Speaking of relative…

Been pondering the oft-debated, much slung-about terms “casual” and “hardcore” as they relate to MMO gaming. There doesn’t seem to be a single, all-encompassing definition that applies, even though most people using one or the other term seem to think their definition is the only one that matters — which holds true for most opinions held by most people on most subjects, so it’s no great surprise.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about casual and hardcore, and for the most part its definitions are still predicated on playtime, which I believe is not an accurate gauge anymore unless you’re under 17.

All the same, I’m noticing that as I play more, play longer, return to games I tried and left, age, mature (maybe), change lifestyles and so on and so on, my own definitions of “casual” and “hardcore” have undergone several changes. Right now, they’re as follows:

Casual – irrespective of playtime, someone who doesn’t take themselves, their endeavours, or (MMO-)life in general too seriously. Does not imply lack of commitment to current game/game efforts.

Hardcore – irrespective of playtime, someone who focuses on achievements I (usually) don’t find that interesting, usually to the exclusion of most other things, especially including humour.

Quite evidently I am profoundly biased, but that’s my point. Aren’t we all, when we use that kind of fuzzy, flexible terminology? And aren’t the terms therefore all but meaningless when used, unless accompanied by some explanation of how they’re defined by the writer?

Just pondering. I like to ponder stuff that doesn’t have obvious answers, or has more than one “right” answer. Feel free to comment, all 3 of you — I’m fascinated by the casual/hardcore debate, and I’d like to know how other people define the terms.

As a final aside, I really hope all this talk of casual and hardcore doesn’t hook me up with all manner of weird sub-dom sites… o.O

12 thoughts on “Speaking of relative…

  1. Regardless of the (probably excessive) time I spend playing, I’ve always considered myself to be a “casual” player. As I said over on the CoW forums, if you can wear jeans every day as casual, then playing every day can be casual too!

    I think my definition of “casual” encompasses a play style that doesn’t focus on any one thing to the exclusion of anything else. I PvP a bit, I raid a bit, I alt like mad, I do quests, I help random people out, I occasionally PUG instances and I craft the odd bit of kibble now and again. I think anyone who focuses exclusively on one aspect, say raiding for instance, could reasonably be classed as “hardcore”.

    As you mentioned earlier, this definition isn’t anything more than my own angle on the take and not to be taken seriously by anyone else.

  2. Wow… there are so many different ways you can label someone as hardcore. Time put into the game, time put into the game while not even playing the game, focus on goals in the game… ultimately, it’s all about the game. Casuals are there just to play the game and have fun, it’s not all about the game which is just a backdrop.

    Fires of Heaven? Hardcore.
    Casualties of WAR? More casual but I’m sure we’ll have our hardcore types.

  3. @Smak – see, this is what I’m interested in. You say “Casuals are there just to play the game and have fun…” which implies that hardcores aren’t — which to me is an oxymoron, since it’s a game, and by definition, if it’s not fun, surely one shouldn’t be playing it?
    I’m not saying hardcore players never have fun. Actually I’m not saying anything definite – I just like kicking the subject around.

  4. It’s a mentality difference, Ysh.

    Casuals play the game.
    Hardcores own the game.

    It’s the difference between someone that watches the odd baseball game and the guy with season tickets. Both enjoy the game, one just obsesses a wee bit more over it.

  5. I disagree, Smak. Speaking of sports, I know people with season tickets (admittedly not baseball) who *enjoy* going but don’t obsess about it.
    That’s what I’m trying to explore. Identical behaviour patterns from the outside (lots of playtime, season tickets, whatever) can be labeled as casual or hardcore depending on who you are and where you stand.
    I’ll stand by my belief that it really is all in the eye of the beholder, not to mention the player.

  6. Such a marvelously flexible language, English.

    For me, I classify myself as a very casual player. I don’t play much or for very long, I don’t take it seriously, and I do crazy things. Even so, I’m a data sponge, and love prowling the WoWwiki. As such, I probably know more about the “guts” of the game than the vast majority of players, despite calling myself casual.

    Perhaps it’s because I approach the game as a hobby, rather than an obligation. (Even though I work in games, and delving into the design side of something like WoW is time invested into my career.)

  7. I beg to differ. Just because I live in the US now doesn’t mean I always have. I was born in France to French and German parents, have family in both countries, and speak both languages. I was raised in Geneva where my parents worked for the UN. I’ve lived in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Senegal (west Africa), the UK, Italy, and the States.

    So yes, I’m aware of hooligans. You mentioned season tickets, not hooligans.

    Which again makes my point. We’re using the terms and the words to reinforce what we already think. I still say you can hold a season ticket and not be a hooligan or even “hardcore” about footie; I have friends in the UK who fit that bill.

  8. I was changing tactics because I knew you were from somewhere in Europe and probably didn’t realize that MLB season runs 6 months and teams play 162 games. I’m not saying all season ticket holders are nuts, but you’re pretty hardcore to go to 81 games (if not more for areas with multiple teams nearby). πŸ™‚

    Hooligans are hardcore. They take something that is supposed to be fun and entertaining (football/soccer) and elevate to a level that is nearly unhealthy (rioting, brawls, etc.)… okay, so it is REALLY unhealthy.

    Now consider MMO players that dedicate 40+ hours to gaming. And then weekends too. All of that being in game time so out of game time surfing and stuff isn’t even accounted for.

    Casuals play it.
    Hardcores live it.

    Sort of sad, really, but it’s their life.

  9. I see your point about baseball; I think you can still sort of relate it to footy in England for instance, though in the UK they have the huge advantage that following away games doesn’t usually mean a 2000 mile trip.

    Hooligans aren’t really after football, they’re after violence – the football is just a gathering point, for the most part. So in a sense I think that makes them more akin to griefers than it does hardcore gamers. Oh god, how far can we torture this analogy? πŸ˜€ We should probably stop with it anyway since I’m trying to pin down hardcore/casual as it applies to MMOs, not as it applies to the world of sports fandom (which, while not too dissimilar, isn’t identical).

    I’m not trying to be perverse here (much ;)), but *I* have had time to dedicate 40 hours a week to a game before, and I’m *still* not hardcore by anyone’s definition, mainly because I don’t take anything in games seriously enough to be that competitive.

    Hrm. So maybe “competitive” is part of hardcore? A hardcore gamer sees an element of competition in obtaining the best / first / rarest / most complete stuff?

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