The Three Kingdoms of Gaming
There is a war that has been raging in our world for decades. A war fought, not between nations and kingdoms, but between the giants of the games industry. This war began underground; in the nineties arguments over Nintendo vs Sony, or Mario vs Sonic were ones fought in school-grounds and arcades, by those who KNEW. As the market has expanded (and those school children have grown up) the war has become far more public, today fought with SuperBowl commercials, in living rooms and bars. And as the war has risen in scope to be fought by the mainstream public, a line has been drawn in the sand on the battlefield. Nobody is sure who drew the first stroke, but it is there, and looks like it is here to stay. That line is the distinction between a “casual” and a “hardcore” gamer. As we approach the horizon of a new console cycle, there is a danger that the line is in the wrong place.
Where is the line drawn now? In 2006, Nintendo’s release of the Wii console could well be described as the event that made the line visible. Having earned a reputation for a domain of easily accessible, colourful, and downright simple titles, the Wii eked out an entirely new console market comprising for the first time not of scrawny school-children and socially awkward anoraks, but of entire families- even parents. Suddenly even teenage girls were involved, wangling remotes playing Just Dance and flailing like an epileptic at the disco, pretending to play tennis in Wii Sports. With that unexpected advent, the nomenclature of ‘Casual Gamer’ was cemented.
This dichotomisation naturally required an antithesis. Are they “Formal Gamers”? No. The title of “Hardcore Gamers” was suddenly bestowed on the rest of us- those of us who for years had not needed a title at all.
Why was this arbitrary distinction needed? Well, gamers the world over who were scratching their heads red-raw trying to understand the Wii were the very ones who made the distinction. That’s right- we brought it on ourselves. In order to critique and engage with this emerging new sect, we had to name it before we could shame it. And if there is one thing we gamers seem to like to do, it’s to comment, to criticise, and to demand more from our industry.
So half a decade later we found ourselves in a situation where the console manufactures themselves needed to justify their hardware- earnestly promising to cater for hardcore AND casual gamers. When the successor to the Wii was announced in 2011, the primary theme we gamers took from the news was that this new system would be capable of catering for hardcore gamers too. At this juncture, I’d ask the question, “What does that mean?”
Is it Call of Duty? Is it Battlefield? Is it Fifa, Madden, or Gears of War? I ask the question because of this theme of gamers creating disjunctive distinctions between what counts as a “real gamer” and, I guess, everyone else. So – does the average jock who plays only Call of Duty and Madden count as a real gamer? You see, if your answer is negative then the inference is that these titles do not count as Hard Core games. And here we arrive at the crux of this discussion; at the outset I advanced that there is a possibility that the line is in the wrong place. A strict dichotomisation of Hardcore and Casual simply does not work. Instead, I propose that there are instead THREE categories, each of which need to be addressed and managed by console manufacturers in their own special way.
It is undeniable that Casual Gamers are a sizeable and definable market. But within the remainder of the population there is not one, but two categories. The aforementioned CoD players, and a group which could arguably be called ‘real gamers’. Why is this important? Because these three groups have completely different needs. Casual gamers need nothing more than pretty, accessible games. The CoD heads demand merely better graphics and faster, slicker versions of the games they are playing now. What about the rest of us?
Let it not be said that graphics and power are unimportant to us in the game we play. Likewise, it would be untrue to pigeon-hole us all as sequel hating IP snobs. There is one simple thing that we (should) care about: the games. We want to play new games. We want to explore, we want to feel like children again. We want to see things we have never seen before, as well as experiencing games we already love in new, exciting formats. That, I posit, is what should be the mark of a ‘real gamer’. But if we are going to create three categories, what should we call them?
“Casual Gamers” may as well remain safe under that umbrella. How about the others, who only buy the latest CoD, Fifa, or Forza? How about we refer to this group as “Social Gamers”- they play the titles that are socially common and acceptable. And what about we faithful? How about, since we seem to have a penchant for self-categorisation, we take the bull by the horns and bestow ourselves with the only title we ever really wanted: “Gamers”.