What is hardcore gaming, really?
I’ve been taking some time to go back over a post a did months ago where I proposed a theory of the difference between casual and hardcore gamers. I still think quite a bit of it is relevant, but there is definitely some nuance that has appeared as I have talked about the topic with different gamers (casual and hardcore), and non-gamers.
Let me get the surprise out of the way: there are two different ways to mean the term “hardcore” when talking about the gaming community, and it relates to the gamers themselves, and to the games they play. There are hardcore gamers and casual gamers, and there are hardcore games and casual games (if we wanted to make this a completely black and white topic). There are tremendous shades of nuance here, but I think that’s what it boils down to.
First, let me stress something: the different terms of casual and hardcore do not, in any way, denote quality. They are just terms to differentiate different patterns of game playing; different behaviors that are involved with games.
People have a picture in their head that hardcore gamers are the guys who sit in their mom’s basement and play World of Warcraft for hours on end. The view of the casual gamer is someone that plays Farmville/Angry Birds. Both are correct. Both are also wrong. The difficult part is that these two different games are the difference between hardcore and casual games, but the players themselves could be casual or hardcore.
I maintain my previous statement that engaging with a community outside of a game is what turns someone into a hardcore gamer. What I will change about my original statement though, is that even if you do not identify as a “gamer,” you can still be a gamer. You do not have to self label to be considered part of the “gamer” community.
In addition, I think the amount of time spent playing a game does have an impact upon deciding if someone is “hardcore” or not. This number can be arbitrary and hard to really nail down, but I think it does play a role. I did not mention this in my previous post because there was no real way to measure it (without a lot of research projects and interviews). Hence, my desire to use the interaction with a larger community as the barometer of when a gamer becomes hardcore or not. Sure, it’s never black and white, there is always a lot of grey, but I think this is what being a hardcore gamer really comes down to:
1) Identifying strongly with a particular game or genre.
2) Playing that game or genre extensively.
3) Engaging extensively with a community involved with that game or genre (both inside and outside of the game).
I hear one critique screaming at me as I write this: “But social games that are casual are built around community!” True. Hence why I think you need to meet some part of all 3 rules to fall into the “hardcore gamer” category.
It’s very possible to play any type of game (including Angry Birds or Farmville) and be a hardcore gamer. It’s also possible to play hardcore games (explained below) and be a casual gamer.
*This is just me throwing ideas around, tell me if you don’t agree. I want to sort it all out.
In my mind, it’s the skill required to play the game.
No, not the “omg I’m going to wtfpwnbbq you at this game” kind of skill. Or even the, “man, I suck at this game but it’s still fun” kind of skill. I’m talking about the, “how long will it take me to learn how to play this game?” type of skill. Or even the, “can I even play this game? It looks really hard.” kind of skill.
Most anyone can pick up most casual games and learn how to play them in a matter of seconds, and be entertained for hours (whether you’re a casual, hardcore, or professional gamer). Looking at the hardcore games, there is usually a tutorial of some kind, and a lot of learning that goes along with it. Keybinds being a great example. Getting used to using half a dozen (or even dozens) of skills in a keyboard, learning combos in fighting games, or using a new controller for a console requires a certain amount of skill and learning. I think this is what differentiates a hardcore game from a casual game.
So, to a certain extent, I’m still talking about time spent with the game. That might be different for each individual, but how long it takes to learn a game, or how difficult it is to learn a game, is what can make the game “hardcore.”
Hardcore games require some learning and/or skill. Hardcore gamers have a community, identify with a community, and play a lot.
Ding! You’ve leveled up! Please see your local librarian for training.