June 29th, 2008
Language is particularly interesting in that it is a vehicle for natural selection; language allows us to classify objects into groups. This simple convenience makes comprehending the environment we live in a much easier task. Unfortunately such a process is usually held in our subconscious and as such we are unaware of how dangerous it can be if we take control ourselves to simplify complex issues with this form of categorization. What this means is that every time we categorize something, (particularly new, foreign and/or complex) we run the risk of allowing this simple convenience to short sight crucial properties and implications as to what it is we are defining. Being in our subconscious, we don’t realize our own shortsightedness which turns simple, necessary categorization into flawed error.
This concept can be applied to language within our own sub-culture (video games). Several pieces of language fall victims to such short sightedness, simply put, we need a re-thinking of such vocabulary. But before I get to that lets take a step back and put this language under the microscope.
The language that I am talking about are the terms “casual” and “hardcore” in relation to software, consoles and the complete gaming demographic. To begin with we ought to try and define both of these terms:
Casual Gaming – A style of video games made for gaming consumers who play at a relatively low (read: casual) frequency. These games are often very accessible, dispensable and simplistic in nature.
Hardcore Gaming – A style of video games made for dedicated players who are willing to invest great time into maximizing their enjoyment of a title.
Pretty typical definitions right? Yup. Now let us break them. ^_^
As a Gaming Genre or Type of Play
As I mentioned in a previous article about casual gaming misconceptions; casual gaming is definitely not a genre of its own and yet it is not quite always but often used as a term to announce game genre (ie. Carnival Games is a casual game, my meaning being; Carnival Games is of this category and subsequently of this genre).
This perception is severely flawed in that a genre requires rules. For example the first person shooter genre where it is compulsory for the game to be predominately set in a first person perspective and involve some sort of shooting. Casual gaming lacks such controls, casual gaming (as once again mentioned here) is just a series of attributes relating to games rather than a rule set.
With this in mind, casual gaming is purely a list of attributes which define a “style of play”. Even if we replace the label of genre with “style of play” there are still numerous faults apparent. The core problem, which was empherically narrated at the start, is that such a label does a poor job at actually classifying anything. I mean how many games contain the following attributes?
“approachable” and accessible
generally speaking the graphics are simple
no long term commitment (very dispensable)
Too many to simply slap under the banner of “casual” gaming. So does this make all puzzle games casual games as well? This works in inverse as well, are all the games that don’t have these attributes “hardcore” games?
As you can see the overflow here is disastrous. While such terms provide enough adequacy for generalizations their use in more specific situations are flawed. The broad nature of our medium cannot simply be polarized into fields both with limited scope. Furthermore there are games which could fall under either moniker.
As a Type of Player
The other way that these terms are used is in reference to players. This principle is reliant on two key factors; frequency of play and ‘style of play’ (being either hardcore or casual) that is what games you play. These things dictate which type of gamer you are (reminds me of those “which celebrity are you” questionnaires).
As you know already the same flawed logic is applied. The demographic of gamers is too broad to simply classify under a bunch of loose variables which spill into one another. Just for fun though let me present a few questions which should strengthen the argument.
If frequency is the only legitimate factor then; how many hours of play a week classifies you as a hardcore gamer? Is it possible to switch from a hardcore to a casual gamer each week? What if a casual gamer plays their casual games more than a hardcore player plays their hardcore games in the space of a week? Furthermore what about gamers which have only ever played one game; World of Warcraft and begin play as soon as they finish work to 12am each night of the working week? Which category do they fall into?
So You Get My Point?
As soon as we begin to begin to classify such a broad demographic of software, consoles, companies and people with terms such as “casual” and “hardcore” we immediately lose our sense of scope of the typical player. Truth is, all sorts of people play all sorts games for different reasons. While sorting them into fields of different polarity skips on the brain work, it does little to recognize the diversity that our medium brings with it.
The Australian Government tried a similar sort of demoralizing branding of its demographics by introducing the Australian Citizenship test. The test contained a series of questions representing essential Australian qualities that the Government wanted all new citizens to proudly uphold. The problem, much like this one is that even when Australians were asked these question they quite often were unclear of the answer. Which proves the invalidity of such a system.
Proof, on our side of the fence is common place. You don’t have to look far to hear stories of “hardcore” gamers having fun with Wii Fit or casual gamers binging on Peggle.
So what exactly should we do with these terms? I think that the question is more of ‘how’. While I have pointed out the issues regarding these highly limiting vocabularies I think that they still have merit. There is a legitimacy and easily understood meaning when one mentions these words within our culture, if we eradicate our language of these terms then we’d only be causing ourselves a great inconvenience. While the terms are sufficient when used to generally describe games, markets etc at a level of exact classification they fail and fail dramatically. In this case we ought to be weary of the limited scope of these words and be cautious when using them in contexts which require definition.