Frog blast the hardcore

I’ve become decreasingly interested in what gaming’s blockbuster releases have to offer with each passing year. You can’t play everything and when the aggregate of major titles amount to a homogeneous swath of brown space marine gladiator zombie hunts it’s hard to care. My friend gave me a brief tour of Dead Space this evening. It’s very scary! He was stuck behind an impenetrable window incapable of helping as a crewman screamed for help behind as he was methodically killed, his head exploded like a Jackson Pollack against the glass. The attention to detail extends to the menus, a holographic representation that your avatar reacts to. Without this type of direct exposure I may have never looked twice at this game. Even the local word-of-mouth hadn’t swayed me. So please indulge me in my Scott McCloud fantasies as I wonder aloud about the language used to describe video games.

When the paleolithic gaming press (journalisticas vidyagame) first roamed the Earth, they fashioned their wares from the only tools available to them, the language that the console manufacturers were using to distinguish themselves. In the 1970’s a tasteful wood grain deco may have been all they needed, but as the cold war between Nintendo and… everyone that was not Nintendo got more competitive, the advertising became more hyperbolic, the capabilities of the various systems took center stage and game reviews became framed in those same terms, broken down into rigid categories. Graphics, sound, gameplay, “fun”. It’s a little better today, at least in some corners of the internet, but the metric of how people judge games continues to be narrowly defined. It’s just that the terms have changed.


I’m talking about the mythical twin quasars of gaming: the hardcore and casual, language generally used by the former to describe the latter. If you are reading this you are most likely in the hardcore camp as currently appeased by the technologically superior Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Casual is used by Nintendo to describe their software designed to attract a broader audience, but has been appropriated by the hardcore to derisively refer to the slack jawed soccer moms playing Bookworm and Zuma. If you can’t tell, I’m not fond of this terminology. Aside from being thinly veiled elitism, the terms are not useful in critical terms because they don’t describe the games but the ill-defined groups that play them.

It’s something I’ve thought a lot about as the American Presidential election builds to a head. Who is Joe Six-pack supposed to represent? What makes a hockey mom different any other parent? Cable news has been back-flowed with this type rhetoric for months, middle class struggles distilled to their most base characteristics. As an American I somehow manage to hold on to some shreds of hope. As a gamer, I am disenfranchised. The divides in philosophy towards game design are almost tangible; I want to believe there’s more nuance to it than Harry Halo and Peggy Pop Cap.

8 thoughts on “Frog blast the hardcore

  1. The irony is that Nintendo don’t even use the term “casual” – they use terminology related to the Blue Ocean strategy – “core”, which means “people who were customers before”, and “expanded”, meaning people who you’ve recently reached. The “core” audience includes the theoretical audience for stuff like Ninjabread Man, kids that don’t know any better.

  2. It is frustrating, especially since in the days of the NES, games were simply made. There was Zelda and Final Fantasy, and Wheel Fortune and Double Dare. Didn’t matter what was good and what was not – people could buy what they want, and the “bad” games didn’t always outperform the “good”.

    The ones who proudly wear the “core” gamer badge around are baffling. I don’t know why they need a label to feel good. I own all three consoles, and when it comes to the Wii, I want to see Nintendo go wild. If they want to keep experimenting with things like Wii Music for four more years, I’d actually prefer (and at times buy) it than to see new Mario and Zelda immediately. My 360 and PS3 fulfill that urge.

    If I made those remarks about the Wii in other places I’d be shot.

  3. It seems that these self titled “Hardcore” gamers seem to gravitate to these genreic bald space marine games and if the developer dares to try something new and innovative they get all bent out of shape. Unfortunately the industry seems to take heed of the fears of these people and continues to churn out more identikit sequels. I might not be interested in every title that Nintendo has output in the past year or so, but i do feel that they should be encouraged because at least they’re trying to innovate.

    I played Halo 3 through on legendary when it first came out last year, but at times I had to stop and ask myself if I was having fun, on the other hand when I played through Mario Galaxy not once did that thought enter my head – I was too busy “having” fun.

    I don’t believe in the Hardcore and Casual badges, you either play videogames or you don’t, it’s supposed to be a pastime for entertainment and fun, not an excuse to look down on people who don’t like what you like or don’t play as often. Sorry for the long rant and terrible grammar guys.

  4. I think hardcore has meaning in the same way calling someone a film buff has meaning. There are levels of initiation in any pastime. Some people just play games on occassion and for others, games are a large part of their life. Casual player shouldn’t be an ad hominem attack. It should just be a meaningful descriptor.

  5. Mostly agree. Generally, I wish there were more “hardcore” games designed for casual play — e.g. the “Penny Arcade” series, which is short, tightly budgeted, but still appeals to my immersion in game history and culture. That being said, I do see a casual/hardcore distinction every time I pick up a controller with my girlfriend: Even those games known for ease of use vex her, because they assume a certain base understanding of game mechanics and tropes, you know, like shooting everything you see.

  6. “If I made those remarks about the Wii in other places I’d be shot.”


    I have heard a lot about the stagnation of the comic book industry as of late. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it is weird seeing that industry against the video game industry. There is a far more concerted effort to bring new people into video games than comic books and, ultimately, I think it will help video games to push out of a niche corner of society and gain more general acceptance.

    The fact that the New York Times has reviewed Fable 2 and Little Big Planet this week gives me some hope. These kinds of articles are rarely ever put forth on comic books or graphic novels.

  7. I’ve been playing games for 20 years and I identify with the misnomer “casual gamer”, because “hardcore gamer” has become a synonym for “stupid, obsessive crybaby gamer”. I do wonder if they really enjoy the games they play, or if they just go into some strange psychological state for a sense of completion when they’re going through a game befitting their obsessive requirements, and then go half-catatonic if they can’t get their next fix. While there is plentiful evidence of “hardcore gamers” on forum boards, I do hope that it really is just a stereotype perpetrated by over-simplifying gaming media and agenda-driven viral marketers.

    I had that disinterest in games happen about 4 years ago, with signs starting to appear a few years before. Luckily, I didn’t stop playing because I refound handheld systems through the GBA and then DS, and then when it seemed like I would never buy a home console again, the Wii came along. And really, I think putting 100 hours into Wii Sports or looking forward to Heroes of Mana as one of this holiday season’s top games is way more hardcore than buying Fallout 3 on launch day.

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