Saturday, November 7, 2009

Casually Hardcore

Two terms that consistently show up when talking about playstyles are "Hardcore" and "Casual." But what do these words mean?

Lewis Pulsipher, in a blog post on Gamasutra, provided a list of examples of how Hardcore gameplay (and gamers) differ from a Casual style. Many of these examples are frequently cited when this Hardcore/Casual split is discussed. "Plays a long time" versus "prefers quick play sessions" is often mentioned, as is preferring challenging (Hardcore) over easy (Casual) games.

Chris Bateman has proposed some interesting definitions as well. For example, Hardcore = "gamer hobbyists" while Casual = "mass market," or Hardcore = "prefers a 'punishing' game" while Casual = "prefers a 'forgiving' game."

For my part, the one word I keep finding myself using in discussing Hardcore/Casual is "investment." The typical Hardcore player (as I see it) invests personally in the gameworld, while the classic Casual player is mostly or fully divested.

The Hardcore gamer is willing and able to talk about the gameworld as though it matters, and doesn't mind being seen as caring about the characters and places and internal rules of the gameworld. By contrast, it's almost always a Casual gamer who declares "it's just a game" and prefers to be perceived as holding it at (emotional) arms-length.

I suspect this notion of "investment" is one of the fundamental motivations that drive the actual behaviors of play that we see. It would explain why different gamers spend more or less playing time per session, and why they prefer deeper and more challenging games or simpler and easier-to-put-down games.

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