The gaming community is no stranger to labeling and stereotyping. There is a label heard so much within the community and industry that it deserves discussion- “hardcore” gamers, or conversely, “casuals”. The use of this word can get to the point where it can become a cause for a kind of elitism amongst gamers, whether it is a “hardcore” PC gamer turning up his nose at “console kiddies”, or mobile games being shunned for being too “casual”. Gaming journalists and PR people are even toss the word around to place the “PC and Xbox” crowd on one side and the “mobile and Wii” crowd on the other.
Although the “H-word” is given so much use by the industry at large, no one really has a clear idea of what it refers to. One might refer to himself as a “hardcore” gamer because he only plays on a PC, another may do so because they spend as much time gaming as they do on their day job, the next guy may think he’s hardcore because he plays games for the challenge. No matter the reason, the existence of this label creates a divisive attitude based on exclusivity, the word “casuals” coming to refer to people who only play farmville, are either 12 or 45 years old, or happen to be female.
Since it seems to be so important to us, we should ask “How did these labels come to be?” Here’s five perspectives on how I think hardcore gamers could define themselves- you be be the judge.
Those Who Beat the Game
There are some who play games just for fun. And then there are those who play a game for the sake of virtual conquest. These gamers are willing to invest considerable time and effort into reaching a virtual goal, whether it is completing a whole series of games or acquiring the best gear in their favorite MMO. To reach their goals, these hardcore gamers are not afraid of a game that requires much perseverance or skill; in fact, they welcome the challenge or the grind. For them, fun is not the only rewarding part of gaming; there is also pride that comes with their accomplishments.
These players are the types who may only stick to enormous, expansive MMORPGs with a world of achievements and rare items to acquire, or deep strategy games which take countless hours to master. Thus, they might complain of the prevalence of games that “hold your hand” or “try to appeal to everybody”. Crushingly difficult, unforgiving games can fascinate them and feed their appetite for a fresh endeavor. The steep learning curves and plain frustration of the likes of DayZ and Dark Souls does not intimidate these hardcore gamers but keep them up until the wee hours of the morning.
Those Who Wanna Be The Very Best (Like No One Ever Was)
Going a step further than a mere desire for challenge, hardcore gamers only play what requires a lot of knowledge or skill. They are not motivated by boredom or completionistic tendencies. In fact, the games they play probably can’t be “beaten” and most likely aren’t fun for people that only play once a week. They play to become good at the game and become better than others- they play to win.
These are the people that can accumulate hours on Youtube looking up new strategies to use in Starcraft to gain an edge over the competition. They are defined by a sense of failure that can come with playing- but also by the great satisfaction that can come with winning or building up skill.
Playing in a competitive fashion doesn’t even have to mean trying to be better than others- one might even take lengths to challenge themselves. I’m talking about the record breakers and the achievement hunters, and anyone else whose play is motivated by becoming skillful in their game.
Those Who Don’t Sleep
A lot of gamers only want to indulge in their hobby an hour a day. For even more, the only instance they play games are on their phones while commuting or waiting in line. For the hardcore, however, when they’re not working, attending school, or taking care of bodily functions, they are gaming- whether it is on The Sims or World of Warcraft. Only because they have the luxury, of course. Those who cannot afford to spend much time gaming, they deem casuals.
Okay, that might have been an exaggeration- but the hardcore define themselves by spending a majority of their free time gaming- they may be used to sinking so much time into their hobby that their life is scheduled around the game, instead of the other way around. When a guy forgoes a meal, a workout session, or their aunt’s funeral to tend to their virtual hero, he does so because he’s a hardcore gamer.
Those Who Are The PC Master Race
There is a growing set of gamers that who can access pretty much everything gaming has to offer- and that is those who game on PCs. Not only can PC gamers have all the graphical bells and whistles their rigs can handle, they have the opportunity to play games that can afford to be more complicated. That is not to say the PC’s only advantage is in graphics and user interface- a much larger range of games are available to the PC gamer, such as free to play and indie games. Pheonoma in the industry gamers talk about- whether it is Steam, indie games, DLC, graphical fidelity- all are more applicable to PC gamers than any other demographic.
Following this line of reasoning, hardcore gamers believe those serious about games would only pick the PC as their platform of choice. With so much more opportunity to experience all the depth and scope in the field of gaming, its no surprise PC gamers would be more likely to have a greater interest and knowledge than others about anything gaming related, from the technicalities of computer rigs to the state of the gaming industry. Hardcore gamers are defined by not what they play, but how they involve themselves with the industry and getting the most out of their game, which is defined by playing on a PC.
Those Who Are The Escapists
A preference for dark, gritty or serious themes as opposed to more playful and cartoony games is what defines the hardcore gamer. Instead of fat red unicorns and rainbow-farting bunnies, they prefer games that tend to be marred with things like gratuitous violence, racism, and screeches of pain. To them, levity disqualifies a game from being a “hardcore” game- they want games to tell a story, inspire an emotion, or provide a strong sense of escapism.
A regard for immersion may come with hardcore gamers’ exposure to more serious themes. Not only do they want stories that feel realistic and deep, they want to experience a fantastic setting. Instead of settling for the simplicity of two-dimensional puzzle game, hardcore gamers want to be immersed in a world- whether it is the archaic, snowy lands of Skyrim or the huge bustling metropolis that is Liberty City.
Needless to say, gamers are anything but one and the same- they engage in their game in different ways, have a myriad of different tastes, and devote varying amounts of time on their hobby. It’s no surprise that those that feel they are more serious about games- in whichever way- might want to separate themselves from the pack. A label could satisfy those who want to establish an identity because gaming is important to them, whether it is because they want to experience rich storylines, or because they are just plain good at it. The five perspectives above are all appropriate reasons for gamers to separate themselves by the “hardcore” label, but when it generates negative prejudices against people who merely like to play on a console, or only spend an an hour a week gaming, it begins to cross the line of “feeling unique” to “feeling superior”. Although it is healthy to establish an identity based on one’s interests, with legitimate reasons to separate one class of gamer from another, we should be careful of abusing a label to disparage those that simply have a different sense of taste or dedication. After all, “casual” gamers would probably say they enjoy games as much as a “hardcore” gamer- that is what we all have in common.