Traditional video-games press often draw a distinction between the so-called “hardcore” of PC and console, and the mobile markets which are termed “casual.” We don’t follow this distinction, and there are a number of reasons why.
The first and obvious one is that we are not a traditional video-games press outlet. We don’t do “press” – we don’t publish press releases, and we don’t write reviews. We offer video-game content reports, tailored for a specific group. So, there’s that.
The casual/hardcore divide was often used in a rather superior way, separating the “real gamers” from ordinary people, often termed, (and I’m sorry about this) “filthy casuals.” This divide is of course rather silly, and is now largely a joke, but in the very early days of gaming, when equipment was prohibitively expensive and only a true techno-wizard would be able to get the thing running half the time, a rather cliquish atmosphere of US The True Gamers and THEM The False Gamers was often the result. PC games were concieved of as the pure breed, consoles the more financially accessible option, and mobile as a fringe, with diversions and simple trinkets for people bored at bus stops. Nothing worthwhile, it was thought, could come out of the casual, mobile market. These days, with a vastly more open gaming market, the old, unhelpful, divides are rapidly collapsing, resulting in a barrage of think-pieces about what constitutes a gamer in an age where everybody plays, and spawning an ugly and aggressive culture war which you may have read about in the popular news.
The barriers to entry into the gaming world have never been lower, and this is a great thing, as it enables more and more people to embrace the world of interactive entertainment. The restrictions are increasingly those of taste rather than of accessibility, which is a whole other argument and perhaps a series of blog posts in its own right. The hardcore/casual divide is based on the interconnected beliefs that platform dictated quality of game, dictated quality of player. “Quality”, in games, as is exactly the same case in books, films, furniture or seamless underwear, is not always exactly a fixed property. I own a rather lovely IKEA armchair. My great aunt despises it and refuses to sit in it. Is a perfectly decent chair? Yes. Does it meet her standards of chairly quality? It very much does not. A good chair, much like a good game, is a mixture of fixed technical properties – as my American friend once memorably asked “Can you put your butt on it?” – and a great mixture of intangibles* about style, design and experience.
The breaking down of barriers opens up a number of exciting design frontiers which would simply not exist were the old paradigms enforced. Fabulous Beasts, a Kickstarter project we have seen at a number of shows around the country, is a great example of innovation that would not be possible previously. Is it a board game? Is it a video-game? It’s both! It’s neither! It’s got cute wooden animals! Players who might traditionally be very wary of video-games are quickly enthralled by the lovely chunky tactile play pieces, and want to join in, whilst players who are haunted by memories of Monopoly will be reassured by the presence of the iPad digitally arbitrating scores. This kind of blended play, “transmedia” if you want to get fancy, blurs the lines between media, and between medium. How can a person be a hardcore digital-board-game-on-an-ipad-but-with-animal-thingys player? That genre hasn’t been alive long enough for anyone to develop “hardcore” mastery! In this arena, everyone is a newbie in terms of ability, and it enables new play experiences to be created and enjoyed. It also enables new opportunities for games for learning, such as the Spanish “Professor Whateverson” series, which blends books, games and videos to teach primary school concepts such as telling the time. Is a transmedia property Hardcore if experienced on a PC, but Causal when looked at on a phone? When looked at from the angle of educational software, the question looks increasingly daft.
The hardcore/casual divide doesn’t really do anyone any favours. Fear about not measuring up to the standards of knowledge, ability or simply wealth displayed by the gods and gatekeepers of a hobby discourages new people from joining in. If people are allowed to find a way in to the world of games that works for them, as they grow more confident, they will begin to carve out their own personal set of tastes and preferences, and move things along with them. Most people entering gaming for the very first time today do so on tablet or mobile phones, something unthinkable less than a decade ago. Tablets didn’t exist, and gaming on a phone was an unrelentingly diabolical experience, (save possibly for Snake.) Yet now, tablet gaming accounts for a huge percentage of the market, equal in importance to consoles and PC, and the new untested horizons of VR are just around the corner, with home-grown efforts such as the Opto headset challenging alongside offerings from corporate giants like Sony, trying to democratise a currently expensive niche hobby – bringing the hardcore tech to the filthy casual masses, if you like. VR, a technology that would previously have rendered the user confined to a powerful high-end PC with a cable sticking out of it, can now be attached to a smartphone. Is it now casual? Is it “still” hardcore? With each day that passes, the question seems more and more meaningless.
Casual and hardcore are old groups, for an old way of looking at gaming. GameHub covers PC, console and mobile gaming, without breaking them into unusable and arbitrary categories of hardcoress or otherwise. It’s a central tenet of GameHub philosophy that gaming should be for everyone who wants to engage with it, and for those that do not, there should still be accessible resources so you can get the information you need. The unnatural divide of hardcore/casual works against that ideal, and thus it’s a term we endeavour to use sparingly, as a genre grouping when unavoidable and otherwise not at all.
*Sadly the chair in question is blue rather than orange so I have been cruelly denied the opportunity to make a groan-inducing pun about intangerables.