Rockstar Games cofounder Sam Houser stirred things up recently by claiming he didn’t understand the divide between “casual” games and “hardcore” games. No, the makers of the Grand Theft Auto series claim that the game is the thing.
“Good games will usually sell and be popular, bad games will struggle–of any type or genre or style,” Houser said. “But we still believe big, high-impact games will help the industry evolve and further surpass the movie industry as the next mass-market storytelling medium.”
That statement is highly debatable. Ico, Rez, Eternal Darkness, Beyond Good & Evil … the list of good games that deserved a wider audience is long and storied. Being “good” isn’t good enough.
But, how about you, Nintendo? As the current epicenter of casual gaming on the consoles, what’s your take on the casual gaming phenomenon?
Laurent Fischer, managing director of marketing and PR at Nintendo of Europe, dismisses the idea of casual games. He declares there is no gaming schism, arguing that the games audience consists of people who are “either a gamer or they are not.” He actually went on to say that he didn’t like the word “casual,” because he considers it a loaded term.
Casual games are typically defined as games that are easy to learn and can be played in short bursts, without penalties for stopping or pausing gameplay. Casual titles typically don’t feature graphic violence or over-sexualized women, or require high-end computers to play.
Hardcore games, on the other hand, generally imply a certain level of difficulty, requiring commitment and intense periods of time to learn and master. These games generally feature combat and adult themes, and require higher-end computers to play.
Are casual games easier than hardcore games? Are hardcore games more fun than casual games? Not necessarily, on either count. However, it seems lunacy to deny there is a difference between Bingo and BioShock.
What separates casual games from hardcore isn’t what players do or why they play, or even the intensity with which they play.
Think about it: Bingo Zone players engage in that gaming experience for hours at a time — nightly — clocking about the same total minutes as a multiplayer tour in Call of Duty 4. Achievements are the main goal for many Xbox 360 players, but Pogo players are equally mad about their badges. Social interactions, relaxation, challenging yourself or other players … all of those aspects are present in both casual and hardcore games. Does that automatically make them the same? No, there is a distinction.
What separates casual and hardcore games is what separates pop music from serious music, and popcorn flicks from Palme d’Or winners.
“Pop music” is a loaded term; one could argue that pop music is an historic, important part of our culture, represented by a multi-billion dollar industry. One could also argue that pop music offers the most diluted form of whatever genre it’s emulating, so it’s morally bankrupt.
“Popcorn flick” is another loaded term; the movie business is built around tent-pole movies designed to put millions of people in millions of seats. Think of Michael Bay, for instance. Yet these popcorn flicks tend to be big, noisy affairs that lack the drama and gravitas of films that are seen by few people yet critically acclaimed. Again, Michael Bay.
I am not saying that casual games are pop music, or that hardcore games are award-winning indie masterpieces, although sometimes they can be. I am saying that I like to play casual games. However, when I play them, I play them hardcore. Except sometimes, only casually.
Christopher Cummings, author of The Left Click columns appearing on DailyGame.net, is senior product manager for Gamesville.com, where thousands of people compete daily in free, massively multiplayer games to win real cash prizes. You can join the Gamesville group on Facebook
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