Home Editorial The Reunification of Gaming: Why “casual” really counts

The phrase “casual gaming” is something of an insult to those of us who consider ourselves real connoisseurs of the medium.

“Hardcore” or not, anyone with a history of heavy RPG, shooter, RTS, or really any in-depth gaming experience defies the definition of “casual.” I’m certain the majority of you reading this fall into that second category; I know for a fact I do.

What worries me is the stigma the “casual” market’s earned from those of us far more indebted to games than the general populace. I don’t think it’s really such a bad thing, but not for the reasons you might assume.

There’s a couple different subjects I want to clear up to make my point, the first of which is something like a brief version of my gaming history.

 

Where Xiant’s been

When I was a wee one of perhaps seven or eight, and Blockbuster still ruled the rental market (do the math), I remember perusing the gaming section and seeing a box with the words Final Fantasy VII on it. There was this weird looking blond guy with a big ass sword for art, and I scoffed. Surely, I thought, this can’t be something I’d enjoy. And for several weeks, the box remained on the shelf, unrented, at least by me. When my curiosity got the better of me, I asked my parents to rent it for me. If I’d had the ability, I wouldn’t have slept, eaten or left my room until I finished. And FFVII is something like 60 hours long.

I can still play that game from beginning to end and after fifteen years, it’s yet to get old for me.

I remained a staunch supporter of Final Fantasy, and any other JRPG/adventure game out there, Zelda and Mario taking second and third behind FF. I got a PS2 and Armored Core 2, which succeeded in broadening my horizons immensely. While FFX still dominated when it released, I was no longer bound by any single genre. As though to drive that point home to myself, I bought FFXII and never even opened the box. There were new vistas to enjoy, and by the time the 360 and PS3 released, JRPGs no longer held me in the deathgrip of my childhood.

I didn’t get into the whole Halo craze, nor did I fall into the CoD trap. Instead, I spent the first few years of the “next-gen” console generation searching for my new niche. I did a stint in the MMORPG Eve Online, which lasted just long enough for Killzone 2 to release. Here was a whole new world of guns and multiplayer and matchmaking and shit-talking. I was the biggest n00b out there, but I learned fast. And I was addicted to the FPS genre even faster. I played KZ2 until it died, at which point I got a laptop that could just run the games of the time. I’m writing this article on that same laptop, as a matter of fact.

For a while I searched. I played FarCry 2, a pirated version of CoD4 which barred me from multiplayer, a few single player games I got my hands on. And then I found, somehow, Team Fortress 2.

It was August of 2008, and the Heavy Update just dropped. TF2 was still relatively pure. Hats didn’t exist, the map count was exceedingly low, and if I hadn’t found the TN servers, I might not have spent the 1600 hours I have under my belt. I met stabby, WiNG on one occasion (we didn’t meet again until T3), and so many other good friends I still play with on occasion.

Battlefield came next, then Call of Duty and now today when I’m searching once more for my home.

 

Today’s young gamers, though…

The problem with the story I’ve just told is that the days where it can happen are ending. Or at least, they’re ending in the way I’ve described it. But more than that, I think the most important aspect of bringing new blood to the medium, the games themselves, are drifting into dangerous waters. Back when I got into gaming, the “hardcore” games, the ones we want kids to play, were far more accessible. I don’t mean as far as purchasing or piracy is concerned. In that respect, it’s never been easier to enter the hobby.

Instead, I’m talking about ratings. Final Fantasy, Medal of Honor, Armored Core, and games like them were rated T, and anyone could buy them. Oh, there were M rated games like Metal Gear Solid, Tenchu, Zone of the Enders, Syphon Filter, all of which were paragons of their respective genres. But these weren’t games to “get people into gaming.” Those kinds of “hardcore” didn’t yet require a parent’s approval for purchase.

Now, the majority, if not necessarily all, of the games we call “hardcore” and that we want everyone to play, are rated M. Kids have no option but to bring in their parents to buy them these games. Elder ScrollsUncharted, Battlefield, Gears, Halo, Assassin’s Creed, BioShock, and more, all rated M. And when we see kids online playing these games, we deride them and laugh at them. But how else will they enter our hobby if we won’t let them play the big boy games that really define what the medium is capable of?

 

I’m going to hate myself for this, but…

We need to embrace the mobile, Facebook and tablet markets exactly the same way we do the console and PC ones. It’s hard to do, considering the history the last two have, and the relative novelty of the initial three. As Facebook and Google and smartphones become more and more integrated into the lives of maturing children and teens, their exposure to games like Farmville and Angry Birds will only increase. These games will define where they begin as gamers, in exactly the same way me finding FFVII in Blockbuster did. What we as a “hardcore” community must then do is find a way to introduce them to our side of gaming, with its violence, deep storytelling and powerful imagery. Steam’s already begun this with the Free-to-Play model, and if they don’t have Facebook integration, they will soon. CoD Elite is linked directly to Facebook, and with good reason.

My theory is this, as I think you’ve already gathered. The two disparate elements of gaming, the casual and hardcore markets, must inevitably merge back into one entity. Games like Infinity Blade are already attempting to do this, and succeeding, more or less. The bridge must be repaired, strengthened, and walked on again. There are those in both camps who do not want this to happen. From where I’m standing, it absolutely must happen, or gaming will split down the middle and become two completely separate things. The casual market will be gaming, and the hardcore will be something else, or vice versa. As the art argument grows as the elephant in the room, which gaming environment first takes that crown might define the future.

I hope the world of gaming reunites before that can happen.

 

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13 replies to this post
  1. One of my former girlfriends was to much of a gamer in the traditional sense, maybe playing Doodle Jump every now and then. I one day got her to try Portal and though she had never played any other FPS and was not good at puzzles, the next day she bought it on Steam. You will now never find a bigger Portal fan than her. Portal and other puzzle games are what I see as the bridge that we need, all that needs to be done is to make more that are in the spirit of Portal.

  2. Good article Xiant. Looking at a lot of the games you’ve listed though, is it more the community than the actual rating of the game itself?

    I haven’t had a Nintendo system since the 64, but I’m lead to believe that the Mario and Zelda and other titles on the Wii are still exceptional for their genres. Games like Skyrim might be mature, but since they are single player I don’t think anyone really cares.

    To me at least it always seems that it’s not the content in the game itself, but rather the people that form the userbase that result in troubles. I know that I wouldn’t have stuck around in TF2 had I not found a decent group of people to play with, and even then it wasn’t an automatic in either.

    I think people often lose sight of the fact that at one point everyone, regardless of skill, is new to the game and needs to learn the ropes. Someone who can barely handle themselves when they first pick a game up could wind up as one of the top players, you can just never tell.

    • True, the community is an important aspect, especially for a multiplayer franchise. Like I said, it was on the TN servers that kept me going, and you seem to have had a similar experience.

      What I think is important, however, is that the single player experience is far more important to bringing new blood to the medium than multiplayer ever could be. Because SP is based solely on rewarding the player for their successes and mostly light punishment for mistakes, it allows for new gamers to grow used to the challenges games can offer.

      For me, at least, it is single player that should be, as it was, the selling point of a game. Big budget FPS games have soiled the market into thinking that MP is what allows games to sell, and that if it doesn’t have that aspect, it’s not worth your time. I’ve spent more time in Skyrim than both CoD4 and Battlefield, and I’ve had it for far less time. Assassin’s Creed 2 didn’t need multiplayer to make it a near-masterpiece. Nor did Bioshock, but with the sequel they bit the bullet and the game paid for it. Even the original Crysis had multiplayer, but no one did anything with it, because the core game was such a well-put-together product (and most PCs of the time couldn’t run it).

      So I disagree that single player games equals instant apathy. I contend that it is the single player that allows entry into the gaming world, because without a firm grasp of how a console or PC game handles, there’s so much more frustration and enjoyment. And there’s a risk of losing a new gamer before they can even begin their journey.

  3. When I played Brotherhood against new players I would berate them for getting shitty kills and say “Damn, I didn’t see that coming” when they killed me for 700 points. My headset broke so now I have no way of educating the noobs.

  4. I totally agree with the article. It’s the ratings system that truly effects what gets into the hands of customers.

    That said, I think it also has a really negative effect on games in other aspects. As someone who grew up gaming in school(and still is in high school), kids really don’t want to play E rated games. About 4th grade was when everybody stopped playing “kiddie games” and most people started casting Nintendo games aside. Kids want to appear cool and be socially accepted. Because “everybody else is doing it”, they rely on their peer’s gaming catalogs to determine what games they should play, and thus, mature games like Call of Duty are played whereas truly deserving mature games like Half Life are not. What pains me is that due to their lack of knowledge, they miss out on great titles and will slowly shape the market to move away from good gaming and the standard gaming Pay to Own, not to Play/Win model.

    In fact, I’d say that games like Okami and Portal(despite being popular on a nerd/internet level, it’s had minimal success in terms of the common population- ask people on the street they will have no idea) are just as hardcore as more mature titles. They provide excellent gameplay without breaking the violence barrier. Games like those should be the FFVII of my generation’s lives since they tell great stories and do have violence but still an easily accessible rating. Yet they slip through the cracks because they aren’t bloody and mud-colored. Heck, I have to agree with what others have said and admit that Nintendo games are probably the best games on the market but won’t ever achieve the legendary status(par OoT) because both casual gamers and hardcore gamers don’t seem to ever be satisfied by their low violence attitude(and reviewers are too nostalgic to admit that Ninty games today are just as good as the ones they played xD.) I’d take Skyward Sword’s real time sword combat to Skyrim’s infinitely expansive but easily boring landscape anyday.

  5. I’ll embrace mobile/Facebook games when they become enjoyable and/or attractive to play and if I ever bother getting a phone which can play games (am I the ONLY person who uses a phone just for calling people nowadays?). There’s not been anything which has taken my fancy so far and a lot of the games are extremely similar to one another.

  6. I personally enjoyed the article and can relate on many levels.

    like most, my first console was a NES and I played that so much that I actually burnt out the a/c power adapter!…. thanks mostly to zelda and mario games

    My first multiplayer game was COD4 and thats where I learned my craft for Online FPS games… the trash talking, mostly slagging off American gamers.. as I’m from Ireland so this all went hand in hand with the game, but talking about the games we played the next day with the same friends is what made the online gaming so special, talking maps, gameplay, weapons and tactics

    Killzone 2 was like a breath of fresh air for me as the COD series got stale and Rainbow Six lost its lustre

    but game ratings and naieve parents who dont know what the game is about should be given an education before they are allowed to buy any games that are classfied for 18+ & adults

    no mention of GTA Vice City cause i know that had to be the most purchased game for minors by parents who hadnt got a clue whst they were buying for their kid just as long as it kept them quiet

    MW3 is still lacking something from this current incarnation and Battlefield seems to be filling the current void for this casual “hardcore” gamer that still owns all his original consoles and is teaching his own kids about the classic games that made the 1980’s and 1990’s a truly unique gaming time for us all

    • Hadn’t thought of GTA, to be honest. Then again, I didn’t, and at the time, couldn’t, buy it. CoD seems to have taken its place as the mature game for minors.

      And I think you’re right about the 80’s and 90’s. Those were the golden days of gaming, when everything was knew, and creativity was still more than encouraged. Now, if you want a big budget, there’s not many places to do it, and the indie titles, most of them “casual,” are doing the innovating.

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