A thousand-word triptych; or, shoot the (hard)core

As usual, Penny Arcade manages to distill many of the thoughts behind my rambling word slop into three concise panels.

I won’t deny that the futility of trying to keep abreast of major releases is a huge factor in my deciding to sit this fall out. (A decision to which I’m not quite as dedicated as I might seem; I’m having a tough time forcing myself not to restore my preorder for Valkyria Chronicles, for example.) I think I’ve been suffering long-term residual shell-shock from 1UP’s first real fall season, when a paltry five of us were writing all the reviews, previews, news, features and guides for one of gaming’s biggest years ever. The realization that the site can get along just fine without me hovering over the new release section like an anxious den mother has taken a while to sink in, but it’s really quite a relief. It’s freed me to look forward to the launch of the expanded content section and the opportunity to write about things that aren’t games, because there’s so much more to life than this silly little medium.

Another factor, though, has been my increasing revulsion at the prospect of association with self-proclaimed hardcore gamers. Just look at how various forums responded today to Jennifer Tsao’s departure from 1UP for a depressing example. Jen wasn’t just a great managing editor (a thankless, behind-the-scenes job that keeps a site’s visible content moving at an even clip), but she brought a welcome and necessary perspective to our publications. Buuut: since her mature, reasoned point of view threatened the entrenched patriarchal hegemony of the hardcore gamer, her move to Sega has been met with more “good riddance” than “good luck,” and that’s pathetic given all that’s she’s brought to the gaming press. But such tends to be the case with people who think of themselves as hardcore: that is, they tend to be pretty pathetic. (Not all of them, of course.)

Of course, despite my flagging interest in the very narrow stream of content presented as Must-Play Experiences by the industry’s finely-tuned engine of promotion and advertising, I’m still perfectly fine writing about the medium that has treated me so well these past years. There’s more to gaming than the latest grisly exercise in shooting a bald musclebound spaceman in the face, and there are enough intelligent fans of the form to interact with whose shoulders are mercifully free of chips.

So keep it lively, guys. You’re the object that blunts my innate pessimism to mere cynicism.

22 thoughts on “A thousand-word triptych; or, shoot the (hard)core

  1. It’s been my experience that “hardcore” gamers are petulant brats that demand a steady diet of Grand Theft Auto and Halo. If they don’t receive their generic sandbox games and first-person shooters, they throw huge fits and lash out at anyone who wants anyone else. This console generation has been a delight for me, mostly because it’s denied these bastards the games they’ve gorged on from 2002-2005.

    I’ve been playing video games for a long, long time, but I reject the term “hardcore” to describe my playing habits. “Nerd” will do just fine, thanks.

  2. Jess, that’s overly simplistic and barely scratches the surface of the “hardcore” set and treads a little too close to what bothers me most about the people I’m recoiling from in the first place: the exclusionist mindset that regards a difference of opinion as the most grievous crime imaginable.

  3. I remember when the casual games first began to surface Jeremy posted here that he was wanting to interview a casual gamer, but figured this was the wrong place to look. Still I offered myself up as a casual player of JRPGs. He didn’t take the bait. But still when I wander by Playstaion.blog on firmware update days, I don’t see myself associated with those people posting replies.

  4. Sorry, but I calls ’em as a sees ’em. I’m willing to let people enjoy the games they like best, but if they make it difficult for me to do the same thing, you’d better believe I’m going to raise hell about it. When I hear people shriek, “That game is too kiddie” (like Shane Bettenhausen…), or “retro gaming is pointless” (like the Zero Punctuation guy…) or “it’s not even 3D” (like way too many reviewers) I worry about the future of my favorite genres, and I get defensive in a hurry.

  5. He…he called us intelligent.

    Well, he probably didn’t mean me. Ah well.

    People need to get over this whole ‘hardcore’ vs. ‘casual’ thing. It doesn’t exist in any other artform, at least to the same extent, so what good is it??

  6. “Of course, despite my flagging interest in the very narrow stream of content presented as Must-Play Experiences by the industry’s finely-tuned engine of promotion and advertising…”

    “There’s more to gaming than the latest grisly exercise in shooting a bald musclebound spaceman in the face…”

    It’s funny you should say that, because IMO the less hardcore, or should I say, passionate, of the gaming set only focuses on the aforementioned big hype releases.

  7. I think “hardcore gamer” is starting to turn into one of those terms too many people self-identify with without agreeing on the definition.

    We’ve got “I’m seriously into playing games, especially if they’re deep and involving and impenetrable.” So, people who will play Dwarf Fortress for instance.

    We’ve got “I am an early adopter and there’s at least one niche genre I prop up.” Atlus fans for instance.

    We’ve got “I have serious emotional maturity issues and I need to establish a barrier between me and anything aimed at little kids!” The people who screamed bloody murder at the first Wind Waker trailer for instance.

    The DF players I think are a demographic that can stand to be recognized, because there are some fundemental design issues where you have to pick between targeting them or going for the more casual crowd that wants to get their mind around a game immediately and finish in one sitting.

    The Atlus fans are important to the industry, or at least certain aspects of it, but there’s nothing to argue when it comes to them really.

    The Wind Waker haters, like any group that can be defined by what they don’t tolerate, suck. Why are we referring to them as “hardcode” again though? Just because they hate the whole casual game scene (which I suppose we’re defining as flash games, kid-friendly games, or shovelware for more ambiguity)? Troll is a better fit there really.

    Point is, let’s abandon this poorly defined culture war and just get back to picking on games that fail to deliver what their actual target audiences are looking for, shall we?

  8. The “Needs more blood and angst!” demographic doesn’t seem to be very hardcore to me. IMO a true hardcore gamer is rather agnostic to that stuff, since it has little if anything to do with the gameplay itself.

  9. Yeah, you’re missing the point, too. Defining what a “hardcore gamer” is (if there’s even such a thing) isn’t what this about. I was talking about people who angrily define themselves as the only true gamers or whatnot, not what you think qualifies. You can split hairs all you want, but ultimately you’re just adding to the noise.

  10. Ideally gamers shouldn’t be spending time arguing the merits of strangers’ tastes, they should be playing games, ones they enjoy, and phooey on what the neighbors think.

  11. I’m unclear of when the whole Hardcore vs. Casual thing even started…it just seemed to happen one day, and I agree with Parish…the whole thing is bothersome. (I also agree with you every time you say something about nintendo fucking up…lemme know when you do a Pokemon Podcast…I’ve got many thoughts…)

  12. Yeah, in the couple hours since I posted, I figured I was splitting hairs myself anyways.

    I guess I’m most interested in good games, be they hardcore, casual, niche, mainstream, mature, kiddy, whatever, getting their due recognition when all is said and done.

  13. You know, I go to the bathroom almost every day, but I don’t describe myself to people as “hardcore toilet user” (for example). Parish, count yourself lucky there ARE people who obsess over videogames and define themselves as “videogame players”. The hardcore are your bread and butter, they’re the people advertisers target because they’re the people who buy millions of copies of a game whether or not it has any artistic or cultural merit.

    Personally, I don’t consider myself hardcore because even though I think games are interesting in an abstract way (and this site often explores the ideas behind games which is what I like about it), I don’t, on the other hand: have a lot of time to play games, think Penny Arcade is funny, obsess over the lethality of the weapon in my game (preferably 1st person), or buy videogame-related t-shirts or re-buy things I owned as a kid. Like me, you don’t have to be interested in any of those things to be interested in videogames, strictly speaking; but the success of the industry (rather than the art from — you’re part of the former, btw) depends on exploiting those and similar qualities in gamers.

  14. I’m doing my best not to get swamped by the fall season, but I finally succumbed to the temptation to pre-order Valkyria when I learned my local Gamestop had exactly one copy of the mini-artbook. So pretty.

    Ah well, that and Little Big Planet should carry me through the end of the year. Also tempted by Mirror’s Edge, but as an EA “franchise” I’m not to worried about it going anywhere before I have time to actually think about playing it.

  15. I’ll grant you that hardcore has become a poisoned word for several different reasons, not the least of which is the antisocial tendencies of self-identified members of the group. But there needs to be some kind of general word that will delineate between between somebody who plays a ton of games and has a great deal of knowledge and interest about the hobby and the people who play a game when the fancy and opportunity strike them. Because those are two legitimately distinct groups of consumers. What do you think should be done?

  16. We do have the whole English vocabulary in our use, and can throw around words such as “videogame afficionado” or “enthusiast” when they are apt. And there’s no need to limit them to specific contexts – “enthusiast Bejeweled player” is just as apt as “Wii Sports afficionado”.

  17. Don’t you mean ‘Destroy the (hard)core’?

    Anyways, I understand what you mean. It’s the same thing with making labels such as “Japanese” or “Western” RPGs (the correct classification is ‘Console’ and ‘Computer’, by the way), as well as treating this thing called “anime” as a genre and not as a medium.

    Fans can invent all sorts of false dichotomies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dichotomy) these days…

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