The Hardcore Gaming Myth

The Hardcore Gaming Myth

Do you ever use a word despite without fully understanding what it means? I have a friend like that. He uses the word “frumpy”, but I’m fairly sure he’s never opened the dictionary to find out just what it means. In his mind, “frumpy” means “bloated” or “bored” or whatever he needs it to mean in his present case of misappropriation.

For many of you (myself included), I’m sure the same is true when it comes to the phrase “casual gaming”. I used to go by a purely intuitive definition, a notion that I should have learned through my computer science courses is never a good idea. I used to just call out in my mind whether a game or gamer was of the casual or hardcore sort without thinking about what I was doing — until this year’s QuakeCon when I was finally challenged with articulating what those two terms mean.

I was flustered at first. How was the schism between the two not clear enough for people to immediately understand? Almost instantly, though, it became apparent I was flustered because I’d never thought about it before. I wasn’t mad, though. I finally had the impetus to think about why this gaming dichotomy existed. It really came down to determining what truly and discretely defines both casual and hardcore gaming, if there is any overlap between the two, and if using either label is appropriate or derogatory.

In general, there are some characteristics that might separate the two categories. Price point, requisite skill level, complexity of game mechanics, production value, length, and required time to play can all both individually and collectively place a game into either camp. For instance, cheaper games, such as the dollar releases on the App Store, are usually considered to be of the casual sort. They also usually are very simple to play, either by being very easy or forgiving or only requiring a single button input from the player. These games are almost always produced by one or two-man teams for very little money and made to be played for only a few minutes at a time.

Donkey Kong is comprised entirely of running, jumping, and climbing, but does that mean it’s also a casual game for having simple mechanics?

The problem is some games don’t fit into the commonly accepted list of casual attributes. For instance, matches in Street Fighter IV can take less than a minute to play, but does this mean that it’s a casual game for being quick to finish? Donkey Kong is comprised entirely of running, jumping, and climbing, but does that mean it’s also a casual game for having simple mechanics? I Wanna Be The Guy is a pretty dowdy looking game with its purely 2D graphics and was made by a single man, but it’s definitely not for the casual gamer.

Perhaps much like US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in Jacobellis v. Ohio, there is no intelligible definition of a casual or hardcore game, but “I know it when I see it.”

This, however, leads me to wondering whether there is overlap or if casual and hardcore are mutually exclusive. Whether or not there is a better instinctual or explicit definition for the differences between the two, this leads to the inclination that a game cannot be both casual and hardcore. Perhaps why there is an unfortunate twinge of disdain to whenever a gamer discusses a product of the opposing camp.

The lack of respect given from the hardcore to the casual gamers can be traced back to the commonly accepted definition of the two categories of games. Hardcore gamers generally find casual games too simplistic and not true video games, and for that reason, they find it inappropriate and possibly offensive that the casual players dare file themselves under the same banner as the “true” gamers have taken so much pride in.

For those that identify themselves as hardcore, they believe that the casual gamers had to overcome such a small barrier of entry to get into games that they didn’t earn the right to call themselves a gamer. The lack of nuance in casual games has allowed a swath of gaming simpletons entry into a higher pantheon of people capable of reaching past the primitiveness of Angry Birds or Wii Sports.

This conflict, however, can potentially be boiled down to a misunderstanding. Just because the intuitive notion of casual and hardcore gaming lends the two divisions to be mutually exclusive doesn’t mean that they are. Fighting games, for instance, can be played on an incredibly varying number of levels of depth. I actually enjoy playing Marvel vs. Capcom 3 just because I enjoy the stupefying visual overload and seeing how ridiculous I can make the teams. Many, in fact, would I say I play it casually. However, you can get into something a little more rough-and-tumble, such as regularly (and seriously) competing online, learning all the combos, and mastering specials. Step even deeper and you enter the realm of people who find frame-counting entrancing. Who is to say that you can’t play a game like MvC3 in both a casual and a hardcore fashion?

This sentiment can also go the other direction, though. Bejeweled, perhaps the most prevalent and widely accept casual game of recent times, can be played in a wholeheartedly fanatical way. I’ve seen people play it in 30-second bursts without finishing the session, but I’ve also seen people who blow my mind with how quick and machine-like they can analyse and execute a screen of jewels.

For those that identify themselves as hardcore, they believe that the casual gamers had to overcome such a small barrier of entry to get into games that they didn’t earn the right to call themselves a gamer.

Pac-Man is another fine example. Some people would call it casual while a similar amount might call it hardcore. It’s simple in that you only move one of four directions and eat dots. It’s cheap in that each game will only cost you 20 cents in an arcade. Given the lack of a story, sessions with the game can last barely a minute. A fair amount of interest, though, can reveal some deeper strategy. Taking advantage of the AI behind the ghosts to maximise every screen and aim for perfect game. Perfect Pac-Man runs can actually run for over six hours (the world record is actually just under four hours) where every corner and pellet is scrutinized to reach the split-screen stage.

Either casual or hardcore games can be wholly contained as a subset within the other. In this case, given the usual slate of casual game hallmarks, the hardcore would be the superset, and considering that both casual and hardcore games can encompass the entire spectrum of video game genres, is it even worth differentiating between the two?

There is a place for both types of games, much like there is a time and a place for trashy summer comedies as well as serious Oscar contenders and how both recreational basketball players and high school phenoms with aspirations of playing in the NBA can exist in the realm of sports. Everyone has to start somewhere, and just because the person sitting next to you on the bus is still bumbling his way through the first level of Cut the Rope doesn’t mean that he won’t someday be the next sponsored MLG player.

The divide between casual and hardcore is not immediately indicative of the quality of the game or the gamer. It’s important to remember that both the product and the player are also not entirely disjointed, as any game can be played in any number of ways. The labels, however, are a handy way to facilitate video game discussions between both the casual and the hardcore, gamers and non-gamers, and QuakeCon attendees and those that question writers who think they have it all figured out.


  • I remember reading an article on IGN years ago that covered something like, “What hardcore gamers want?”. The answer was apparently, a gigantic TV so they can absorb powerful graphics and an intense surround sound system so they can feel every explosion. The list of games that hardcores like were obviously entirely FPS.

    I was intially annoyed at how someone like me, who spends an unhealthy proportion of the day playing games, and being extremely passionate about them, would fall into the category of casual according to IGN because I prefer RPG’s, platformers, strategy, fighting, simulation and handheld games over shooters.

    I mean its IGN… my fault for reading it in the first place, but even so, I have failed to see anyone use the term Hardcore in a way that makes any sense whatsoever. Therefore, I deem the word stupid and would like to nominate it for Internet banishment… right after I banish “Mary-Sue” for similar reasons.

  • When someone mentions Hardcore gaming, it always makes me relate it to “hardcore” professional wrestling matches. I imagine these hardcore gamers wrapping barbed wire around their controllers and physically abusing themselves in defeat to increase their gaming experience.

  • I think casual means a game that has little to no storyline, something like angry birds or plants vs zombies. As it can require some skill in these games I dont think there is Mutch investment in becoming good at them. Something like wow or a fps requires more advanced skills and quick reaction times. I don’t think it’s the amount of time invested it’s the amount of skill required to be competitive. I.e. I would slaughter a casual in something like cod or gt5 and also be extremely competitive in something like p vs z (I don’t say win cause there is always someone better than you) in other words a hardcore gamer would be able to pick up a number of games and be competitive at them pretty quickly but a casual gamer may have trouble at games that require in depth skills or strategy. It’s just a different skill set neither one is inferior.

    • yeah, I think you may be onto something here: the idea that ‘hardcore’ games appeal to a certain set of genre-wide skills, suggesting you play multiple games of a similar skill-set, rather than learning the particular skills of a ‘by-the-game’ approach. That is: casual games don’t require you to be familiar with more than just themselves, you don’t have to be a multiple-game player to be competent

  • Eh to me there’s no such thing as a hardcore or casual game.

    To me the distinction is simple.

    A Hardcore gamer is someone who lives and breaths games even if it’s only one title.

    The casual guy is the one who plays games but doesn’t really care too much beyond that.

    I mean i take myself as a casual music listener i can at most tell you the artist and maybe album of a song. But unlike other people i know, most of the time i can’t tell you who is in the band. When the album was released what songs are on that album(I can place them if i hear them but that’s about it) Or what personal story is meant to be about the song.

    I know the song iv’e payed and listened to the song but i don’t care or know that the song is meant to be the bass guitarist troubles with drugs. Unless it’s obvious from the lyrics which isn’t always the case.

    If i was going to state a definition between what would seperate hardcore and casual games. It would simply be depth of play. But again that’s something controlled by the players attitudes toward the game.

    The Casual gamer would go through Donkey kong and finish the story and that’s it they’ll throw the title down and pick up another or find something else to do. The Hardcore guy has 100% + any other ridiculous challenges he’s set himself over his play

    • ” To me the distinction is simple. A Hardcore gamer is someone who lives and breaths games even if it’s only one title. ”

      So stay at home Mum’s who are worried about scheduling their day to ensure that they can harvest their farmville crops count as hardcore gamers?

      What I find interesting is the difference between casual game and a casual gamer. Reading the responses above half are answering each question.

      • The mum I guess would count as a hardcore FarmVille gamer.

        I suppose whether someone is hardcore or casual depends on what game they’re playing. I mean, I couldn’t care less about FarmVille. For others, FarmVille is their life.

        But then, I can play Starcraft 2 for hours…

  • The Casual Vs Hardcore thing always annoys the life out of me. I buy “casual” type titles like the Sims, but I also buy games like Dragon Age Origins, Heroes of Might and Magic and Civilisation.

    What annoys me is that most people who buy those types of titles are every bit as passionate as someone who plays FPS games. If you visit sites like Celestial Heavens it should be clear to anyone with half a brain just how devoted those players are to the HOMM franchise. And then there’s people who play Sims, frankly we’re devoted to our franchise to the point of insanity.

    Personally I’m starting to think it’s a way for some of the boys who play FPS’s to look down their noses at the rest of us, just because we’re not interested in blood and gore.

    Just my two cents.

  • I dont think a game can be hardcore or casual.
    I believe a player can be hardcore or casual, with any game.

    a gamer can play for hours a day mastering the game, to be the best or/and 100% complete it.
    Thats hardcore.

    Would you call someone who plays angry birds, trying to get the best score in the world a casual gamer?
    I know I certainly wouldnt.

  • Stupid article.

    Casual and Hardcore a relative terms and their exact meaning will vary according to context.

    That doesnt mean the words dont exist or dont have a real definition. Just that their definitions are more complex.

    There are plenty of words like these. “Left” and “Right” in the political sense, for example.

  • I would suggest that it’s not the game quality that creates this dichotomy, rather the amount of time one spends playing (the lifestyle one adopts). I used to class myself as a harcore gamer because I would game on whenever i could – going to work with 2 hrs sleep etc, etc. But now I would say I’m a casual gamer because I only really play in my spare time – I don’t make time to game.

    I play a range of games through genres and complexities.


  • IMO casual and hardcore can be put into two different categories when it comes to video games – Games and Gamers.

    Casual games are the games you can play on your iPhone on the bus, train etc… where hardcore games require more time and dedication to play eg… most console games.

    But look at the gamer side of it and casual gamer doesnt devote to much time into gaming but hardcore gamers are the ones who sit on their consoles/ PC’s and will play an entire game in one sitting or people that go gaming tournaments.

    I consider myself as a casual gamer, i do play a lot of games but i dont devote a lot of time to playing games.

  • There are only two types of gamers: Those who play games for the sake of playing games, and those who play games for fun. Using these classifications, ‘hardcore’ gamers fall into the first category, while casual are in the second.
    IMO, ‘hardcore’ gamers are very much like ‘hardcore’ metal: they try to say that they are much more superior to the common or garden variety gamer, and think that they have their own set of rules.

  • Casual: Games for everyone with simple mechanics and inevitable victory. Casual gamers enjoy light entertainment.

    Hardcore: Games that make you work hard for a win, that have a high skill ceiling. Hardcore gamers enjoy the challenge.

    And yes, most games these days fall into the casual category.

  • Hardcore game – Can be specifically tailored around a certain type of gameplay, or a diverse range there of, in which the player has to take responsibility in their own success or have a firm understanding in the game universe/genre/gameplay.

    The reason why this is broad is due to the many genres, not because its a mythical beast. Likewise Casual Gaming can be summed up as something like:

    Games that are tailored towards an experience rather than a simulation, where the player is guided into events and gameplay mechanics as required.

    One is about gratification on a base level coupled with immersion, whilst the other is more worried about simply conveying the story in the most broad sense, all imo of course.

    These are such open terms.

    Nice article, I think there’s a lot of confusion about it all, there always is when you try and categorise something, because ultimately that’s seen as a stereotype.

    Which is besides the point I think, the point is making games suited to the audiences, and using what works for every ones amusement and the growth of the industry.

  • Im not an overall hardcore gamer. But im hardcore about the games I play, like wanting to experience every little sight and sound within the games I play

  • It’s a way of life. Casual gamers game on occasion to spice up their life, hardcore gamers real life on occasion to spice up their gaming.

  • Anyone who says with great pride they’re a “Hardcore Gamer” is essentially trying to legitimise the fact that they spend an inordinate amount of time playing video games.

    There’s nothing wrong with doing that but if you think you’re held with any esteem within the broader community, as though being a “hardcore gamer” is a title that carries any sort of high regard (begrudged or otherwise), you’re hallucinating.

  • Casual as a derogatory term has always irritated me. “Herp so casual derp.”

    If someone does drugs casually, no one says “Haha do a real drug like heroin as soon as you wake up…goddamn casuals.”

    Games cant be hardcore. They’re just games. It’s the mindset of the people playing them. It stems from elitism.

    FPS : Not hardcore.
    MMO : Not hardcore.
    Fighters : Not hardcore.
    RTS : Not hardcore.

    Any genre can be played casually. Just the same as the “hardcore” will attempt to elevate their game of choice and make it seem like a grueling endurance trial that only the most elite can play, casual players are happy to play it on easy and have a good time.

  • To me “hardcore” just means how much of your time and energy is invested in something. “Gamer” is enough for me, it doesnt really matter if some random person knows I’m “Hardcore” or not, as the people who know me already know where to find me – in the my gaming den playing videogames!

  • I hate the word Hardcore. The difference between Casual and more devoted gamers is just that. Devotion.
    Casual gamers will play a small game for a short time, maybe sparingly over a couple of days or weeks.
    Someone more devoted will buy the limited edition, play it for an hour or longer every day and really lives games.
    Those who like casual games don’t even know what Console mario is on, or even know what a console is most of the time. They take games less seriously then people like us, who lurk and post on a gaming journalist blog/website.
    Casual gamers will also fall into many pitfalls, buying shovelware because they’re ill informed. Anyway, that’s the best I can come up with.

  • I think you can call someone a hardcore or casual gamer.
    To me a hardcore gamer is someone who loves games, plays them regularly, who knows about the gaming industry.

    Just like someone who loves movies, goes to the cinemas regularly, and knows about the movie industry is called a movie buff.

    Same thing really.

  • Paging Steven Bogos . . .

    By and large it’s used as an ego tool, kinda like two dudes at a Nickelback concert trying to prove who’s the bigger fan. Maybe that analogy has undone my entire argument, I don’t know.

    In a way it’s an attempt to legitimize culture and identity specifically to games, and to develop that same kind of rabid enthusiasm and, as a result, fierce hatred of anything “other” to that fanaticism, as you have with music genres. Certain games and franchises have that fanaticism – even developers and consoles – but casual and hardcore is a way for a certain type of person to assert themselves as special because they’re more passionate or, as said above, they need to justify the fact that they spend an inordinate amount of time playing games.

    Games require a steeper learning curve and, unless you’re trying to read the Russians or deconstruct the filmography of Werner Herzog, a greater commitment of time and concentration than any other medium.

    Jesper Juul has a book about the casual fear called A Casual Revolution. I’ve only read bits of it, but the most important thing I’ve taken away from it is that the criticisms levelled against casual games and gamers are the same criticisms that were levelled against ALL games and gamers 25, 20, maybe even 15 years ago: that they waste time, that they’re a distraction, that there’s no art or point or value in them. That things have come full circle prove how much of an ego-driven joke an elitist take on the casual/hardcore divide is.

  • So isn’t a collector hardcore considering owning panzer dragoon saga. Paying that much means your avid And your doing it for fun not money

  • I just laughed at the best examples that Time could come up with were games created in a time where technology was limited in regards to creating a game. It’s like comparing Shakespeare to cave paintings or a Ferrari to a Model T Ford.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!