object to being called casual, and then go on to say we need a new term instead. We don't need a new term. We're just gamers, and a small subset of us are hardcore; just like you have film buffs or literary snobs or whatever.

I'll agree with you on your assessment of them. If they were the ones who made that choice to remove the distinctions, I'd be glad to agree with you. But they aren't. They're making this separation, and there's a lot more impact that just how far down their nose they're looking.

In the case of books, those pretentious douchebags are the same ones who decide whose books get listed in the best lists, which writer's reviews go in the literary magazines, who get the book tours, who gets the spot on Good Morning America to pimp their latest saga, and who gets space on the very crowded bookshore shelves. Now all of a sudden their snarky attitude has real life impact. Especially if you are one of those who don't particularly care for Tolstoi, and because they don't like your reading style they make those decisions to the detriment of things you do like.

Same thing in gaming. Let me list off a few names. Psychonaut. Beyond Good and Evil. Ico. Voodoo Vince. None of them hardcore, but all incredible gaming experiences that had idiotic marketing that was directly detrimental to their sales. In at one least case, the company that made the game no longer exists because of this.

kincher skolfax wrote:

several paragraphs of well-presented thoughts

First off, let me say welcome to this neck of the woods.

Let me sum up rather than fisking your great post.

-- I didn't come up with that definition of hardcore. And I wasn't trying to make any definition. The point is that what they call whatever any particular person feels isn't hardcore isn't a term that is conducive to thinking about it in a respectful manner on the same level.

-- Yes, they went on about Peggle. But they were going at it from the perspective of a hardcore gamer slumming it or trying to seem cosmopolitan. How do they talk about people who only play Peggle? Even the heavily contested XBLA matches? Or you could really bend their head and hit them with someone who plays Peggle and LOTRO with the occaisional foray into Ratchett & Clank.

-- That kind of elitist stuff is exactly what I'm talking about. People shouldn't have to "earn their stripes" to get reasonable consideration when they're paying the same money to play. I'm suggesting that a first, relatively easy step might be to change the term by which they refer to them.

-- I agree that the presence of Xboxlive is hopeful, however, considering the percentage of their bottom line they get from it, the red-headed stepchild treatment it gets is a bit out of place.

-- While I agree that column inches are considered always good, why can't we reframe that into an argument about skill-based players vs. completionists?