‘Casual’. It’s a word that is thrown about quite a lot in reference to a gamer who is dirty, dishonourable and disease-ridden. I’ve used it. Probably a little too much. I know you have too. But what does it mean? And why is it such a taboo to be a ‘casual’ gamer’? If you look at the Oxford English Dictionary for the definition of ‘casual’ you will find the following:
“‘Casual’ (gamer); Someone who should not be touched. Plays games every so often and thus has no right to have an opinion on what they are playing. In fact, they have no human rights at all. Should be alienated and segregated by all other gamers, especially the hardcore. (Synonyms: Dirty, filthy, base, repulsive).”
Okay so that’s not completely true. Although if we were looking in a dictionary made by gamers, for gamers, then that’s probably what you would find. The actual definition of ‘casual’ has multiple meanings:
- Subject to, depending on, or produced by chance; accidental, fortuitous.
- Of persons or their actions: Not to be depended on, uncertain, unmethodical, haphazard, ‘happy-go-lucky’.
- Showing (real or assumed) unconcern or lack of interest.
I think that for the purpose of this exercise, I will look at two concepts in relation to these definitions; games that are deemed ‘casual’ or are intended for the ‘casual’ audience, and said audience themselves.
To me, particularly in relation to gaming, the word ‘casual’ is synonymous with one other; ‘simplification’. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not attacking accessibility. But there is a difference between a title or series that has say a good, intuitive control system, and one that offers ‘go here to win’. Over the past few years, it has become clear that many games and even originally existing series, have simplified aspects of their titles, altering or altogether removing systems that could be deemed too complex for newer or more ‘casual’ gamers.
As an example, I’ll refer to recent changes in World of Warcraft (as I mentioned it in my previous article, it will also serve as a shameless link). The talent system in World of Warcraft was relatively complex. It allowed a great deal of customisation for the player to tailor their class to how they wanted to play. A great sense of community was established offering the best builds for the best situations. I personally never constructed my own build, and relied on the intelligence of others to provide me with the most efficient talent path. Now, the whole system has been overhauled, as outlined on the official website:
“Perhaps the most exciting of these changes is the removal of the old talent tree system. Rather than each class having three separate trees, one for each specialization, players will now choose talents from individual sets which are awarded every 15 levels. Each class will have its own selection of talents, and the entire list will be available to all characters of that class regardless of specialisation.
Each talent set is comprised of three talents which fall into a clear “theme.” Some sets will offer utility such as movement speed increases and boosts to survivability, while others will reduce the costs of certain situational abilities. Currently, the goal is to avoid making any particular talent mandatory or to have them play a role in ability rotations directly. Instead, they’re intended to give players interesting ways to customize their characters according to their preferred playstyle.”
Now, anyone who has not played World of Warcraft will not understand the emotional trauma that this will cause to older players. For new players, it will be great. It will be accessible, and it might even be preferred by some older players. But anyone who welcomes this system will be labelled a ‘casual’. This simplification principle does not just apply to World of Warcraft but to other series that were great back in the day, including Call of Duty, Medal of Honor and arguably, Team Fortress 2. And every series that becomes ‘casual’ is guilty of what is apparently a sin, trying to make more money by increasing their audience.
Cover systems, microtransactions and simplified controls are all guilty culprits contributing to the ‘casualisation’ process. But why is making a game more appealing to the ‘casual’ market such a bad thing? Why are developers condemned when they seek to attract more players to their titles? Is it something to do with the types of people that are deemed ‘casual’ gamers?
If I haven’t already made it clear, ‘casual’ gamers get a hard press. They don’t play games regularly, or at least nowhere near as much as the so-called ‘hardcore’, who eat, drink, sleep and make sexual relations with their games (come on, I know some of you want to). Because of this, the ‘hardcore’ audience feels that they have much more right to judge a game with more gravitas than any ‘casual’ player. On the one hand, this is absolutely true. People who play games regularly tend to have experienced a much wider variety of titles within a certain genre, and thus are able to shape a calculated, well-thought out assessment of what they have played in relation to other similar titles.
On the other hand, one could argue that going into a title without experiencing any others of the same genre is a perfect way for one to form their own opinion about the game. They are not biased towards say an RPG they have played before, and because this new title doesn’t have X or you can’t do Y, it’s automatically terrible. It’s a conundrum, but that’s why there will always be two sides of gamers; the ‘casuals’, and the ‘hardcore’.
But what ‘hardcore’ gamers tend to ignore is the fact that opinions on games are just that. They are opinions. Subjective. Who has the right to say that because one person gained less of an emotional connections to a character than another, that automatically makes the game bad? Furthermore, just because one person plays games less than another, their views are automatically irrelevant?
What is or isn’t ‘casual’ is also subjective in the end. Cover systems are not objectively ‘casual’, neither are waypoints, or mini maps. The problem with gamers today is that they refuse to adapt. Some gamers forget that they are fortunate. Some people never get the opportunity to play games when they are younger. Their families might be poor, or parents might tell their children that playing games is a waste of time. When people ultimately decide to get into gaming, they don’t want to be alienated by a series of complexities that they will never grasp because they haven’t played games before.
Also, one more thing. These ‘casuals’ you hate so much, they’re supporting the same market that you do. Without them, the gaming industry would be nowhere near as big as it is. And that special hardcore game you love so much that no-one else, particularly a ‘casual’ would be able to play? It probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for their support of the industry.
Remember that the next time you negatively brand someone a ‘casual’.