Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Casual or Business/Hardcore?

Lately I’ve been struggling with the concept of what exactly constitutes a casual gamer or a hardcore gamer. I started at the Mecca of legit info (Wikipedia) and found myself even more lost. Yeah, I know this is Wikipedia but where else am I going to find a definition? Hardcore gamer was described as people who “prefer to take significant time and practice on games.” And generally I thing this is a pretty accurate description.

This foil conjures up images dead eyed 30-something males who invent things like the Totino’s Taco. Or of Code Red guzzling, gold farmers, slowly supernovaing into fits of nerd rage and hypertension when some n00b snatches up all the loot. Refusing to LARP because that would require too much physical activity. RED, RED, WHITE, BLOCK! For Darkon!


However, while thinking about this subject I watched a Zero Punctuation episode that described FPSs by saying, “you point at things you don’t like and they go away. They’re not exactly the 12 Task of Hercules”. Fair enough however this got me to thinking (now that I’m done with school I can do as much of that as I need). This made me think of another game rarely associated with hardcore gaming: Angry Birds.

You point (birds) at things you don’t like (pigs) until they go away.

Quick disclaimer: I’m going to keep this discussion about FPSs to the online multiplayer and kind of ignore the campaign.

What? You did.

In most FPSs the main attraction is playing multiplayer online. A general simulation of this activity can be summed up by point, shoot, point, shoot, kneel, teabag, scream, repeat. Or if you’re feeling a bit more multicultural you can play in the middle of the night and have a fat, lazy Limey man-child expound on how fat, lazy and man-childish YOU are. POINT BEING that it’s a bit repetitive and though strategic variation comes into play it’s no different than Salmon is to Nantucket Red.

Angry Birds has a similar sort of repetition to it as well, which usually is categorized by the term “casual gamer”. You have birds, you fling them at a perplexing combo of basswood and reinforced concrete magic, and pigs go away. I get the appeal to this kind of simplicity, I being someone who can boast total kick assery at Super Bust-A-Move.

Yeah, there’s a storyline in Angry Birds but for this discussion it will be ignored.

What? You did.

Wait a minute! There seem to be a lot of similarities here. There is monotonous gameplay with varying levels of difficulty, questionable addiction to said gameplay and a distaste for narrative that would make Joseph Campbell roll in his grave.

You all are the same people!

Replace the Spetsnaz with pigs, the SPAS-12 with a slingshot and aforementioned British mutant hate speech with weird Sims 3esque jabbering and you’re essentially playing the same game. Granted, I’m making some rather broad generalizations but there’s a bigger point to be made. Not just about gamers but gaming as a whole. Just stick with me.

So, what does this mean? Are hardcore gamers actually casual gamers? Or vice versa? Can the Financial Auditor with a wife, kids and house who spends 4 hours a day carefully grooming their FarmVille crop into the Dharma Initiative symbol be lumped with the Cheeto munching, profanity spewing Data Analyst who just got a chopper gunner and is going to ensure total PWNage in your mom’s face?

Absolutely. You say tomato, I say ketchup.

It seems to me that these labels don’t really bring anything to the table when it comes to explanatory power. They do not define any sort of character trait that is intrinsic to casual or hardcore gamers. We all love playing games (well, at least most of us do) and all in all these labels are essentially meaningless in their current iteration. The demographic of gamer has broadened so far that using them almost sets us back.

It may be better to actually drop these terms completely and lean toward labels that encompass us all as gamers rather than create rift between us. Many a time I have heard the “casual gamer” get the short end of the stick because they are “ruining the industry” by not knowing that Angry Birds is just a copy of Crush the Castle and thus snuffing out all innovation. Or conversely, the “hardcore gamer” demanding that games like Silent Hill 2, ICO, Out of this World and Killer 7 be considered legitimate forms of art and are met with eye rolling only paralleled by a Williamsburgian plastered on Four Loko.

It’s all just kind of silly.

In the end it seems these terms are used in the same way that a Philosophy major would call a neophyte a "sofa philosopher" or how Joe Lunch Pail would call the academic an "egghead". At the end of the day all these labels really do is generalize and create rifts. This alienation is rather disheartening especially when you consider how much gamers are alike.

It is important to find your identity in gaming as to help others understand your point of view as well as help define this amazing new medium in the art community. There is a cavalcade of possibilities out there in terms of knowing what we like in a game and what games are.

I think it’s about time to throw out the old filing system.

HOORAH for games!

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