Outdated Labels for an Outdated Model

The terms ‘Casual’ and ‘Hardcore’ are terms that as our industry matures, grow more problematic.  Self-labelled hardcore players say casual players are ruining their medium, that gaming is dying because of the casuals.  Casuals complain that the hardcore are ruining games by wanting to keep it all to themselves, and everyone seems to refer back to the self-affirmed “Golden Age” of gaming when their needs were met with rose-colored goodness. 

Of course, the reality of the situation is that self-identified hardcore players can rarely support any claims they make, the self-identified casuals can’t agree on what makes them casual, and the rose-tinted musings of days gone by are never good as they seem.  Yet, many games continue to reinforce these divisions. 

I think a large part of the problem here is that as a society, and especially as gamers, we are used to things being reductionist — that we can distill everything down to key traits that allow us to easily and simply categorize things and assign value to them.  That’s exactly what we have here is the attempt to zero in on 2-3 traits that define casual/hardcore/elite and make those the defining characteristics of the label, and that we need to be able to say “This is better than that…” because in games, it’s what we do all the time.  All of our decisions in game essentially boil down to this dichotomy, so it only makes sense to me that we would try to do that with gamers too.

But even here, reading the comments on Massively, that’s clearly not true of gamers themselves.  There were easily 20 different definitions of casual/hardcore dichotomy, and virtually no agreement on what exactly that means.  Everyone identifies 1-2 traits of gamers and say that definitely, without exception, this is what makes a hardcore player or a casual player.  It bears to mention here that there is no middle ground in this paradigm, and gamers are prone to hyperbole. 

In truth, I think that the term ‘casual’ is outdated because it doesn’t really exist as it’s being used.  We see rage on this forum about the “casuals” ruining games, or this particular play-style ruining games but no one ever seems to have concrete examples of these people.  It’s always “on the forums….” but never linked.  Or in Trade chat, but never screenshotted.  Personally, I’ve never seen ANYONE say that they want more in the game for doing less.  At all.  To me, this term refers to a “boogey man” of sorts in gaming. 

For me, the most telling distinction between gamers (but by no means the only distinction) is that some want the prestige with getting to the endgame and beating the hardest boss.  It’s like getting to Eagle Scout, right?  It’s an elite club that shows their dedication to achieving this particular goal in the game — often to the exclusion of other goals the game might offer. 

Other players get gratification out of other things in the game, and they want recognition for those things too.  They want their own “Eagle Scout” club for not necessarily beating the final boss, but for doing something else in the game really well, that’s not easy to get to, and again, often to the exclusion of other goals the game offers.
I think the problem beyond this is two fold, but ultimately related–the first is like I said before, as players we are conditioned to in all things say “This is better than that…” so, as their isn’t another challenge in the game similar to clearing end-game content (at least in repute), that becomes the greatest thing — the best (and in most cases only) “Eagle Scout” distinction in the game. 

I think a lot of this (not all) could be solved by recognizing that within a game like an MMO, there NEEDS to be more systemic goals in the game that are not focused around defeating a final boss.  For example, I would love a game where my combat takes a back seat to my crafting skills, and where because I can focus on my crafting, I can make things that those players who focus on combat can’t.  That would give me a goal to strive for, give me content and stuff to do in game, while still giving those who want the “defeat the boss” goal to be challenging. 

MMOs as a whole need to grow up and learn to account for different playstyles and different game goals.  Sure, there will still be players who say this is better than that — we will never get away from that.  But by diversifying goals, you can appeal to more players, and let everyone have their own goals in game instead of shoe-horning everyone into a single goal.

Via Massively