Hardcore vs. Casual Gamers: Why the Vs?

A friend of mine posted this discussion of complex vs. simplified games on his blog. He calls out so-called “hardcore” gamers for valuing complexity for its own sake and looking down on “casual” gamers who prefer more simplified, streamlined gameplay. I responded with the following.

I agree completely. I’ve been trying to understand the kneejerk rejection against simplified games for a while now, and I think a big part of it is this: those gamers who grew up at a time when gaming was 1. unpopular and 2. extremely difficult formed a community and an identity around the fact that despite those two factors, they still became great gamers (especially if they weren’t popular or respected in their real lives). Within the gaming community, prestige came from mastering these incredibly difficult pieces of software. Outsiders looked down on gamers, ridiculed them for investing so much time in such a “useless” skill. A very strong us vs. them mentality emerged, with gamers generally considering themselves intellectually superior to non-gamers.

Then things started to change. Games became more accessible, and as a result, more people started playing them. Suddenly, all those hours and years honing these complicated skills became unnecessary. Anyone can pick up Angry Birds and figure out how to win. But you can’t uproot that us vs. them mentality by saying “look, we can all play games together now!” All those years of conflict have given “old-school” gamers a feeling of possession over games and a rejection of the former non-gamers who suddenly want to join in. Why do they think that after years of ridiculing gamers, suddenly they can become gamers themselves, as though nothing ever happened? If anyone can be a gamer now, then where has that identity gone? For many gamers, that was the only identity they had. Simultaneously, those incredible skills start to become obsolete as even the big AAA games become simpler and more streamlined. The only way to hold on to that feeling of identity and superiority is to insist that only the complicated games are “real” games, and that the more accessible ones aren’t worthy of consideration.

The good news is, I predict that this issue will simply evaporate as the next generation of gamers grows up. Almost every single one of my primary school students plays games. Boys and girls play together, and I’ve never heard these kids suggest that games in general, or any particular game, is “for boys” or “for girls.” Almost all of them play Minecraft. My second graders play World of Tanks. They describe their strategies and draw pictures of different types of tanks for class presentations. The same kids play Angry Birds and a slew of other casual games on their smartphones. None of them see any difference between those two types of games. They’re just… games. They’re fun. As these kids get older, I expect we’ll see “casual” become just another genre of game, and the idea of “real gamers” will be something their grandparents whine on about the same way ours complain about walking to school uphill both ways.

tl;dr: The Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars. Because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.” With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort, “We’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!” Then, quickly, Sylvester McMonkey McBean put together a very peculiar machine. And he said, “You want stars like a Star-Belly Sneetch…? My friends, you can have them for three dollars each!” “Good grief!” groaned the ones who had stars at the first. “We’re still the best Sneetches and they are the worst. But, now, how in the world will we know,” they all frowned, “If which kind is what, or the other way round?”

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