Tuesday, 13 January 2009

What is a Casual Gamer?

So, my first post on my new personal gaming blog. Right now the setup is all generic and such, but I'm sure I'll be able to fix that in time.

Due to the circumstances of my move (US to UK) I haven't been able to do much writing or gaming lately (sad, I know). But I have had one nice experience that I've been thinking about lately.

I'm spending a semester in England right now, and my first worry was if the culture difference was going to effect my ability to meet people and make new friends here. Turns out I had no reason to worry, as half of the people in my dorm are American and the other half are outrageously friendly.
Strangely enough, I can attribute most of the time I spent getting to know the British students to the Wii in our common room.

One of the guys in the dorm bought it not too long ago, and to be honest it has been central to the people in my dorm hall bonding. No matter what time of day, there is always someone in the common room playing a round of Mario Kart or Wii Sports. Once a few people sit down to play, more and more people would filter in the common room to watch and hang out. We only have two Wii remotes so only two people would be playing while the rest of us sat around and just chatted. It gave us all something to meet over and enjoy together. Once there were a good amount of people in the common room, we'd all head out to the Student Union for a pint and a game of pool.

I'm not sure if any other activity (or console for that matter) would have the same effect. As much as people condemn the Wii for being a little too user-friendly, I have to say that it has created completely different experience. The Wii has worked it's magic here and turned a building full of strangers into friends in only a few days.

I think this has really changed my opinion of the system as a whole. You can say that the system forsakes the hardcore gamer, but I don't think that's true at all anymore. With all of the technology at our fingertips today, we sometimes forget that some of the greatest games evolved from simple concepts. Anyone who is a fan of retro games knows this. Playing a game that requires less than eight buttons was considered fun ten years ago, so why is it so different now?

I love games that are richly complex in both story and gameplay, but I find now that I have less and less time for those sorts of games. I find myself shying away from games that warrant a time commitment for games like Left 4 Dead, which only requires about an hour or so per campaign to finish (with the option to leave any time in an online match).

All of this serves to blur the lines for me on what a casual gamer is. Are the people in my dorm casual gamers, even though they play on the Wii nearly every day at every hour? Am I becoming a casual gamer because of my time constraints?

It's a tricky question to deal with. I think the clearest difference between casual and hardcore gamers is simply the passion they have for video games. The casual gamer will play a game and enjoy it, the move on with their lives. A hardcore gamer keeps up with industry news and has a preconception of what a game should be. Casual gamers don't even know they have a label, while hardcore gamers tend to deny theirs due to the negative connotations the term has been gaining. Many claim to just be average gamers, since they don't consider themselves a rabid fan of a particular game or console.

The problem we find here is that simply put, there is no such thing as an "average" gamer. I used to think of myself as an average gamer, because I loved videogames and multiple consoles yet never really cared for industry news or to share my passion with others. I think a more correct term for people like this are isolationist gamers. These are people who greatly enjoy gaming without necessarily engaging the the gamer culture that surrounds it. I don't mean to say that they're not social; they might have a group of regular friends that they play online with. However, these are people who do not actively involve themselves in "extra-curricular" gaming activies, like conventions and online communities. This demographic is overlooked because it is not highly profitable nor terribly opinionated. This is unfortunate, since there are many gamers in this catergory.

So that brings us back to the question of the casual gamer. The people in my dorm are starting to head towards this isolationist gamer category. They are not casual gamers because videogames have now become a central part of their everyday lives. Yet they are not hardcore gamers because they have no interest in the deeper (nerdier) culture that encompasses gaming.

You might think this means I'm saying that those who have a Wii and play it regulary fall into this category, which isn't true. Games like Mario Kart require a good amount of skill and strategizing for success. The casual gamer plays games like WiiFit or SceneIt!, which don't require the player to possess any sort of skill.

It really is crazy to think of the label "gamer" as beginning to have so many small factions. We're starting to move past the old days where you either played videogames or you didn't. Should be pretty interesting to see how this will affect the industry as a whole.

No comments:

Post a Comment