A week or so ago while working on the Dark Souls reviews I was reading up on sources, finding images and looking at videos. I found that “Hardcore game” was a common description for it and it got me thinking. Nowadays games aren’t only classified in genres or length or even good or bad, but also casual and hardcore, and gamers only go for Harcore games and wouldn’t touch a casual with a ten foot pole, maybe afraid of catching casualitis or something.
At which point in time did hardcore become synonymous with mature? When did Call of Duty become hardcore but Sonic, Mario or Zelda, or any other number of games did not? It seems that if there isn’t blood, guts and profanity then it’s not hardcore.
The notion of a game being hardcore or casual bugs me, because I don’t see a game having those qualities. Games can a have a genre, they can be short, good, difficult even but it can’t be hardcore. It’s the GAMER that’s hardcore. Doing things casually or not is not something inanimate objects or intellectual property can do, and you never see this description apply to any form of entertainment: there’s no casual music and hardcore music, there’s no casual painting, or casual sculpting, or even casual dancing. I’ve never heard a TV programme earn a price for “Best Casual” or “Most Hardcore” and that’s for a simple reason, they can’t. It’s the people and the way they enjoy or consume the forms of entertainment that can be casual or hardcore. A casual Metallica listener likes and has a few songs, while a hardcore one, usually called a fan or follower, will have all records, all little songs, the documentaries, goes to every concert, etc.
Hardcore and Casual are attitudes towards games, and if you don’t agree, let’s give you an example of two games, one “hardcore” and one “casual,” Halo and Farmville respectively. Even if the latter is a “casual” game, we all know one or two people who play that game to point of obsession, who spend hours getting the most out of it, trying to unlock everything if possible/ We also know people who take Halo, play it, finish it and move on to the next game.
A hardcore gamer is one who, no matter the game–be it CoD, Modern Warfare, Dark Souls or even Hello Kitty’s Playground and Nintendogs–will play the game ad nauseam and ad infinitum, playing through it as many times as needed to do everything there is to do. For the Hardcore Gamer, whatever game he’s playing is something he dives head-first into, and doesn’t come back out until he’s seen all the sights and enjoyed the full experience.
The casual gamer, on the other hand, is the one who just wants a good time, no matter the game. He wants the overall experience and then moves along to something else.
A game can’t do that. It doesn’t tell you “You know, I’ve had it for today, I don’t want to play with you anymore” or “You’re not going anywhere until you find all 151 Stars!”. Even Dark Souls, described as a Hardcore Experience is only so because the developers intended it to be such an experience, and even saying that, it’s not the game that’s hardcore but its developers, who are a group of Hardcore Gamers that made a game for others like them, but you can still find people who’ll play Dark Souls casually, because–and I know I’m getting repetitive–the choice of casual vs. hardcore is in the hands of the players!
I consider myself a hardcore gamer, but I will admit I played Dark Souls casually. I went through it, finished it, reviewed it and uninstalled it, but it doesn’t diminish the experience, it doesn’t diminish the IP in any way. The hardcore gamer in me begs me to install it again and keep going till I find everything, but sadly there’s a massive Conga Line of games waiting for my attention and Hard drive space is a finite resource.
That’s also the reason why, gamers branding certain Genres, Age Ratings and even Visual Styles or “brands” as being casual, is an extremely moronic idea. Let’s give you an example, I have friends who only play mature games and won’t touch a Kingdom Hearts because it says Disney on the box, and “Disney isn’t hardcore”, and all of us who have played any KH feel the righteous need to slap them over the head. Sometimes its embarrassment of admitting you like something made by Disney or based on Disney characters, but anyone who ever played “Magical Quest – Starring Mickey” on the SNES knows that Disney has some badass characters and games. Same with the SNES Aladdin game or as I’ve mentioned, Kingdom Hearts, the brainchild of Disney and Square Enix. Sometimes, however, the gamer’s simply convinced that anything that isn’t rated Mature or made by particular developers isn’t worthy of his time.
As with everything in media, it’s not entirely the gamers’ fault. Developers, Publishers and sometimes even Review Sites are responsible for this, because they emphasize how the IP is Hardcore to draw your attention or Casual to dismiss it.
Concluding this rant, what I’m trying to tell you is, any game can be harcore and any game can be casual. It all depends on whose hands they are. Any game, from Scrabble and Munchkin to The Witcher passing by Nintendogs and Telettubies can be Hardcore in the hands of a HARDCORE GAMER. It’s how you approach the game that makes the experience casual or hardcore.
There’s a line used in books, TV, movies and even games that fits wonderfully here and I’ll end with it: “The power is in your hands, you can make the difference”