A lot of zing words have been added to the video gaming world since it got trendy in the last few years.  Two that keep coming up are Casual and Hardcore when referring to the type of game.  Aside from being woefully limiting, I’ve never felt that either category is really an appropriate one.  But let me unpack it.

*Grabs his old-man cane*  Back in my era of gaming there were generally 8 well accepted categories of video games:  RPG, Platformer, Beat-em-up, Sports, Puzzle, Shooter, Simulation, and Adventure.  Often games would fall into multiple categories, especially as the complexity of games started to increase around the time the SNES and Genesis came into the picture.  But as we move into the trendy gaming era, these categories seem to have taken a backseat to the more fuzzy and limiting Hardcore vs. Casual games.  But really, since it’s a trendy argument, the real classification is: First Person Shooters and games with lots of swearing/violence vs. all the other kinds of games.  Or to be even more snide: Games on the Xbox 360 and games not on the Xbox360.

But, stepping away from those more sarcastic arguments I think there is a good case why these two categories are, though sometimes appropriate, ultimately useless to classify games.

Let’s deconstruct them from the casual side, since this is a far easier side to defeat.  Casual games are generally referring to any short play games, usually aimed at the mini-game collections you’ll find on the Wii (Cooking Mama, Wii Sports, Wii Resort, etc).  But it is also applied to pretty much all flash games and many of the smaller company games you’ll see in the digital download section of your favorite internet ready system (such as the ever popular “Angry Birds”). The general theme seems to suggest that a casual game is something that you can just sit down and play for a few minutes and not really have to sink any time into it.  The absence of a story line also seems to enter into getting classified as casual.  But lets look at that some more.  99% of games made before the SNES had no plot or need to save data; and most could be played for a few minutes and then just dropped.  Further, over half before the Nintendo64/Playstation era didn’t require any of that, and most didn’t have much of a plot.  Are we now suggesting that really no games before that era could be considered anything but casual?  Was Frogger casual?  Spy hunter? Were  Joust, Centipede, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Tron, Ninja Turtles, Pitfall, Star Fox and Blaster Master all just casual games?  By the definitions that I’ve seen used to define casual games, yes, they all are.  Which is why the term is worthless.

To go another step, many flash games don’t really fit in the “casual category” anyway. Sonny being a prime example.  There’s a game that has a plot, requires saving, and can take hours to complete; and the main character is a zombie, how awesome is that?!  True you can pick up and drop it quickly, but anymore that’s true of a whole slew of games.  Most modern games have check points and save points every few minutes, so picking one up and playing for a few minutes would be pretty easy (Batman: Arkham Asylum being a good example of a game that saves extemely often).  On the other side are games like GemCraft, which don’t have much of a plot, but certainly require saving and can take a huge amount of time to complete.  Putting nearly 100 hours into a game doesn’t seem all that casual to me, even if it is only 15 minutes at a time.

And lets look at more modern games that fit this casual classification as stated:  Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Counter Strike, Team Fortress, and Modern Warfare 2 all can be picked up, played for a bit and then dropped without much issue.  None of them have much in the way of plot, and, other than medal collecting, don’t really require a save feature.  Yet all of these are considered hardcore games.

So it appears the distinction is less functional and more image based.  Those games are cool, so they get to be considered hardcore.  It’s a hipster argument at its core that’s really trying to separate the cool gamers from everyone else.  The problem is, gaming isn’t really cool to begin with.  It’s geeky, dorky, and really just a more visually stimulating version of make believe than you get playing with action figures.  It needlessly limits the spectrum of games a person is willing to play to those most accepted by the hip crowd without giving any consideration to the more important qualities of the game.

It’s not a new mentality by any means.  I had friends in middle school who wouldn’t play Secret of Mana because the graphics were too cutesy.  A real shame too, since it was one of what I would call the “Essential Plays” for the SNES.  It was an awesome and fun game that was overlooked simply because my friends didn’t like the image they would have if they played it.  Their loss, really.  The game was fantastic in just about every respect, and they couldn’t get over the cute graphical style.

Thus I am replacing this system with one that makes more sense, but is equally subjective:  Games that ARE fun to play and games that ARE NOT fun to play.  It’s the system I’ve used since the age of four, and I think it’s the only system that matters.  If you can produce a fairy princess min-game compendium that’s fun to play, I’ll friggin’ play it.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?