What kind of gamer am I supposed to be? I guess I'm having a bit of an identity crisis.
I've been playing pretty fervently since the 80s, so maybe I'm a traditional gamer. I enjoy a nice challenge and a deep assortment of systems, so certainly I'm a core gamer. Sometimes I'll play an old NES game, does that make me a retro gamer? And I own Wii Sports, and played it with coworkers and family, I guess I'm also a casual gamer. But then I tried to earn an array of skill-based medals in Tennis, does that push me back to core gamer? Certainly the time I've been spending playing Words With Friends and Scramble on my phone with my wife and mother make me part of the casual plague that is the mobile gamer. And sometimes I'll go months between games, I wonder how much time in there has to pass to register me first as a lapsed gamer, and finally as a non gamer.
So where are the games marketed directly to me, to my defined gaming niche? Where are the titles for the traditional-core-retro-casual-mobile-lapsed-non-gamer? Where is my place in the war of tastes, in the clash between those that wish the industry to persist unchanged, and those who willingly wish for its destruction?
Oh wait, this is stupid.
The problem with gamer labels is that they are designed to exclude. A "casual game" made for "casual gamers." This serves only to divide us—to paint groups as distinct, as unchanging. The terms have been embraced by the community, be it fans or developers. Sometimes used pridefully, sometimes to deride. Often times just to paint a scenario as "us vs them." The real joke here, though, is that "they" don't exist.
There is no such thing as a "casual" gamer. Or a "core" gamer, while we're at it. These terms describe moods, not people. Sometimes all I want to do is poke around on my phone, and sometimes I want to hit dudes with swords for 6 hours straight. I do not become a different person in between. It's simply a matter of how deeply I want to immerse myself in any one gaming experience, and what my tolerance for frustration happens to be at any one point in time. I might even be really good at action games, and find that playing them is more of a casual and relaxing activity for me, while trying to beat my wife in Scramble on my phone is an extremely stressful and "hardcore" experience due to her almost thaumaturgic ability to word-smith. How do you label what's happening there?
Obviously you will find people that are more or less predisposed to one mood or another, and this is what it means to refer to a "casual" or "core" gamer. I question how well-defined these people are, though. I think a self-professed "core" gamer is probably in reality more of an all-around kind of guy, one who more than anything just "likes games a lot," and will probably play them in plenty of situations, across a variety of moods. And I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a "casual" gamer, an individual that only plays word games and Angry Birds on their iPhone, who hasn't cursed and fumed at a particular letter-placement or bird-shot in a fashion befitting the most irate of traditional gaming sensibilities.
The main fallacy here is trying to define any one game as "casual" or "core." As noted, the most hardcore game can be played in a casual way, and games marketed as ideal for the "casual masses" can be played with vigor and attention. And yet, games continue to be trumpted about by gamers and executives as belonging to one category or the other. One's gaming mood is not what classifies a game—the traits that are actually causing division here are accessibility and volume.
Arguably, any game should be accessible. A labyrinthine interface and progression could turn away even the most dedicated gamer. What many people identify as the hallmark of a "casual" game, though, is when accessibility is placed at the forefront of the development and marketing effort. Because a game is easy to approach, and doesn't intimidate those who are unfamiliar with gaming tropes, the "casual" label is often attached, with derision. Accessibility does not, and should not, have to imply an experience that can not appeal to traditional gaming sensibilities.
What a "core" game purports to value is volume. A huge number of systems, of levels, of textures and effects. Something that reeks of developer effort, of time spent, and of time yet spent by the eager gamer. Volume often works against accessibility, however, providing an experience that can be intimidating to those who are not in the appropriate mood. This can be mitigated if the focus is placed less on volume, and more on depth. If the systems are simple, but grow in complexity as the gamer pushes them, you can reclaim a bit of that lost accessibility in a way that doesn't alienate someone who associates accessibility with shallowness.
The holy grail is a game that can meet all of these needs at once. If a game can provide mechanics that are both deep and accessible, and give way to a large volume of content, we've hit upon a kind of software that can bridge this fabricated "core/casual" gap. Nintendo is probably the king of this kind of software, designed to be accessible to basically anyone, but rife with depth (and often volume). Regardless of your particular gaming mood at any point in time, you can probably find something for you in there. It's a hard balance to maintain, as some of Nintendo's more hand-holdey recent franchise entries can attest. But it's a goal worth striving for.
When you start looking into each of these elements, it's much harder to slap a one-size-fits-all label like "casual" or "core" on an experience. Depending upon any individual's tastes, the same experience may be suited to a completely different mood. Nintendo seems like they may be aware of this, to a degree, as their game-rating systems built into the Nintendo Channel on the Wii ask, "Which gaming mood best suits this title?" The potential responses: casual or hardcore. When the distinction is a matter of user rating and mood, and not of rote game description, you can see how subjective any one experience can be. On the 3DS rating system, they've removed the distinction altogether.
We're all gamers, every person alive. It's probably impossible to find someone who has never "played a game." Video games are just a medium like any other, and anyone who is properly motivated might step in at any level, depending upon their mood at the time. By trying to segment people into cleanly defined buckets, all we do is imply that there's only one way to play any one game, and one kind of person who'd like to play it. I can tell you from personal experience: that's a load of crap.