Defining “Casual” And “Hardcore”

It’s funny. People – bloggers, gamers, forum posters – throw around terms like “casual” and “hardcore” as if they were pre-designed, approved MMORPG terms. Thing is though, we really have no metrics for defining exactly what those terms are or when they come into affect. I’ve often called myself a casual player but it’s only been recently that I’ve wondered what that means.

Even when I played MMORPGs for 6 hours a day, I always considered myself a casual player. Now I probably play only about 5 – 10 hours a week and I still call myself casual. So was I actually a hardcore player before? I’ve always assumed that the terms were related to the amount of time one played and that casual players only played for a few hours and hardcore players were the guys who gave up their lives so they could raid 5 nights a week. Now I’m not so sure.

It seems to be that casual players always blame the hardcore ones for making the games too time consuming, too grindy, too difficult whilst the hardcore players blame the casuals for being too sociable and forcing the developers to dumb the game down, making it too easy and accessible. At the end of the day, its human nature to want to belong to a camp or group (it’s the dormant tribesman in us all) and that’s exactly what these terms let us do.

I think the concepts of casual and hardcore are more of a mental state than anything else. It doesn’t really matter how long you spend in front of your computer because if you don’t consider yourself hardcore, then you never will be. I bummed around in Everquest, playing for hours every day, and yet barely raided and never, ever considered myself hardcore. That was for the unemployed 40 year olds who lived at home in their parent’s basement but certainly not me, no sir.

I was totally wrong, of course. And probably a little jealous of those guys that did raid and strutted around with the coolest gear, flexing their virtual guns. Regardless of how much I played, I always thought of myself as casual because that was my state of mind. I didn’t raid. I wasn’t hardcore.

So what I’m trying to say is that you just can’t define “casual” or “hardcore” so be careful who you label with the terms. The’re just abstract terms we use to help turn our arguments into cases of “us” versus “them”. At the end of the day, the most flexible MMORPGs are the ones that let us play in the biggest variety of ways and appeal to the broadest spectrum of players but we won’t always be able to get what we want. Fortunately, though, we live in an era of competition and, if one game doesn’t appeal us to, another is certain to come along.

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21 Comments

  1. Rebecca says:

    I agree with you in that it is part of human nature to find terms to group and categorise. Our sense of identity is made up of who we are and who are not. The difficulty here is that both terms are so arbitrary that they’re virtually useless if not defined in the argument.

    Does casual equal irregular gaming? Does hardcore equal a more dedicated approach to games by virtue of more time invested? Is it even viable still to hold on to these two terms only given that gaming no longer is the somewhat frowned upon past-time of adolescent boys and “unemployed 40-year olds who lived at home in their parents’ basement” (to serve two of the most cliché stereotypes) but a part of life of millions of people?

    Bearing in mind the connotations both “casual” and “hardcore” carry, I find them inadequate to capture gaming reality even at a rough level when applied MMOPGs.

    The average gamer is between their mid-20ies and mid-30s, and many of them have families and/or hold down full-time jobs. Much like with offline games, MMOPGs allow you to either spend a stupid amount of time in the game or dip in and out as you wish. That said, if you are tied up in a guild/corporation/squad, your membership will come with certain responsibilities, for example, maintaining regular appearances however short, staying in touch and not going AWOL.

    My point is that, of course, this doesn’t make you a hardcore gamer. But in MMOPGs, structure and rules ensure a certain level of coherence and dedication amongst your tribe which in return determine the viability of the group. And this, in my book, sets you apart from a “casual” gamer.

    • Gordon says:

      Your last paragraph is gold and very interesting. I suppose unlike playing a FPS on my PS3 and just dipping in and out for quick games, I have a connection to my MMORPG and it’s online world and inhabitants thus making me immediately more hardcore than compared to any other type of game I’ve played.

  2. Carson63000 says:

    The way I’ve always thought about it is that, firstly, of course it is a continuum “casual….hardcore”, not a black and white “casual/hardcore” divide – seems obvious, but the forum warriors always overlook that.

    And secondly, the things that push you in the hardcore direction are not necessarily how much you play, but how seriously you play.

    Scheduling your play (“raid invites go out 7:30pm Wednesday!”) .. that pushes you in the direction of hardcore.

    Setting goals and spending offline time planning how to achieve them (studying boss drop tables, researching reputation grinds, etc.) .. that pushes you in the direction of hardcore.

    Spending offline time researching how to be more effective (reading theorycrafting forums like Elitist Jerks, trying different specs and gear combinations in theorycrafting spreadsheets, etc.) .. that pushes you in the direction of hardcore.

    Jumping online and just doing whatever you feel like doing, for however long you feel like doing it .. that’s casual. Even if “however long you feel like doing it” turns out to be all weekend with brief bio breaks. :-)

    • Gordon says:

      It’s odd because I agree with everything you’re said and reading it makes me consider myself more hardcore. Although I never raided a lot or played huge hours in EQ2, I did spend a lot of time calculating the best specs and weapons etc. What do ya know – I was probably more hardcore than I thought! :)

  3. xXJayeDuBXx says:

    I’m hardcore about being casual, so does that make me a casual hardcore player, or a hardcore casual player?

  4. Stabs says:

    “It seems to be that casual players always blame the hardcore ones for making the games too time consuming, too grindy, too difficult whilst the hardcore players blame the casuals for being too sociable and forcing the developers to dumb the game down, making it too easy and accessible”

    This is your definition. As you say it’s a mental state.

    If you see other players as nerdy over-achievers who’d sit and watch paint dry for a month if it gave them +1 damage you’re casual.

    If you see other players as incompetent whiners who are ruining the genre you’re hardcore.

    On that note it’s probably about time Syncaine renamed his blog – he’s pretty much the archtype of the latter.

  5. It’s odd. I used to play 16 hours a day (yes, I was addicted and it was destructive) and I never considered myself hardcore. Why? Because I refused to set myself down on schedule or play the game so that it wasn’t fun.

    To me, hardcore and casual are both in the mindset that the player has, just like you say. I never saw the highest-end content or had the most epic gear, even though I played–at my worst throes of the addiction–more than most of the hardcore raiders.

    You hit the nail on the head, my friend.

  6. Tesh says:

    “At the end of the day, the most flexible MMORPGs are the ones that let us play in the biggest variety of ways and appeal to the broadest spectrum of players but we won’t always be able to get what we want.”

    Yes, this. I’d say it also applies to the monetization model. ;) Oh, the holy wars, though…

  7. I think the main problem with the terms “casual” and “hardcore” is that there are two measurements here: how deeply you are involved with a game and how much time you spend on a game. These two can be related, but don’t have to be.

    For example, I play a lot of LotRO, so you can say I’m hard-core in the time I spend. But, even though I raid I haven’t spent much time looking up deep discussions about my class like I did when I did WoW raiding. So, as far as raiding I’m a lot less hardcore. (Although I’m sure some people will say that because I raid I’m automatically hardcore.)

    I think using “casual” and “hardcore” when labeling a game is indicative of how involved with a game someone is expected to get. A game like Bejeweled is “casual” because it’s not expected that you’re going to stay up all night playing the game and mastering your technique. Compare this to most FPSes, where many players are expected to perfect their technique and will stay up to all hours of the night playing.

    This is just my opinion, though, and hardly accepted consensus between game designers. It fits with what I’ve observed, though.

    • Gordon says:

      I think you’re absolutely dead on with the two measurements observation. I’ve often associated time with “hardcore” even though that was totally inaccurate as I probably spent more time online that most people. It’s definitely a frame of mind and how one looks at the game. If someone just wants to play and have a laugh and doesn’t care about being competitive, or whatever, then they will never be hardcore regardless of the amount of time they put into it.

    • Brian comment is dead on and pretty much how I responded to this question on a thread at another blog. For example, when I played WoW, I only played two nights a week but during those nights I did lots of raiding. So I was both a “casual” player in terms of time and yet a “hardcore” player with regards to the complexity and depth of the game. In effect, when raiding, I expected to people to be there and on time, so as not to waste other people’s time. What’s funny is that most of the people who did NOT show up on time were often “hardcore” people in terms of the amount of time they played the game. They played all of the time, so they didn’t care about showing up at a specific time.

      • Gordon says:

        It’s an interesting point you make about the “hardcore” people not turning up to raids etc. I’ve seen that before. I remember being in a guild with two incredibly “hardcore” players who must’ve played 8 hours a day and leveled so fast and were very competitive. Ultimately they out leveled everyone else and left and didn’t get to experience the fun raids. Goes to show that time played isn’t everything.

  8. scrusi says:

    I’ve written about this a while ago, pretty much agreeing with what Brian said above. There are (at least) two dimensions on the casual/hardcore scale. I labelled them a bit differently, but essentially they are the same as Brian’s: The time spent playing the game on one axis and the “seriousness” with which you play on the other axis.

    You still get some pretty clear-cut “casuals” and “hardcores” at their respective ends of the scale (i.e. the people who play seriously and spend a lot of time on it are clearly hardcore) but you also get a lot of people where the one-dimensional description doesn’t fit anymore.

  9. [...] Defining “Casual” and “Hardcore” (Gordon) [...]

  10. Kyff says:

    I think You’re right in that it is mostly a set of mind. Hardcore implies focus. Someone who spends his little time online raiding and most of his time offline thinking about raiding certainly is more hardcore than someone who is online the entire day dabbles in everything and has no understanding of anything.

    Also from a linguistic point if used in a general way without any supplementary information the term “hardcore” usually refers to raiding/grouping high-end content. Although you can be a “hardcore crafter” (or “hardcore diplomat” in one of the better MMORPGs) you always have to add “crafter” or “diplomat” to make it clear. The term “raider” never needs to be added.

    • Gordon says:

      I always thought of the term hardcore being for someone who devoted so much of their live to something that everything else was ignore. I often used it as a negative term… partly because I was so jealous of them :)

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