My Inner Child Is Calling Me A Casual

My Inner Child Is Calling Me A Casual

Art on loan (and "slightly" altered) from museumofchildhood.org.uk

We’ve been hearing a lot about hardcore and casual gamers this week and, for once, not just in forum flame wars. The defining announcements coming out of E3 have primarily been catering towards the family market. Microsoft’s controller-less Kinect, Playstation’s motion controller Move and the sans-glasses 3D of the Nintendo 3DS are all products geared with an “everybody plays” approach.

Which has lead, perhaps understandably, to a lot of backlash from gamers and reporters alike. There’s been no question in anyone’s mind that Nintendo made far and away the best presentation this year, followed by Sony and then Microsoft in a far-distant third. While both the 3DS and the Move both demonstrated some interesting and innovative applications for core gamers, viewers could only sit bewildered as Kinect showed off a series of upgraded Wii-style games and training regimes. Playing jump-rope with a tiger, running up and down on the spot, air-steering a cart, while the tech might be somewhat impressive it was content for casual gamers and if you weren’t a fan of first-person shooters then it was really the only thing on show.

Which has reignited the time-tested argument over core and casual gaming once again. But before we all start screaming “fucking casuals” at our E3 recaps once again, maybe we should stop and think about exactly how casual all of our games have become.

A couple of months back Moose discovered his old Nintendo Entertainment System covered in a layer of dust in storage and, Moose being Moose, decided to come and clutter up my ever shrinking lounge-room with yet another console. He was interested to see if, as a gamer, I’d retained my ability to play retro games or if I’d continually adapted my playing style to whatever platform was currently in favour. To this end he made me play several games he’d had bundled up with the console: Solstice, Terminator 2 and The Adventures of Bayou Billy, just to name a few.

Long story short, I didn’t fare so well. Over time the ability to save your game’s progress has become integral to me, and to play games now without it feels like a strange and unusual punishment.

If you''re mentally singing the theme song, cut it out

Of course this wasn’t always the case. When I was a child I’d sit for hours on end playing Alex Kidd in Miracle World, the game that came pre-installed on my Master System 2. Looking back it’s hard to see how I’d had the patience, because if you got hit it was an instant death and there were around fifteen levels to make your way through. I did eventually finish the game, something I probably attribute to memorising the solution for entire levels as I played them over and over and over again. To this day my father still swears blind that he once heard me muttering a safe path through the game’s first level while I slept.

Looking back it seems unimaginable now, because gaming as a hobby has changed completely. If Sega were to re-release Alex Kidd for a current-gen market, all the marketing in the world wouldn’t help it sell to more than a handful of nostalgic older gamers. It’s ridiculously difficult, and with the modern level of choice we have with our gaming you wouldn’t blame anyone for not even bothering to try.

Enjoy a shooter where your health regenerates after a few seconds? Congratulations, you’re casual compared to health-packs. See that message at the beginning of the game that tells you not to switch it off during the auto-save feature? Numerical save codes are staring down their nose at you in disgust. How long does your new game take to complete? 10 hours? If you had of flawlessly played Transbot since it’s release, you still wouldn’t have finished it.

As if you needed any further proof that old games are truly hardcore: The save game password pig has an eyepatch and a dirty great big cigarette

Games have evolved over time to be easier to jump into and out of. I’m not saying this is a bad thing (I believe it’s quite the opposite), but you have to admit when you compare the games of today to early console and PC games, things have been made a great deal more user-friendly. More accessible. More casual.

Try not to sweat it, however, because the common aversion to casual gamers is just another way core gamers tend to wave their e-penis. I mean can you believe that casual gamers don’t care that Band Hero is just a recycled neon pink version of Guitar Hero: World Tour? And how stupid they are that they’ll pay money for fake funds in FarmVille? Chumps! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go pay my monthly subscription to World of Warcraft.

And it’s the same with most other major forms of entertainment. There will always be someone there to tell you that X is a more hardcore rapper than Y, or that the German-language edit of Apocalypse Now is far superior to the original. You can’t begin to enjoy any medium without first being a casual, and acting snobby about the whole affair usually doesn’t detract newbies anyway.

Casual gamers are also big buisness, something that you only have to look at Zynga’s Facebook games to realise. In the 2009 financial year, Zynga took approximately $250 million in gross revenue. To put that in context, that’s $10 million more than the estimated revenues from World of Warcraft in the same period. This from a collection of browser games delivered over social media.

Casuals: We''d hate them more if only they weren''t so damn attractive

Similarly, Nintendo most likely owes it’s success in the current generation of consoles to casual gamers, be it with the Wii or the outrageously popular DS. All you need to look at is the retail sales figures for games released each week. Sure, sometimes a big game like Red Dead Redemption or Halo 3 might top the list during it’s release week, but 90% of the time the top of the ladder reads Wii-Play, Wii Sports Resort and Just Dance in no particular order. You can pass off Wii-Play as a bundled game if you like, but Sports Resort and Just Dance are both full retail titles. Also, if you do want to pass off Wii-Play as being inflated by bundle sales, what does that say about the number of Wii consoles flying off retail shelves? And while we can crack jokes about the amount of shovelware all we like, the profit Nintendo makes from licencing such games does go towards continuing some of gamers favourite series.

So before you decry someone for enjoying Mafia Wars or Imagine! Ponies, or before we begin the inevitable battle over who’s console has the more hardcore motion controller, just remember this: deep down inside you, your inner child is spitting Jolt Cola all over your copy of Modern Warfare 2 and casting inappropriate aspersions against your mother while you play Gears of War.

Oh, and if you really want to gain your inner child’s respect back, they released Alex Kidd in Miracle World as a downloadable title for Wii a few years back. Have fun with that.

2 Responses to “My Inner Child Is Calling Me A Casual”

  1. Meeeeeeeemories…

    While we’re at it, how many fucking hours did we (and by we, I mostly mean YOU, Matt) plow into the original Wonderboy? You’re right, making a game like that for anything other than the disposable browser market these days would be considered suicide… which is kinda funny, because these days it means a game like that would be aimed at the aforementioned fucking casuals.

    Also, I’m totally hating on you for putting the Alex Kidd theme music in my head for at least the second time this week.

  2. Oh, god yes.. Wonderboy. Hours upon hours upon hours..

    And the original Castle Wolfenstein on the Apple IIe. We played that for so long before even realizing there was an extra level, that you could pick locks (ear pressed against the PC speaker) and find deeper missions. Games then were hardcore! OG represent!!

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