My gaming experience stretches back into my early childhood. Propped on the trophy-wall of my memory are countless consoles I've owned, countless online lobbies I've conquered, countless adventures I've embarked upon, and all the years of experience that goes along with those. I am a hardcore gamer. I pre-order and I Kickstart. I argue and discuss on message forums. I own more games and game systems than I have the time to enjoy.
I have a lot to learn.
Half a decade ago, the Wii brought the “casual gamer” into the spotlight. These casuals were always there in large numbers, playing Tetris, playing The Sims, playing Guitar Hero, playing Madden, but it was not until the Wii that we saw them affect the game industry in such a significant way. Hardcore gamers have always scorned the casuals, but there are many things that I've learned from “casual gamer” friends and family members, and it has made me not only a better gamer, but a better person. Here are four lessons that have stuck with me over the years.
Just have fun
In spite of the posturing and navel-gazing we gamers do regarding the nature of videogames or whether they're art, at the end of the day, games are meant to entertain. Naturally, we all have different definitions of what makes a game “fun”, but it is easy to get caught up in review scores, climbing leaderboards, commenting on forums, or managing our back-log. Modern games benefit from being an interactive narrative. Developers can craft stories that last dozens of hours, and instead of reading or viewing a character's struggle, we get to experience it. Still, it helps to relax and take a break from these sorts of games. I remember when Guitar Hero came out. I shunned it. “Casual music garbage,” I thought. “What a waste of a PS2. You should be playing Shadow of the Colossus, or Metal Gear, or Persona 3”. But when I got over my childish attitude, I realized that the game is a lot of fun, and that's all fans of Guitar Hero wanted.
Our good friend, Mr. Casual, might seem like an uncultured brute because he only plays Farmville or Bejeweled or Words With Friends, but he is simply trying to do the same thing we are: have fun. Mr. Casual may be, it could be argued, smarter than us hardcore gamers when it comes to the fun department. He doesn't slog through install times. He doesn't spent the first 25 minutes of the game watching cutscenes or playing tutorials, because the games he chooses to play are quick and fun. There's a certain purity to Mr. Casual's approach to gaming. There are times when I don't want to spend a half hour sifting through dialog options in an RPG or watching CGI cutscenes. There are times when I don't have the patience to spend 45 minutes on a single battle in a strategy game. Sometimes, I want to jump in, play, and have fun. Puzzle games and platformers are typically what I turn to in these situations. For you, it may be racing games, or an online shooter, or perhaps a music game. Whatever your guilty pleasure might be, I've learned that it helps to add some fun-focused variety into your gaming sessions instead of playing 60-hour epic adventures all day, every day.
Just say no
As loyal fans, we often do some pretty dumb stuff in the name of said loyalty. We stay up for midnight launches. We buy a new game and then drop even more cash on the DLC. We even give retailers our money months in advance, just to deter the very unlikely possibility that we won't get a copy of our favorite game on launch day. While this passion is what drives the videogame industry, we need to learn to say “no”.
I am a passionate gamer, just like you. I love getting caught up in the furor of new game releases. I also must admit there are times when I go too far. I buy games that I don't end up play for weeks, even months. I pre-order a game simply because I have a hunch the game will be hard to find later. The Irish writer G. B. Shaw once said “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it”. But think the words of another Shaw (Mr. H. W. ) are more fitting here: “It is better to know nothing than to know what ain't so”. These are the words a casual gamer lives by. They aren't frustrated by that hard-to-find PS1 roleplaying game on Amazon sitting just beyond financial reach. They aren't offended by Day One DLC, collector's editions, or console-exclusive characters. They aren't bothered by what they don't have or what they can't play. They simply enjoy what they do have. Mr. Casual's taste in games is far more picky than ours and maybe far more discerning than ours. He doesn't get caught up in pre-launch hype or screenshot comparisons. True, we might write off Mr. Casual as an ignorant...well...”casual” who is not a real gamer. However, Mr. Casual has often already found the game that makes him happy. We hardcore, on the other hand, buy a game, say it sucks, buy another, say it sucks, buy a third, say it's pretty good but it's not quite there, buy a fourth, say it's awesome, and then buy it again a year later when the Game of the Year Edition comes out. We are restless and unsatisfied with our shelf-spanning game collection, while Mr. Casual is having a blast with the $2.49 he spent on his smartphone game. I will always enjoy investing money into my favorite hobby, but there is room for patience and self-control, as well.
Videogame addiction continues to press into the forefront of the public's awareness. Every week we either have a story about how a kid spent $1,400 on a smartphone game, how someone stabbed someone else due to a dispute on Xbox Live, or how someone died after playing their favorite MMO for too many hours in a row. We're constantly told to unplug and get out in the real world when we're kids, and when we're adults we are free to ignore the sage advice of our parents and play all the games we want. It's fun, for a season, but ultimately our parents were right. We do need to unplug. What I have learned from my dad, the king of casual gamers, is that it is fine to indulge, but it is just as fine to unplug. When I get him talking about Clash of Clans (his latest casual-game indulgence), he can go on for about 30 minutes like the hardest of hardcore gamers, explaining his defensive plans, talking about how the newest patch has altered the core strategy, and complaining about how the game favors such-and-such tactics. Yet, he only plays the game a few hours a week. After I've had my fun by watching him get all worked up over his latest Facebook game, we talk about other things, like his plans for his spring garden, or a recent book we read, or when we'll next be able to go out target shooting. We unplug. We're not talking about the drudgery of our work lives or family. We're still talking about entertainment, but videogames are not the only form of entertainment in our lives.
Since I don't play many online multiplayer games, I don't keep contact with very many fellow gamers through the internet. Between my various social circles, I know many more “casual” gamers than “hardcore” gamers. I could count the number of “hardcore gamer” friends on one hand. I find that games are infinitely more fun when they are used as intended: as an escape from reality. When they begin to encroach on my life and BECOME reality, that is when I need to take a step back. Keep in mind that there's nothing wrong with loving games. There's nothing wrong with being passionate about games, but there is value in unplugging and doing something else, a talent that casual gamers have yet most hardcore gamers lack. Maybe if you like games so much, you should write a blog about it, like I'm doing. If you enjoy military shooters, read a non-fiction book about Vietnam-era snipers. If you like racing games, try visiting an auto show or picking up a car magazine. Of course, it's up to you to find your own way of unplugging, but what I've learned is that when I take a brief break from games, they're a lot more satisfying to play. “You can't eat candy all day,” is what my mom told me as a kid, referring to our generation's habit of watching TV, playing games, and browsing the internet all day long. Gaming is my favorite hobby, but I've found other things to do as well, which makes those gaming sessions all the sweeter.
Just try it
Mr. Hardcore and Mr. Casual have a lot to learn from one another. They are both, when it all boils down, gamers. I have friends who know I'm a die-hard gamer, and they will often ask me for advice or recommendations on a new game. Well, of course I am happy to oblige. I know SO much about gaming that I would be willing to descend from my gaming throne and bestow upon these “casuals” my gaming knowledge. And yet, I have a lot to learn when it comes to trying new things, too. Hardcore gamers can be equally ignorant of new games as our casual brethren. To make matters worse, we typically invent excuses to not try new things. The casual gamer suffers from simple, innocent ignorance. They don't know about Xenoblade Chronicles or Journey or Dark Souls, since they do not spend time researching games like we hardcore gamers do. However, we will make every attempt to NOT like a game, even if it means relying on review scores, low sales, screenshot comparisons, or good ol' fanboyism to “prove” why we should not bother playing a certain game.
It goes back to us being unable to say “no”. We hate being left out of the fun. However, we are finite creatures. We only have so much time and so much money. We cannot play every game, and so quite often we – in our infinite gaming wisdom – will downplay a game or a series just so that we don't feel conflicted. Or, we might write off a franchise or a genre completely based on the idea that we just won't like it. Well, is that not what we accuse the “casuals” of doing? We poke and prod them to play the classics, but we ourselves are unwilling to try the games that they enjoy. Granted, there is no shame in not liking something. There are games that I don't want to spend my time on. There are franchises that I don't want to play. But to not even try those games would be rather “casual” of me, wouldn't it? If we hardcore gamers aim to explore all the things our hobby has to offer, sometimes that means branching out beyond the shooters, RPGs, and racing games we typically play. Try a Facebook game sometime. Try a smartphone game sometime. If you don't like sports games, try a demo for FIFA or Madden just to see what it is like. If you're a console gamer, jump on your laptop PC and try some indie games. Extend your toe a bit beyond your circle of familiarity. You might find something fun.