Whenever I need to be reminded of the difference between casual and hardcore gamers, I just take a look at my own house. In the living room is our new 50″ plasma TV. Beneath it you’ll find two sleek, black consoles: my Xbox 360 and PS3. To the right sits a shelf proudly displaying my collection of Xbox 360 and PS3 games, Blu-ray movies, and various controllers on chargers.
Take a short walk down the hall to the bedroom and you’ll discover a setup of a different kind. A smaller television sits atop a dresser. Tucked in next to it is the small white form of a Nintendo Wii. Nearby, a stack of white Wii game cases rests next to a smaller pile of Nintendo DS games. All of this is strategically positioned in front of a very comfortable papasan chair, with a maroon-colored Nintendo DSi XL charging close by.
I am what most would call a hardcore gamer, my wife is not. Can you guess where each of us spends the majority of our gaming time? We both enjoy video games as a hobby, but there are some significant differences in the way we play. There are those who believe that casual and hardcore gamers cannot coexist. In my experience, this is not the case. There are differences between the two of us, sure, but we are united by our love of gaming.
The Vocabulary of Gaming
My wife and I enjoy discussing and debating video games. She, for example, still contends that Donkey Kong Country is the greatest game of all time. I am more of a Super Mario World guy. Still, there are times that the terms with which she describes gaming experiences are very different from my own.
You’ll never hear my wife utter a sentence like “It’s an MMOFPS with RPG progression and an RTS-inspired squad interface.” When my friends and I get together and start talking like this, her eyes begin to roll and she usually finds an excuse to leave us to “nerd out” on our own. She’s no stranger to video games, but gaming is one of the most jargon-heavy industries out there. To a casual gamer, the mess of acronyms and obscure references to decades-old games might as well be another language.
For example, a typical conversation in our house:
“Honey, it’s a first-person shooter with a class system.”
“What did you just say?”
“It’s a game where you can see your gun in front of you and you can pick different types of soldiers to play as.”
“Why didn’t you just say that the first time?”
Hardcore gamers are accustomed to complicated control schemes. We don’t look at instruction manuals, we pick up the controller, start up the game and start pressing buttons. We have countless hours of experience playing many different genres. We know that most FPS games have similar controls and that racing games almost always follow the “right trigger: gas, left trigger: brake” formula.
Casual gamers, like my wife, typically prefer less-complicated layouts. She grew up in the SNES era and is thoroughly frustrated any time she’s required to use two analog sticks simultaneously.
I find the motion controls and need to point at the screen of the Nintendo Wii incredibly limiting and unresponsive, she doesn’t understand how anyone can use a controller to move and look around at the same time. We both love games, but prefer interacting with them in markedly different ways.
The Genre-ation Gap
Perhaps the most significant difference between casual and hardcore is the genres each group likes to play. I enjoy first-person shooters, fighting games and MMORPGs. My wife absolutely loves puzzle games, arcade-style action games and Animal Crossing. I’m not saying that I’ve never spent any time as an indentured servant for Tom Nook or that my wife has never picked up a controller to face off with me in a round of Tekken, but for the most part we prefer separate types of gaming experiences.
For her, games are all about having fun. If a game isn’t enjoyable right away, she’ll usually move on to something else. I also play games to have fun, but I don’t mind memorizing 10-hit combos or spending hours studying World of Warcraft boss mechanics to get there.
A Time to Game
The other major difference between the gaming habits of my hardcore self and my casual gamer wife is the amount of time we spend playing games. For her, gaming is merely one of her hobbies. It’s just one of the many diversions she enjoys in her spare time. For me, gaming is my #1 hobby. Yes, I have other interests, but when I have a bit of spare time (or when I’ve got an article to write), I immediately think of firing up my Xbox.
Because I spend more time playing games, I’m more familiar with the vocabulary of the industry, more comfortable with complicated control schemes and more likely to have the time to work through the learning curve of gaming’s more in-depth experiences.
Hardcore gamers play games in a hardcore fashion. That is to say, a lot. Casual gamers play much more–dare I say it–casually.
My wife and I devote different portions of our time to our gaming habits, but there is one time we can both agree is most enjoyable: the time we spend indulging in our love of video games together.
Male or female, casual or hardcore, we all play games for the same reason: to have fun.