Analysis

Select Your Difficulty Level: The Casual vs Hardcore Debate

Farmville

With the explosion of popularity that video games have seen in recent years, it was inevitable that the community would be going through its growing pains. The idea that the gaming industry would have to put aside some of its more childish notions and become more inclusive has been met with mixed reactions. Where there used to be the competition between which console was the best or whether you played on a computer, the labels have moved from what piece of equipment you play your games on to what type of gamer you are personally.

The first problem that I can see with the casual versus hardcore gamer dichotomy is the fact that it’s not a dichotomy at all. We’re in a world that stresses how there is nothing so simple that it can be boiled down to a black and white argument. Those who do so tend to be seen as ignorant or hyperbolic. The oversimplification of an argument is what allows us to bring it down to only two sides and that is what is happening in the casual versus hardcore argument.

The fact that there’s no clear definition of what a casual or hardcore gamer is trips up this dichotomy at the very first hurdle. I’ve heard dozens of explanations as to why someone is “hardcore” and different metrics used to weigh someone’s gamer cred. Difficulty of games played, amount of time dedicated, and skill in playing games are the most common characteristics named when it comes to deciding whether someone’s a hardcore gamer or not. These metrics are so simplistic, though, that they can be rebuffed with minimal thought.

If it’s only difficult games, then Flappy Bird is a hardcore game. If it has to be games that people have put a lot of time into like MMOs, then Facebook games would count as hardcore gaming thanks to games like Farmville or Candy Crush Saga. If it was skill, then I’ve seen people play Tetris and Bejeweled at speeds that would boggle your mind.

In the end, the distinction tends to come down to an arbitrary mix of personal tastes which define the hardcore gamer from the casual one. Disdain for phone games is a common complaint that you’ll see when in the gaming community, acting as if the people who are playing phone games exclusively are looking to muscle in on gamer territory. There are also complaints about the gameplay elements within a game. Rather than focusing on the experience that a game can provide, if the gameplay elements seem too simplistic it will be derided as a casual game.

The truth of the matter is that the separation of hardcore and casual gamers has become an exclusionary measure. There would be no drama surrounding the terms if it weren’t for the fact that within the gaming sphere, casual gamers are often treated like they are less important than hardcore gamers are. “Casual gamer” has become a term that is used to exclude people who have not been judged as hardcore enough.

It is a way of barring people from a discussion by dismissing their interest in video games as casual. It’s the insinuation that their opinions on games are not as important because they haven’t met the required amount of game-playing time. It’s complete and utter bullshit, really.

Based on the clearest definitions that I could find of casual and hardcore gamers, I would fall into the hardcore category. I have a high-end PC, I prefer games with deep and involving storylines, and I seek out game-related information. I think of gaming as more than an idle amusement and am passionate about them, but I would never call myself a hardcore gamer. Even the Wikipedia article shows some gamer classism by saying that hardcore gamers have more well-rounded tastes than other gamers.

pad2On the flip side, I’m close friends with a girl (let’s call her Jess) who would definitely fall within the definition of a casual gamer. Jess only has a laptop that’s better suited to watching videos than playing video games. She prefers games that she can pick up and put down easily, especially ones that she can play on her phone like Puzzles & Dragons. It’s the puzzles that Jess really likes and story doesn’t tend to matter as much. If she wants something with a lot of story, Jess feels like she can read a book or watch a show.

Still, without looking for news, Jess is usually the one who comes to me with new games that she thinks would interest me. Beyond that, Jess can kick my ass in any puzzle or strategy related game on any platform even if she’s never played them before.

And that’s where the idea of hardcore gaming falls short.

The values that define a hardcore gamer are arbitrary and vary too wildly to be of any use. Take a step back in the supposed ‘war’ between casual and hardcore gamers and you’ll find a small minority of hardcore gamers who are throwing their weight around, desperately trying to prove that they are better than the people they’ve classed “casual gamers.”  They’re engaged in a furious pissing match, but they’re fighting an enemy that only they can see and raging against the way that games are evolving and changing.

The hardcore gamers that try to hold themselves above other people will one day be looked back at as the jokes of the gaming industry. They’ll be seen as the people who actively tried to hold the gaming industry back in order to keep their tiny little playground and who railed against new people coming into the industry to call themselves gamers.

In the end, whether you’re hardcore or casual doesn’t matter when it comes to gaming. We’ll soon reach a point in gaming culture where defining yourself as a hardcore gamer will become a subtle signal that you’re a dick, much in the way that calling yourself a “nice guy” or wearing a fedora would. The hardcore gamers who demand acknowledgement for being better than other gamers or who look down their nose at casual gamers will be gnashing their teeth while the rest of us don’t pay them any mind.

We’ll be too busy playing games to pay any attention.

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4 thoughts on “Select Your Difficulty Level: The Casual vs Hardcore Debate”

  1. I’ve always hated the “hardcore gamer” mentality. My older brother and a lot of his friends call people “casuals” all the time, and as far as I can tell it’s just a very twisted joke. A lot of the people they interact with, however, genuinely believe that if you don’t have a certain gamerscore or you can’t 100% a game, you’re not a “real” gamer. I think you summed up very well why those arguments are invalid.

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  2. That’s exactly how I think, it’s arbitrary the definition and in the end it’s doesn’t matter. The called “hardcore gamer” just want to feel superior to the people who plays different games that they don’t like, wich is very childish. That’s one of the reasons for what I never call myself a gamer, I don’t want this bullshit. I’m glad that people are speak about how ridiculous this is

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  3. Good article, and I feel the same way… I’m so sick of this “casual/hardcore” stuff (and especially how some people seem to think those are the only options where you’re either one or the other, no in-between – though I’ve seen “core gamer” sometimes used as a middle ground, but just as often it seems to be used similarly to hardcore) I don’t remember even hearing about this “split”, before 7th gen of consoles, but today it seems to even be used as a marketing demographic in the industry (I’ve read game design/developments books who says you’ll have to decide if you want to develop the game for a “casual” or “hardcore” audience, as in those are the only options… yeah, I get that some games are designed to be “easier” and “simpler” than others and some are made for an audience that already plays a lot of games and want more complex games, but it still feels a bit jarring to see those terms used with all the associations, especially the negative associations for “casual”, they have in gaming culture)

    I honestly can’t identify with either of those terms – I love games, spend a lot of my money on console games from a variety of genres, play often, like to 100% complete games and have a vast knowledge of my favorite gaming universes, so I’m not “casual” by any definition of the word (well, except for the definition where Nintendo fans are inherently “casual” just by their console preference). However, I don’t care about being the very best in online multiplayer and am in general not too competitive except for against friends, and I don’t care for a “deep story” or “complexety” in most of my games (while I sometimes play games like that and like some of them, those things are rarely selling points for me) so with those standards I probably can’t be called “hardcore” either. And from what I’ve seen from many self-proclaimed “hardcore” gamers, it’s not really a community I’m gonna miss… so much superiority going around, jeez.

    So, yeah, I’m a middle ground, or core/mid-core gamer in Wikipedia’s definition, if anything. Though mostly, I’d like to see this whole split go away.

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