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

momgamer wrote:

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?

Because then you've done the same thing you're railing against, except with a different word. Skill-based vs. completionist implies that completionists aren't skilled. Maybe it implies they aren't as dedicated as skill-based players, who have to spend hours honing their "skills" (which in most cases consist of rote memorization and muscle memory).

I'd argue against your affront at the term "tourist" as well. Yes, there are negative connotations, but as a lifelong tourist, I know that I have experienced much more of the world than my brother who never left this city. The locals may not have appreciated my invading their space, but I take something from every place I visit that gives me a broader perspective on life in general. The same goes for tourist gamers. I kind of feel sorry for the RTS or FPS addicts who never experience the kind of narrative you can get in an RPG, or the brain-bending thought exercise you can get from a puzzle game.

The complaint of genre-pidgeon-holing in gaming is a valid complaint. We don't (generally) define "hard core music people" as people who are driven totally by a passion for disco. Jazz? No, that's "not serious". Rock ... pfft ... casual. Baroque? Laughable. You have to love disco to be a hardcore musician. Totally. Unfortunately, this sort of thing creates an "us and them" where one group feels it's superior, and when that happens the out group will be annoyed put down -- regardless of the truth of the situation. And in games, this genre "seriousness" rating palpable.

So, the word choices "Hard core" and "Casual" imply a certain commitment about an activity, fair or not. You could say "Serious about X" and "Not serious" just as easily.

Does it matter? Not at all, since we're all rational people. Certainly it matters no more than the intuitively true label that "games" are "for kids." Right? It's just words, an artificial box. It doesn't matter because clearly, if an adult wants to, he/she can chose to play anyway. It's just a label and no one should be annoyed if they feel it's inaccurate. Hm?

Is it important? In physical, tangible ways, probably not, but people do care about these sorts of things quite a bit and that gives it some importance. It creates an "us" and "them", which people find objectionable when the subtext suggests one of the two is better. And here it does.

There is a broader problem in our language, which this illustrates a little. Whenever we split people into groups, and then label a group with a second-class implication, the word chosen becomes, over time and use, pejorative. So we find a new word that is polite at first but becomes an insult in time. The evolution of these things is interesting. I think "casual" is getting there, for game[r]s.

Infinity Ward, despite a lack of PR skills, has attempted to do what you're asking, I think: bring non-hardcore gamers into the fold. Modern Warfare 2 was an attempt on their part to broaden the appeal of the series. I think they've failed at doing so in some ways, (I find the death streaks a particularly egregious example of saying, "HEY YOU SUCK") but they do add a lot of bonuses for non-kill related accomplishments, and the riot shield is a nice touch.

Looking at this whole issue from a PR perspective, we would call the hardcore gamers the traditional "influencers", which isn't a real word outside of our little world. But that means they are the ones that persuade the peasants what games they want to play, and they are the ones marketers will target for getting the word out. We probably like targeting them because we know what kind of games they like--hardcore often means a focus on one genre or even one series of games.

The problem then may be that with advent of the Wii and Xbox Live and PSN, the market has broadened quickly, but no new kinds of influencers of the new game genres that have emerged have emerged. Are casual or whatever label gamers so keen to share their stories about the games they play, encourage others to try them out? What platforms are they communicating on? I would assume so. If the traditional game media isn't doing it, then consumers will be looking elsewhere for information about the games they want to play--something that game developers and publishers should be looking into more carefully.

wordsmythe wrote:

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

I considered including them in my definition, but then deleted it. The explicators are critics essentially, looking at the games in a larger cultural context, analyzing them and interpreting meaning. www.thebrainygamer.com is a great example of such criticism, but I don't think I'd consider Michael Abbott a hardcore gamer--would be worth asking him though. Fan fiction writers are like cover bands. Neither spends most of their time trying to figure out the best ways to play the game.

George Orwell, via Boxer wrote:

I will work harder.

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.

Now you've got me all conflicted. I mean, I'd allow a Normal Mailer or even a Dickens, but Danielle Steele? That almost knocked my elbow patches off! I could see them lumped in with "guilty pleasures," but then I'd expect you to be a bit less cavalier about mentioning them.

Thing is, there is literature that's worthwhile for its story, for the artistry in which words are arranged, for its historical significance, or even for its moral. But there are also books which are purely a waste of time. Many books can make you a better person in some way, but not all of them. There is intellectual junk food as well.

Now you'll have to excuse me, but I seem to have dropped my monocle.

Chairman_Mao wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

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

I considered including them in my definition, but then deleted it. The explicators are critics essentially, looking at the games in a larger cultural context, analyzing them and interpreting meaning. www.thebrainygamer.com is a great example of such criticism, but I don't think I'd consider Michael Abbott a hardcore gamer--would be worth asking him though. Fan fiction writers are like cover bands. Neither spends most of their time trying to figure out the best ways to play the game.

But aren't cover bands and critics just as invested in the medium, albeit in different ways?

I'll ask Michael, though. I'd be interested in hearing his opinion.

Great article.
I've been gaming for as long as I can remember but here at work my colleagues refuse to call me a real gamer because I score 0 points in a modern warfare 2 online match while being able to speed run super mario brothers in 10 minutes doesn't mean a thing to them.
I don't understand why people see FPS as the number one genre to measure your gaming skill.
In my opinion a lot of FPS'es miss the depth to keep me hooked.

momgamer:

As a long time gamer and a long time supporter of PopCap, almost since inception, I have to question your assertion that less money is being focused on so-called "casual" gaming. If anything more money is being funneled into new channels and gaming audiences than ever before.

I'll be honest - I never thought I would ever see even Bookworm 2 OR Zuma 2, but not only do we have Bookworm Adventures 2, and Zuma's Revenge - there is a veritable flood of software that's coming from PopCap, BigFish, and PlayFish, and with Nintendo joining the bandwagon to sound the horns, everyone wants in on it.

"Casual" gaming is big money. Used to be when I mentioned "Dynomite" or "Diner Dash," friends of mine would simply stare at me with a blank expression. Now online media actually know them enough to be hostile and dismissive. It's a small step, but we're getting there.

What about Maplestory? Yes, MMOs of that nature have fantastically large numbers - easily dwarfing the numbers of WoW. Maplestory isn't the only one, you know. Ragnarok Online has similar numbers, too, and Level Up is raking it in hand over fist. There's MyBrute, Grand Chase, Dance Battle Audition, FreeStyle - there is literally not enough time in your life to play these kinds of games, even if you decided to sink 12 hours a day playing them.

I haven't even gotten past the last levels of Airport Mania, and the next iteration is just around the corner. And yes, I have it on my Touch, as well.

I think you're being affected by media and media alone. It's obviously true that American gaming media pays little to no attention to this huge arena of gaming that caters to people many times the number of their current audience. That is why the Western world was taken by surprise by the Wii. I was not, because I am not from the West. I suspected what Nintendo was driving for, and I expected nothing but success for their product - just not exactly the kind of wild success they enjoyed.

There is plenty of money being pumped into these kinds of games - you just don't see just as much coverage, that's all.

EDIT:

Blizzard knows very well how puny they are on a worldwide scale. They're banking on Korea and China getting on in a big way with Starcraft 2, because that is where the tens of millions of online microtransaction customers reside. They want to compete with Level Up, I'm thinking.

Setting up Battlenet to only cater to fierce competition is counterproductive to that goal, and they've already mentioned several ways they're going to restructure Battlenet so that you can play the game as little as you want and still go online and expect an enjoyable experience.

Community support, beginner leagues, strict anti-smurf measures, and better skill matching are only some of the ways they're seeking to address competition issues online. Of course, you can still always log on with your friends with a Comp Stomp - that's always fun.

I tried looking up why games like Ragnarok Online and Lineage weren't on top MMO lists. WoW's crown seems to be based on a somehow ambigious term of "most subscribers"

In these reports, there's usually a mention that a huge chunk of the 11M player base in WoW are based off the pay to play system in Asia cafes. If these lists considers them subscribers, I can't see something like RO wouldn't be top 3 with its 25 million "active users"/subscribers.

Now, I don't really see the appeal of games where you "have" to be hardcore to see most of it. I've played Ragnarok myself in my younger days, and their system emphasizes a ridiculous grinding system. You aren't allowed any reskills, and you grind your way to max level. You are then reborn and start over again, except it takes far longer. Games like Counterstrike that used to the standard for FPS competition were not much fun either. I never put in hours of gunfire practice, and there's always some players that can literally clean out half the enemy team by themselves.

That's one of the reasons I enjoy a game like Left 4 Dead 2. Of course there's varying levels of skills, but one hunter can't take on the whole team in 5 seconds the way "hardcore" players used to mow my team down in counterstrike.

Half?

My friend who used to play in the national team can take on a whole 16 man squad of sophomores by himself - using only a pistol.

In fact, he has to use a pistol or it wouldn't be any fun.

The appeal of Ragnarok is similar to the appeal of something like, say, Farmville. You grind when you're just "hanging out." What you're really doing is chatting and chewing the fat, and maybe playing a little doll-dressing game. The game is almost incidental to the other activities. It's a place to meet, of sorts.

Note that WoW is also increasingly trending to this model, adding "other-game" content to the main game, for passing the time.

mooosicle wrote:

I tried looking up why games like Ragnarok Online and Lineage weren't on top MMO lists. WoW's crown seems to be based on a somehow ambigious term of "most subscribers"

In these reports, there's usually a mention that a huge chunk of the 11M player base in WoW are based off the pay to play system in Asia cafes.

I think this is due to the different ways American companies report their numbers. How many of the Asian-MMO parent companies are publicly traded in US exchanges?

I should note that I did play vanilla WoW back in the day, and I found it refreshingly un-grindy compared to Ragnarok. Where I quit was the end game raiding. I just don't have the patience to be in a committed 2.5 hour raid staring at green bars (I was a priest). I have heard Blizzard has been catering to the larger casual players, and drastically making end game content more doable and player input based with limited time. Good business decision on their end, as I'm sure players are playing just as much, but feel better about it while playing.

@LarryC
That's pretty crazy. I only ever had contact with aspiring professionals, as from what I heard most actual professionals are either vsing it up/ practicing and rarely waste practice time slaughtering us pub folks. My roommate showed me a montage of that #1 ranked player (back then) and he's being shot at in the back, does a jumping 360 and headshots the shooter.

I think hardcore not only suggests a committment of time, but of attitude as well. Although I do feel silly comparing myself to anything professionally athletic, but what I take from a 2 hour basketball session is far different from what the aspiring college NBA hopeful does in his 2 hour session. I'm sure they commit more time overall as well, but yeah. I spent probably as much time on WoW as any hardcore raider. But instead of running raids and practicing group PvP, I ran around in enemy lowbie lands terrorizing them with Fear and Mana Burn. My philosophy was that ganking was for noobs, the gratification was short and instant. Following them around and mind controlling/Fearing/Mind control/killing their pets but not them while they were questing was another level of abomination and buttholeness. I used to time the Booty Bay patrols, and mind control fishermen off the docks, just for lulz

moosicle:

That's not unusual for a top-ranked player. High level Counterstrike matches before Source were more like Neo vs. Neo than anything else.

I can turn around and do a jumping turnaround headshot with an mp5, but I'm not very consistent and I can't do it with a pistol, which is pretty much a fatal weakness against any seriously ranked player.

Ranked CS players don't pub. Neither did I. Pubbing is kinda cheap because most of the peeps just aren't very good, and it's not fun to beat up on newbies.

In any case, hardcore for gaming doesn't need to mean any more than what it says. There ARE such things as hardcore music fans, but when we say "hardcore music fan," we refer to a level of dedication, not particularly music genre preferences.

A hardcore gamer is simply an example of the most dedicated kind of gamer, whose practices would be labeled insane by most people. Anyone else is just a normal gamer.

How about Players (casual) and Lifers (hardcore)?

Seems to reflect the reality of it doesn't it?

As a casual forum participant, I am late to the thread and have only skimmed the content. I know my opinions will not be as valid as the more hardcore forum members.

I think at the core of the issue is that there are inherent problems with dichotomous labels. The gamer universe is diverse enough to need more than two classifications. In addition, the hardcore/casual definitions are so vague that I'm surprised there are only 2 pages to this discussion (so far).

A bigger question is: Why do we care? Should I think less of myself because some punk posts that I'm only a "casual" gamer? I was playing Spacewar before they crapped their first diaper.

Even though we shouldn't care, we do. I blame the gaming industry. Just like women are consistently bombarded with images of bony models with huge boobs, gamers are bombarded with advertisements targeted at ADD adolescents that remind us we should be killing more, driving faster, and blowing more sh*t up. I've completed 100% of every Peggle, that's "hardcore" and I know it make me awesome.

Mainstream media doesn't help, because they don't understand. Gaming articles are Yahoo and Google News aren't in the entertainment section where they should be, but instead are relegated to the technology section. The VGA Awards don't take themselves seriously. We should get something with the weight of the Oscars, but we end with a marketing event with crappy teen actors.

P.S.
My favorite quote from the thread so far:

How can they be "hardcore" if they never had to calculate THAC0?
wordsmythe wrote:
Chairman_Mao wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

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

I considered including them in my definition, but then deleted it. The explicators are critics essentially, looking at the games in a larger cultural context, analyzing them and interpreting meaning. www.thebrainygamer.com is a great example of such criticism, but I don't think I'd consider Michael Abbott a hardcore gamer--would be worth asking him though. Fan fiction writers are like cover bands. Neither spends most of their time trying to figure out the best ways to play the game.

But aren't cover bands and critics just as invested in the medium, albeit in different ways?

I'll ask Michael, though. I'd be interested in hearing his opinion.

I agree with your point. The hardcore/casual dichotomy fails to describe the critic's/cover band's relationship with games. More categories needed!

But the third pigeon hole was juuuust right.

I find it very much like religon. Saying "I'm a gamer" is similar to saying "I'm a Catholic" or "I'm Jewish." Even within those descriptions of faith, there is no indication of religious dedication or measure of one's faith.

I think that the gaming media needs to stop using the crutches of gamer categories such as "hard core" or "casual." They are just too vague and varied in their interpretations -- by both authors and audiences alike. Instead, they should focus on the descriptions of the content. Let us as consumers base our compatibility with a game based on those things rather than assumptions of over used generalities.

Then again, it takes up less space and is far easier to editorialize that down to such generalities. I'd argue that a well written pieces with richer content like that would attract larger audiences.

Excellent write up, "Mom." Thought provoking and entertaining to the letter.

Consequently, I think as the gamer population grays and the mainstream catches the gamer bug, we'll be seeing less and less import placed on the label of gamer.

Kind of like, in the 90s, it was A Big Deal if you were "on the internet". I think the medium will evolve pass the labels, given enough time.

Momgamer's household is a perfect example. People just game. No need to apply themselves an archgamer label. They just play.

I like Mitch Krpata's 'New Taxonomy' of gamers. It strikes me as a well thought out and logical system that deserves to be explored and refined, rather than ignored.

To dismiss it because of distaste with one of the terms, while understandable, does it a disservice, IMO. Terms are just terms, 'tourist' denotes a series of behaviours, not a value judgment. I can understand why someone wouldn't want to be called a tourist, I also come from a holiday town (We used so call the annual beach rush the 'lemming run').

Personally, in gaming terms, I'm a total tourist.

There are a few things that amuse me when I mention the system to other gamers, mostly in how they react.

You get:
'I have elements of more than one, so the whole system is bunk,' or 'Why do you need to put labels anyway?'

I don't think that the categories need to be exclusive, having drives and motivations that cross categories is just a sign of rounded tastes and wide motivations.

And I think that the applying of labels aids understanding. Labels are just like models, simpler representations of the things they,.... er... represent. When we understand peoples motivations behind their choices and their play, we understand more clearly how to aid their enjoyment.

*note* I say 'we' as though I am somehow in the industry, but I'm not, sadly.

The word "hardcore" is defined as "unswervingly committed; uncompromising; dedicated."

However, how does one quantify those traits? What is a dedicated gamer? Is it just the attitude a person has towards gaming? I love gaming with a passion, but I hesitate to use "hardcore" to describe me.

Maybe just the fact that all of us are posting comments at this website make us hardcore by default? Perhaps it comes down to how much of an interest a person has in gaming when they are not actually gaming?

The problem with categorizing is that no one person fits perfectly into a category. because people are complex. and the very point of categorizing is not complex. Personality traits are not binary but exist on a spectrum. The question isn't "are you a hardcore gamer" but "how hardcore of a gamer are you?"

To be more complex, you can be a different kind of gamer for different kinds of games. I'm only a casual fighting game player, but a tourist (at best) when it comes to MMOs. But I have hundreds of hours in XCOM, though none of it in classic mode. *shame*

agentwred wrote:

The problem with categorizing is that no one person fits perfectly into a category. because people are complex. and the very point of categorizing is not complex.

This is also why I hate Wikis.