Redefining the Term “Casual”
Nobody wants to be a casual gamer. They’re the people who have no idea what the difference between an Xbox or Playstation is and are dragging the industry into the belly of the beast known as mediocrity. Maybe we have Nintendo to blame for this casual gaming phenomenon. In between every good Wii release was a truckload of shovelware that only the most oblivious kids and grandparents would enjoy. And because of the popularity of mobile games and apps, casual gaming has proven to be a major thorn in everyone’s side.
At one point, I was one of these “hardcore” gamers lamenting Nintendo’s shift from king to jester, stomping my feet in anger at every new Wii This or Wii That. Somewhere along the way, though, my gaming habits changed. In the black and white, casual vs. hardcore debate, I had fallen to the other side, no longer entranced by the usual AAA blockbuster games. I actually think I’m somewhat of a casual gamer now, but before you gasp too loudly, we should at least accept that there are varying degrees of casual. The industry is not divided so simply between dance mats and first-person shooters.
To clarify, my casual “self discovery” doesn’t mean I’m ready to sell my Xbox 360 in exchange for an account at Party Casino, or even that my Android-based media player gets used more than my Xbox. It’s entirely possible for these things to coexist, because people have multiple needs. When I need an adventure (and have the time, which isn’t often), I’ll play something like Dust: An Elysian Tail. When I only have a few minutes to kill, then maybe I’ll take another stab at speed-running through Spelunky.
If you noticed, both of these examples are XBLA games. XBLA is where my shift to casual gaming has really become apparent. When given the choice between a disc-based epic that spans 40+ hours of gameplay or an arcade title that’s significantly smaller and easier to play in chunks, I’m more likely to take the latter. I love bite-sized games. They fit well into my busy adult schedule. It’s not that I don’t appreciate epics. Hell, if co-op is involved, count me in! The problem is that they’re too much of a commitment, physically and emotionally. Once you start an epic, you have to stay on top of it, usually for hours at a time.
The thing is, I still like the challenge of “hardcore” games, which is why I could never get my gaming fix solely from mobile games like Cut the Rope and Where’s my Water? (as much as I liked both of them). Casual doesn’t have to mean easy and pandering. It means I can pick up and play something without the need to invest in a complicated story or control scheme, then put the game down again whenever I want. That could mean hours or minutes. Regardless, I’m in control of the experience. If wanting that kind of control makes me a casual gamer, then so be it.