Casual or Hardcore? Or Middlecore?

My apologies for the late update, but here it is:

The definition of the word “gamer” is pretty straightforward. It means, “one who plays games,” usually referring to those of the audio/visual variety. Until recently, being a gamer meant that you were knee-deep in the industry, knew what games were coming, and had a good sense of what made a quality game. You probably owned two or more gaming systems and had a sizable collection of games. You were a gamer.

Nowadays, the term “gamer” is somewhat antiquated. Nowadays, a lot more people play videogames, but a lower and lower percentage of them fit the above description. Today’s videogame market is divided into the “hardcore,” who are essentially the “gamers” of yore, and the “casual.” The casual gamer is an interesting type. They may sit online and spend time playing little flash games (you know, that PopCap crap), or they may come over and try out the latest sequel to Mario Party and the like. They are not really a big part of the more traditional culture of gaming, yet they are what is powering the industry forward.

Nintendo is an old company. Founded in 1889, they began as a Hanafuda card manufacturer, and then moved into the electronic games industry in the last third of the 20th century. They’ve been around the block, and most definitely helped kick-start the modern era of videogames.

It is ironic (or maybe not), then, that they are the same company that is “changing the game” from it’s roots, as everyone and their mother is quick to point out. And it’s mothers who are doing a lot of the new game playing. The casual market that has been catalyzed so strongly, first by the DS and now by the Wii, is largely made up of older game players and the previously alien female gamer.

That’s not a big deal, really. I don’t mind expanding the market to vast proportions. I would like to see the videogame industry eclipse the movie industry, even. It is a more complete form of entertainment, simply because of it’s interactivity. Widespread acceptance is the next logical step in its maturation process.

What should NOT happen, however, is the dumbing down of content, or leaving the most dedicated fans in the dust of newfound successes.

What seems to be happening is that videogame companies, like Nintendo, are directing their primary focus toward this new market. Of course there is money to be made there, so they would like to pursue the new trend in full force, but it seems to come at the expense of the more in-depth works. New divisions are popping up within many videogame development companies, taking manpower from the more “feature-length” games, and established development teams are even being shifted to casual projects, going so far as to cease work on games that are already underway (Project H.A.M.M.E.R., for example).

The latest event to aggravate my ever-deepening casual games wound is the announcement of Nintendo’s Wii Fit. This is a personal fitness… application… for the Wii. It’s not even a game anymore — it’s exercise software, step aerobics, etc. Is this where things are going for Nintendo? Are other companies to follow? If this is the case, then they need to increase the development pool, making ROOM for both types of software. Both “real” games and these new pieces of casual software should be fully supported. Don’t sacrifice one for the other.

Which brings me to the “hardcore” sector. The casual insurgency is mounting so much that there appears to be a sort of backlash against it. The “hardcore” game is taking up an incredible chunk of the rest of the market. The first-person shooter, war game, “hard-boiled” action game, etc. is what the in-crowd plays now, as if in retaliation against the casual assailant.

The phenomenon is similar to what has happened for ages in the music industry. A genre of sanitized content arises, thereby evoking a response from other musicians to cultivate a more rough, dark, “dirty” form of aural pleasure, and then the two groups remain at odds with each other over an indefinite period of time.

Hardcore gamers, raise your hands. Are you into the “casual games” movement. I’d wager you said some form of, “nah, not really.” Well, casual gamers don’t even consider themselves gamers most of the time, distancing themselves from the hobby that they take part in every time they do some Brain Training or fire up a party game. It has become a struggle, simply because the transition has been harsh and abrupt.

There is little room left in the middle for those gamers who take everything as it comes — those gamers who simply want a unique and compelling gameplay experience, regardless of the classification. While resistance to casual games is high for “hardcore” gamers, and resistance to “hardcore” games is high for casual gamers, there is still a middlecore that needs some attention, and would be happy to just play some good games.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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