by Daniel Bullard-Bates
While the terms “casual” and “hardcore” have served some purpose in the past, dividing groups like soccer moms from LAN partiers, browser games from console titles, and socially acceptable games from nerdy pastimes, the lines between casual and hardcore have become increasingly jagged. World of Warcraft, a roleplaying game full of orcs, elves, and magic, now boasts over eleven million monthly subscribers, making it a more popular place to live than Belgium. On the other side of the gaming spectrum, PopCap, makers of Peggle and Bejeweled, recently released a “casual” game in the tower defense genre, a genre that gained popularity in user-created maps for notable “hardcore” real-time strategy games like Starcraft and Age of Empires II. It is clear that the current situation requires more intricate language: it is no longer sufficient to classify games as either casual or hardcore, since few are exclusively one or the other.
“[Video games] do not represent two discrete populations, [casual] and [hardcore]. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that [the world] rarely deals with discrete categories... The [entertainment] world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.
While emphasizing the continuity of the gradations between exclusively [casual] and exclusively [hardcore video games], it has seemed desirable to develop some sort of classification which could be based on the relative amounts of [casual] and [hardcore subjects and qualities] in each product... An individual [game] may be assigned a position on this scale, for each [facet of its design]... A seven-point scale comes nearer to showing the many gradations that actually exist."
- Kinsey, Alfred, et al. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948). pp. 639, 656
(Modifications to original text by the author.)
There is a concern in the more traditional video gaming circles that the rise of so-called casual gaming is diluting the more proper, traditional games that we have come to know and love. The next Mario-branded title from Nintendo, for example, is adding a feature that allows the game to play itself if a section becomes too difficult. The latest Prince of Persia introduced a mechanic which removed player death from the game entirely. It seems like everywhere we look some beloved franchise is getting simplified or modified to appeal to a wider, more casual market. But the amalgamation works both ways: the aforementioned PopCap title Plants vs. Zombies shows how more nominally hardcore qualities like collection, strategy and zombies can make for a wildly entertaining title that appeals to a casual audience.
Obviously, we need a better way of talking about the differences in the audiences, subject matter, controls and content of the modern video game. Flower developers thatgamecompany attempt to solve the problem of classifying their own games, designed to appeal to any group of people, by calling them simply “core games.” If we accept this as more than a marketing ploy, this raises our classification options to three: casual, core, and hardcore. I’d like to take this just one step further. I present to you the Bullard-Bates Scale:
Obviously this system is far from ideal. Any system is, in fact: as soon as we attempt to quantify an experience, to reduce it to its component parts and judge them numerically instead of experientially and intellectually, we infantilize it. The Kinsey Scale, which dealt with heterosexual and homosexual self-identification and activity on a scale much like this one, is also a gross simplification of a very complicated issue. But while it does oversimplify, it also illustrates that there is more complexity to the situation than a mere binary state.
So let’s blur the lines and mix things up a bit. There isn’t just one big group of hardcore gamers whose interests are pitted against a huge group of casual ones. There are just people, who like different things and are attracted to different themes and styles of play.
So if casual and hardcore are insufficient terms, if even the Bullard-Bates Scale doesn’t quite cut the mustard, what’s the solution? Simply put, video game reviewers and journalists should be clearer about the qualities of the games they are covering. Instead of reviewing a game as either casual or hardcore, elaborate on the accessible elements and the complicated systems. Instead of assigning a numerical score to a game, tell the viewers and readers how well it succeeds both intellectually and mechanically. As the Joker famously said: “This [industry] deserves a better class of [reviewer]. And [who’s] gonna give it to [us?]”