Video games are a medium. Indeed, they're one of the, if not the most quickly advancing medium in the history of the world. They also happen to be one of the most controversial, engaging, and exciting. Like any art form, there are masterpieces and disasters, cheap imitators and unique triumphs. There are those who staunchly, stubbornly stand by their favorite works, claiming those they prefer have greater artistic merit than all others. These people refer to themselves as hardcore, choosing to believe that they alone are Real Gamers on a mission from Arcadia to save the world from the looming threat of casual games.
This, of course, brings us to the other type of gamer: the casual. These people typically tend to be somewhat older, and have a tendency to be interested in puzzle games (mostly mobile offerings from the likes of Rovio and Popcap). They seldom get involved, however, in more competitive or serious games. Indeed, there seems to be some sort of barrier between them and games that require more intense participation, and that's pretty understandable considering that most of these people aren't familiar with the idea of games as a storytelling medium. Add to that the unattractive prospect learning to control these games, the generally nasty perception and stigma surrounding them, and just like that, an entire audience is lost.
Quite frankly, I choose not to associate myself with either crowd. Why? Because I refuse to step on an art form. For the same reason I try and understand genres of music I don't quite comprehend, I try to have a balanced outlook on video games of all sorts. Am I trying to say that all games are related equal, that a game of Cut the Rope will be just as satisfying as playing through the Halo: Reach campaign? Absolutely not, for much the same reason that watching Forest Gump will be a much different experience than watching Star Wars. Just because they're both movies does not mean that they'll impart the same experience. This seems to be where hardcore (come think of it, they've just been calling themselves "core" lately, so for the sake of consistency, I'll refer to them as such throughout the article from now on) and the casual crowds split. Going back to comparing games to films, it's as if one audience will prefer a lighthearted comedy to a heavy, complex drama. The problem that arises, however, is that when it comes to movies, the serious drama crowd doesn't (typically) throw fits over the more laid back, and the lighthearted crowd doesn't really reject serious films altogether. Regrettably, when it comes to games, the core group has been shunning games for not being intense enough, not being "serious" enough. Worse, they've been shunning the people who enjoy said games, blaming them for what they fear will become the eventual decline and death of 'serious' games. Comments from within the industry, as of late, certainly aren't helping. With constant reports coming in that consoles are going to be obsolete, dying a messy death to mobile devices such as tablets and cell phones, core gamers are understandably upset.
Then, too are the casual gamers who don't really seem to think much of the whole thing at all. Perhaps it's their aloofness, that cool snobbery, the way they behave as if they don't care, maybe that's what drives core gamers insane. In fact, the casual crowd really doesn't care much. To them, games are fun, but they remain just fun. Most games marketed at and purchased by the casual crowd aren't mean't to be serious experiences, and at current, the casual crowd is satisfied by them.
So then, will the casual demographic mean the death of the core, killing off consoles and serious games? Not likely. There's still a massive 'core' audience to attend to. At the same time, however, what about that audience? I honestly believe that both the core and the casual could benefit from broadening out their tastes. If one side of the audience dared dip their toes into the intense, quick-flowing waters of games featuring serious storylines and characters, perhaps they'd understand and embrace the fervor of the core. Maybe they'd begin to view games as going beyond fun and being an engaging, legitimate medium for artistic expression.
Perhaps, if the core were to relax their dogmatic attitudes just a bit, they'd realize that the casual crowd isn't going to destroy the games that they love and fear for.
And just maybe, if the line between the two audiences becomes a little more blurred, we'll see studios begin to be willing to take bigger risks, the kinds of risks that smaller, independent studios are often far more willing to take, with gameplay that dares straddle the border between core and casual. In short, we'll see more masterpieces along the lines of Braid.
Does it really matter whether a game is hardcore or not? As the title of this article states, I just don't care. It's not that I don't enjoy a good, serious game. Mirror's Edge and Halo: Reach are just a couple of my favorite games, but guess what? I just so happen to love Angry Birds in spite of the fact that it's so simple, so easy to latch on to. The reason for this is because the game is fun, and you know what? I enjoy fun. At the end of the day, a film is a film, a horse is a horse, a book a book, and a game a game.
Looking back at some of the earlier games, what can we say sold? The night after Pong debuted in a bar, the machine was supposedly broken. As fate would have it, the machine was fine. It was just so jammed full of quarters that it wasn't possible to start another game. Then, too, Space Invaders made enough money to warrant the minting of extra coins, a sensation history itself has no choice but remember. Now were these games incredibly complex, with complex stories and excessively difficult gameplay? By no means. In fact, they were among the simplest of games. Yet, core gamers today don't look down upon the games or those who poured their well-earned earnings into the machines. Now what was the end result of these games? People began investing into the industry, on Wall Street through the stocks and on Main Street with the coins as the medium advanced, and games changed, and grew. Thus the people began trying out new games, different games, and kept the industry moving forward.
Maybe it's just a fanciful fantasy, but if the two sides were less sharply divided, it would be better for both the industry and the gamers.
As for myself, I'm just going to have fun, something that a lot of people seem to be missing out on lately. I'm not going to waste time trying to look like a big boy.
Kotaku – The Hardcore Gaming Myth
360 Magazine – The Curious Case of Kinect vs. the Hardcore Gamer
Nightmare Mode – Bioware Will Continue to Stray from the "Core" RPG
Bitmob – How Casual Games Are Changing the Industry for the Better
Blackman 'N Robin – Mature Games vs. Mature Ratings