Breaking Down Casual Gaming Misconceptions

April 21st, 2008

casual gaming misconceptions wii fit

You know something that really frustrates me beyond belief? When I am scrolling through an online message board and find gamers whom downright slag out the recent push for casual gaming. This new orientation of gaming has undeniably been receiving quite a lot of heat from a number of members within the ‘core’ gaming crowd. Especially among hardened Wii owners whom are feeling the pressure on their identities as gamers. You see, the truth is a lot of this hate is extremely misguided.

I’ve had this article in cold storage for at least a month now and it was only the other day that another couple of incidents occurred which reminded me of how important this issue is. So I want to tackle this issue head on and hopefully continue to report on and share my ideas on the topic. Please let me know what you think.

What is Casual Gaming?

Casual gaming is essentially gaming made for casual gamers or non gamers, that is people who are new to or don’t play video games on a regular basis. Casual gaming in a way is designed to be the first stepping stone for new players onto the gaming scene.

What Defines a Game a ‘Casual Game’?

It is generally accepted that casual games would consist of at least two or more of the following attributes:

But more importantly it has to successfully appeal and be easily enjoyable by new players. To further clarify what a casual game is here are some examples of games that fit this bill:gameboy casual gaming

So now that we know what casual gaming is all about lets dive into some misconceptions.

All Casual Games are This Type of Game

As I was writing about what defines a casual video game I realized just how problematic casual gaming is. As casual games have slowly expanded, gamers have had difficulty in classifying casual gaming and in many ways still don’t know how to handle this foreign concept. This is a similar issue with survival horror games. Some may regard casual gaming as a separate genre of its own. But as you may have realized, reading over what defines a casual game, casual games are not a genre of their own. Instead they are an orientation or style of games with a loose set of rules.

At this current stage casual gaming does not properly function as a genre. A genre has a set of attributes and in terms of video games all games with those respective attributes fall under that genre. So then lets try this out; Is Super Monkey Ball as a casual game?

The issue here is that if casual games were a genre then each game would have to be manually placed into that genre because there are attributes which make Wii Sports a distinctively casual game and Monkey Ball not so. Even though they both fit under the previous defined rules. One could argue that the attributes that define casual gaming as a genre would therefore need to be adherently more complex but then where do we draw the line in the sand? We can’t without getting messy.

If the previous paragraph confused or at least made your brain sweat then point in case. The difficulty in actually understanding what this casual gaming business is all about has been a strong contributor to the mess surrounding casual games. It opens the door for a lot of confusion and continual typecasting.

bejeweled

All Casual Games are Bad Games

Out of all of the misconceptions this one probably holds the most water. The mass market nature of casual games ensures that there is a lot of money to be made for publishers of casual gaming and due to their simplistic nature it is cheap and easy to quickly create a successful casual video game. Even if the game is only a moderate success a lot of money a significant amount of money is made as production costs are kept down.

So as a result of these two things it becomes clear why some developers have seized the opportunity and released countless clones ripped from other, more successful titles or, on the flipside low quality casual games. This in turn has oversaturated the market. Its quite sad that in a genre field where innovation and good game design is the key for a massively successful game that these other developers have come in and destroyed the casual gaming ecosystem.

For regular gamers this suggests that all casual games are like this and it only makes it easier to unfairly write casual games off. This is then made worse by game reviews. As previously mentioned, people are uncertain as to how to regard casual games, this is the same for the game reviewing process. How do you rank Brain Training to Contra 4? Each demands something entirely different from the player.

This again has created a lot of confusion as journalists stick to how they have been taught and give Brain Training a 7.5/10 and Contra 4 a 9/10. They review games on the grounds that the person reading the review is a hardcore gamer instead of scoring each game based on how well the game succeeds in pleasing it’s particular audience. Therefore going by the book, Brain Training is dubbed as an average title.

The combination of bad press and average game reviews give the impression that casual games are inferior to regular games when in actuality they aren’t getting a fair trial.

Casual Games are Destroying the Games Industry

freecellThe previous misconception follows directly into this one. To continue on; if Casual Games are mostly of poor quality, polluting the gaming landscape then this is clearly a problem. A problem which all casual games are to blame for. Essentially as the title goes casual games are destroying the industry with their inferior, budget quality.

We know that this is not true from what I stated above. So this misconception has already been debunked but, of course, I want to go one better and further prove my case.

Casual gaming is good and can only be positive for the industry. Casual gaming is all about audience expansion and the more people that play games, the better. Because when more people play games, the gaming economy increases, we see more games but in particular more quality games. Probably the most important thing about audience expansion is that as more and more people begin to understand games for what they are, gaming will (finally) be accepted by the mass media as an art form. Which is the ultimate goal.

Casual Games are Not for the Core Gamer

The displaced position of casual gaming as mentioned under the first point has certain repercussions with the overall gaming audience. The greatest repercussion in my opinion is the backlash from some players which echoes throughout the industry.

The way that casual gaming has grounded itself appears to have strengthened the selfish “us vs them” mentality among the core gaming group. That is the perception that one group (the hardcore group) is superior to the other (the casual playing market) . Furthermore as a hardcore player we must maintain our high gaming status by refusing to playing (but more importantly accept) casual games.

This whole hierarchical view of the game industry quite frankly disgusts me. I cannot understand why people feel as though they have the right to dismiss other audiences of players. Pure ignorance.

What you will and probably already have found (as an intelligent reader of my blog) is that casual games are normal, they are fun, they are games. Much like the answer that Nintendo PR often respond with to questions about the company alienating long term players; anyone can enjoy a casual game, it doesn’t matter what sort of games you play.

I guess this is less of a misconception and more of arrogant pride getting in the way of some truly fantastic gaming.

zuma gameplay

Conclusion

My goal in writing this piece, much like some other articles that I write, is to project an important message. In this case, one of acceptance by highlighting examples of dismissal. I hope that when reading this article you can look at yourself as a gamer and perhaps remove any previous resistance you’ve had towards casual games. I believe that casual games are very important for the industry, not just for new players but for us too; the hardcore.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this topic so drop me a comment below.

  • Hey Guys, Sorry I took so long to get this one out the door. I have been trying to grapple with the new WordPress UI which is even more frustrating to use than the previous one. It won’t properly upload images and the formatting is just murder.

    I am going to have to revert back to the previous version. I hate this rubbish. ><

  • I have no idea what forum post may have inspired this… 😉

    Good post though!

    And I’ve been holding off on upgrading my WP. Maybe I should wait some more?

  • I think the worst perception of casual games is that they are all bad, as you pointed out. There are plenty of good casual games. Plus, just looking at FPS games, which are arguably the heart of the ‘core’ player’s gaming canon, there are boatloads of terrible releases. As with most mediums, a lot of what gets released is garbage, purely after a quick buck rather than advancing the art form. Most movies aren’t worth your time, but there are plenty of outstanding titles. Similarly with games, both casual and otherwise.

    I think the more serious problem is how reviewers approach casual games. It does seem unfair to compare a Brain Training to a Contra 4, or a Wii Sports to a Metroid Prime. How can reviewers fairly judge casual games? The key might be acknowledging that ‘core’ gamers can play casual games too, and that they provide their own fun, unique experience.

  • Nice article Daniel.

    Personally I’m all for “Casual Gaming”. As you so rightly point out it encourages more people to try video games and with this comes acceptance that it’s just another form of entertainment, like reading a book, or watching a movie and not something to be sneered at.

    By also encouraging a different demographic of gamers it also encourages developers to start thinking outside of the box in terms of game design and hopefully we’ll see more and more unusul games in the future.

    I personally love FPS, racing, or action adventure games (when done right), but every now and again it’s great just to play Picross or Wii Sports for a change.

  • RacketBoy: Yeah that depends, the new WP is extremely Mac like in design. I don’t really like it myself though. I would try it on a local server if possible or read into its issues. There is really little benefit to upgrade though, so I would hold back for now.

    Korey: My thoughts are scattered on this whole issue on how we can fix this problem. I don’t think that changing the review criteria will work as it will likely cause some sort of revolt. We really need more core gamers to discover casual games (in an unbiased light) to really apreciate and understand them.

    QuizzicalDemon: I think that casual games if applied to our gaming diet correctly definetly can and should hold their own. Often after an exhausting day I just want to kick back and play a game that doesn’t force me to work. A game, like so many casual games which is dispensible.

  • Pingback: DP’s Gamer Blog:: The Enthusiast’s Blog » A Call For Respect()

  • Pingback: DP’s Gamer Blog:: The Enthusiast’s Blog » Implications with Classification of Hardcore and Casual()

  • An interesting point to think about is:

    Is casual gaming really a genre?

    Because while some games often get a reputation as casual and are seen as such, you have to ask whether there’s really a difference between a person on the phone being a few minutes/hours of Candy Crush when they’re bored or a teen playing a few minutes/hours of Call of Duty with their friends when they’re bored.

    Maybe it’s less about the genre and more about the level of dedication to a game.

  • I don’t think that there is a casual games genre and I don’t believe that the term “casual” is helpful or accurate. Your point is accurate, I think. Anyone can put in any amount of dedication into a game; it’s not worth politicising.