Thoughts on the Struggles between Casual and Hardcore Gamers

The term “casual gamer” means quite a few different things.  If you ask ten people, you’ll get twelve definitions.  Whether it’s playing Flash games on a social networking site, the older gamers without much time, or any of the other dozens of possibilities, you can define the term almost however you like.

There are “casual gamers” who play Flash and Text-based games with an intensity and devotion similar to that of the stereotypical modern F.P.S.-player.  There are also “casual gamers” who want to play more “mainstream” video games, but perhaps get different enjoyment out of them or can’t find the time to devote.  There really are numerous “types” of casual gamers.

I feel that that no matter which definition you use, casual gamers make up a substantial portion of the fan-base, and they enjoy their games just as much as the “hardcore” gamers.  The stereotypical housewife playing FishWorld enjoys her game just as much as the stereotypical adolescent fragging people in Halo.  The gamer playing the latest bit of Interactive Fiction gets just as much enjoyment as the gamer getting their hands on the best armor.

The difference is that “casual” gamers seem to be stigmatized, though it’s observed more concerning the type who try to take a part in more “mainstream” games—but this is as much because that’s the type the hardcore gamers interact with the most as anything else.  We hear reports of things like a twelve-year-old stealing his mother’s credit card to fund his FarmVille account or we see people claiming casual gamers “ruin” games and other such insults, but we don’t really see the opposite.  You just don’t see casual gamers really insulting their hardcore counterparts.  You just don’t.

Then you have the stereotypical hardcore gamers who mock Interactive Fiction and Flash games, often waving them (and, thus, the gamers who enjoy them) as simplistic, even childish, time-wasters.

Then you have gaming sites that at best give lip-service to casual gamers, but still take more time focusing on the newest F.P.S. title and all the achievements you can get if you spend the dozens of hours on it.  Then you have a site like W.o.W. Insider, a great site for World of Warcraft, but hardly gives articles for casual gamers, with weeks or months between posts, and none this year so far.  The sad thing is that, like many M.M.O.s, there are scores of casual players of World of Warcraft.

One issue with all of that is casual gamers have just as much (if not more) money than the hardcore gamers, even after you take “responsible” concerns like food, rent, and necessities into account.  Even after a casual gamer makes sure their family is taken care of, they will still usually have more than enough for a new games, or a few older ones.

Interestingly, it’s tacitly agreed-to and even marketed to.  If we accept that most hardcore gamers are those in their teens to college years, that rather negates the idea that they’re spending inordinate amounts of money on a new system, plus a high-definition television (and perhaps a better-than-decent sound system for it all).  As such, the people spending that kind of money are casual gamers and the parents of the hardcore gamers, but in the latter case you know perfectly well that nearly all of the time it’s not so their kid can have a better gaming “experience”.

This leads us to advertising.  When they were new, how many X-Box 360 or PS3 commercials were there that didn’t play up, or at the very least mention, their H.D. compatibility?  Even right now, you don’t see the consoles near a television that isn’t positively huge, with a post-production-added clear-as-crystal display.  They play that up, in whatever fashion, because someone is indeed spending that money.

On the other hand, you have the video games themselves.  Take a stroll through a few forums and you’ll see hardcore gamers, typically in their teens or early twenties, talk about how many kills they have in this game with their fully automatic rifle-o’-doom, how they’re looking forward to the next expansion of that one, with the new palette-swap of the Ancient Abomination to kill.  These typically aren’t the ones spending exorbitant amounts on a new console and games for it.

The ones who are spending that money for themselves are casual gamers.  Yet they don’t really get advertising.  Casual gamers are the part of the fan-base that are, if not outright ignored, at least only having their hands patted and promised some new Wii game, then they go back to discussing Halo and World of Warcraft.  Casual gamers may even get a snicker and sotto voce comment to the effect of, “Why don’t you go back to your Flash games?”

This is—not surprising as much as sad.  There are plenty of games out there casual gamers can enjoy as-is, and plenty of ways casual gamers enjoy the same games as hardcore gamers, if that enjoyment is in different aspects.  Hardcore gamers may find their fun in getting the best weapon, the most upgrades, the fastest vehicle, while casual gamers may just enjoy running around, looking at all the nooks and crannies of the game world.

There’s another level of “casual gamer” who I believe aren’t really listened to, or sought after—the ones who actually do want the same things as the hardcore gamers, but simply can’t do them as quickly.  What achievement the hardcore gamer can obtain in two days, the casual gamer may not obtain for two weeks.  That doesn’t mean the casual gamer doesn’t have as much interest.

Sometimes, I’m almost ashamed to admit, I think casual gamers take such insults too easily.  Partly, I think, it’s because casual gamers just don’t often have the time or mental energy to devote to caring all that much.  Also, though, I think it’s because casual gamers remember when video games were new and everyone who didn’t play—up to and including their own parents—thought they were silly and weird.

Is that the best track to take, though?  Is calm acceptance really such a good idea?  Yes, actually.

The chief reason is that if we do accept that most hardcore gamers are in their teens and early twenties, then they should be allowed to grow out of such an antagonistic mentality.  They might, they might not—but they deserve the chance.  No one was a perfect child, after all; we all had our moments of arrogance and antagonism.

Further, it makes certain biological and sociological sense, but that’s far outside the scope of a site about video games.  Suffice to say that most of us went through similar periods as we matured, and most of those of us who did came out the other end shaking our heads at ourselves and resolving to be better people.

The next generations deserve that same chance.  They can also benefit from casual gamers of any age keeping calm and rational, and, when applicable, expressing themselves clearly, trying to help the hardcore gamers understand just who we are and what “casual gaming” means.

To that end, we also have to be willing to talk and listen.  Okay, so many casual gamers don’t give a flip about getting every upgrades, all the cars, or the best armor.  The hardcore gamers do.  How can it hurt to be willing to talk with them about that?

What you have, there, is a debate—an open exchange of ideas in an attempt for both sides to learn about each other.  How is that not vastly preferable to what we have now, an argument—sides clapping their hands over their ears and proclaiming the other side to be fools?

We can do it.  We can get both sides to come to the table peacefully.  It won’t be easy; peer pressure, memories, whatever else—they’re powerful, and thus not easily overcome.  That doesn’t mean it’s impossible—more importantly, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.


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