The Digi-Cult

A New Religion for a Digital Age

The Rise and Fall of the Casual Gamer

Posted by Shannon O'Grady on September 25, 2008

In recent years the gaming industry and the media in general have developed a new name to describe what they believe to be a new market: The Casual Gamer.  But who or what is “the casual gamer” and is the phenomenon as new as we’re being lead to believe?

Diner Dash has become a standard in Casual gaming, and a favorite among gamers

The current market for casual gamers focuses on short games,  divided in to small, task oriented segments without much character or story development.  They feature linear plots where the game goal is often spelled out in the opening sequence.  These games also feature simple controls and repetitive action.

Now if many of our readers think back to childhood they’ll remember playing videogames that can be described in just this way, only, these games were cutting edge.

You see, it’s my theory that casual gamers have always existed, but due to technical limitations these gamers were satisfied by the same games as the hardcore gamers.  Who doesn’t remember the repeated button mashing of the original arcade fighting games?  Or the redundancy of the highly pixelated enemies in your favorite shooter?  These things appealed to both types of gamers.

Quarter circle forward, Punch is no longer the winning combination

Quarter circle forward, Punch is no longer the winning combination

As the technology and the market developed the games became longer and more involved, leading to
monstrous several hundred hour long, multi-disk RPGs and longer, as well as more complicated stories for shooters and even fighting games.  In addition to longer, broader stories, the controls and mental skills needed to play the games became more complex and taxing.  The argument is made that this is where the casual gamer was lost.

However, I beg to differ.

The casual gamer still played these games, but often, didn’t finish them.  They played until they were bored or stuck, and then traded them in for the newest game to suit their fancy.  How do I know this?  Why that’s easy.  Until late in high school, I, was one of these people.

I had many friends who I swapped games with, though I hardly remember any of us ever finishing one.  We played games because it was fun;  when the game stopped being fun, it was time to move on.  We often found ourselves drawn to games meant for users several years younger than ourselves, because the simplicity of the games made them fast and fun.

Then the industry gave us a new name and shoved us in to a box.  The casual gamer was suddenly separate and inferior in some ways to the hard-core gamer.  We needed to be pandered to and given games that were simple.  At least, that’s how my hormone addled mind saw it at the time.

Now I understand that the companies were cashing in on the boredom of the casual market.  If you give the casual gamer 10 games they can finish quickly and happily, they will play them all, and ask for more.  You can even charge them large amounts of money.  Even better, you can draw in new gamers (the bored housewife, the girlfriend of a gamer, the businessman looking to blow off steam) by illustrating that these games aren’t the life sucking games the hardcore gamers sink days and days in to.  These games are short: you can finish them in a weekend and then go back to the real world on Monday.

The Wii is the gaming platform that made "casual games" acceptable for all.

The Wii is the gaming platform that made casual gaming acceptable again

So what does this mean for the gaming industry?  Initially it meant a sort of heated segregation between those that were capable of playing harder, longer games and those that weren’t.  But then Nintendo brought us the Wii and all bets were off.  It became cool to play casual games; so long as it was just for a laugh.  The former “casual game” became the rest stop for the hardcore gamer looking to rest their thumbs and just goof off. Once again the casual game, and the casual gamer, are reabsorbed in to gaming society.

So why then do we still have this term, “Casual gamer” hovering around?  Partly because of habit, partly because it provided an effect way to measure the time investiture in a game, but mostly because of marketing.  “Casual gaming” opened up gaming to new markets, and in order to keep these markets, the marketers feel they need to keep the term.

Fair enough I say, just don’t call me that to my face.  I’m no different than the rest of you.  😛

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