Gaming : Hello, my name is: _’Gamer’_
I was in a computer store the other day browsing high end graphics cards and the latest games, killing time waiting for a train, when the salesman came up to me and asked in a rather excited manner “does one like playing games? Is Sir a hardcore gamer?” Worrying that if I didn’t stop him talking soon the next few sentences out of his mouth would sound something like “Are there certain games sir likes to play? Does sir like to rub oneself up against the cases, touch them when no one’s looking, OH Suit You Sir!”, I blurted out “err, yes, I’m a fairly hardcore gamer”. The salesman then proceeded to squeak something else at me but I didn’t hear him as what I’d said got me thinking. How do you define ‘hardcore’? How do you define ‘casual’? Is there a middle ground? More importantly, where do I fit in? Am I ‘hardcore’? Even more importantly than that, has the salesman gone yet? I could only answer the last one and it was definitely ‘no’!
On to the train and I’m still thinking. I’ll freely admit that I’m a gamer but that’s about all. I don’t consider myself ‘hardcore’ in the truest sense but by the same token I don’t consider myself ‘casual’, however, seemingly, middle ground isn’t acceptable. You are either one or the other. I found myself stuck with the same unanswerable question that I face whilst stood in the frozen desert section in the supermarket. “Mint choc chip or cookie dough ice cream, why can’t we have the best of both worlds? Damn you Ben and Jerry”.
So what is ‘hardcore’ and what’s not? Hardcore gaming is something that’s developed over the years and is referred to by Wikipedia as ‘gamers whose leisure time is largely dedicated to playing or reading about video games. This type of gamer prefers to take significant time and practice on games’. The media has polarised this image further by creating one of a socially awkward teenager preferring to spend time with virtual friends rather than real ones. An image often used in Hollywood to signify an outsider. Casual is another label that’s been popularised by the media, mainly after the launch of Nintendo’s Wii. Wikipedia refers to a casual gamer as someone ‘whose time or interest in playing games is limited’ often preferring the ‘pick up and play experience that any age group or skill level could enjoy’. By these two definitions I like both aspects. I love to get immersed in the long running story of a role playing game such as Fable 2 or Oblivion, but at the same time I love the idea of picking up a Wii remote and beating the hell out of someone at a game of boxing (virtually of course but having seen the damage Wii remote thrown at speed can do it wouldn’t be hard to do it for real).
I thought to start with, I’d analyse my console history to see if I could build a picture of my gaming habits. It dawned on me that by doing it this way I bordered far more towards the ‘hardcore’ definition. I produce a sharp intake of breath, “Oh dear” I say, forgetting I’m still on the train, panicking those around me. I’ve had at least one console from every generation and at least one from each category, in most cases trading the previous gaming system for the new one at, or slightly after, launch. Looking at more recent times it makes the situation look even more ‘hardcore’. Previously I’d only generally have one console at a time but in the past year I’ve managed to work my way to owning every one of the current generation consoles simultaneously. Bringing it right up to date, I recently sold my Wii (The novelty of the console may have worn off but the innuendos still make me giggle like a school girl) which to many, including the media, is considered a ‘casual’ gamer’s console, stating a marked preference for the more involving, more in depth (more ‘hardcore’) games of the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. Hardcore: 1, Casual: 0
Then, as the train hurtled through the English countryside, my brain hurtled towards another thought. This time I thought I’d look at my actual game playing habits. This instantly started to swing the argument the other way. I thought ‘with all these consoles I must play games all the time, heck, I only played Bioshock recently, when was it….erm… well I watched that film last night, oh, and I was out at the snooker hall with Dan on Wednesday…err… Tuesday was my turn to cook and the subsequent kitchen decontamination took all evening’. I continued to work back and it turned out I last played a game 7 days previously. Then it occurred to me, having thought about Bioshock, the last save file for that particular game was Feb 2008. I hadn’t played it in nearly 14 months! I tend to wander through games at my leisure, often playing frequently for a week or so after a release and then it slowly trails off. Not exactly ‘hardcore’ by any means. The score was even, Hardcore: 1, Casual: 1. Then I remembered why I hadn’t played Bioshock for so long. I have about 29 other games and that’s just on the Xbox. Hardcore: 2, Casual: 1. Bugger.
Ok, I thought ‘let us look at another aspect’ (by this point I was worrying about my use of ‘us’ when I was the only one there. The guard on the train clearly saw my worried expression as he said “Don’t worry, all I want is to check your ticket”… ‘What? Oh. Yes, sorry’). This other aspect, once I’d got my train of thought back, was my use of the surround gaming community. Referring back to the Wikipedia definition, I don’t really read magazines about gaming, only dipping in to the odd magazine in the newsagents if I’m intrigued by a cover story, usually just killing time waiting for a train. I’ve already spent my pennies on an Autosport magazine subscription. As far as the extra features available on Microsoft’s Xbox Live and Sony’s Playstation Network go, well…. those of you that have read my article **’Home’ Isn’t Where the Heart is’** will know that I really don’t get on well with Sony’s ‘Home’ network. A place where you can go to chat and play games arcade games with fellow gamers, check out the latest releases and shop for virtual items. I’d rather suck my own socks thank you very much! The Xbox Live features fair better in my opinion as it’s a little more intuitive and lets the user choose what they’re exposed to and what to ignore. However, the downside to it all; this Xbox content is premium content and therefore costs money. I really can’t be bothered to hand over hard earned cash in order to be able to play games online against random people. People who seem no more than 8 years old and are endlessly amused by ‘your mum’ jokes. People who shout endless torrents of abuse at you when you kill them, ruining they’re perfect 1 million kills, 0 deaths ratio whilst you’re trying to rectify your 0 kills, 1 million deaths ratio. There’s also the endless radio chatter. “Oh man, did you see that kill?” someone screams over the radio. “YES, I was the one doing the dying; you don’t need to walk me through it again.” I will freely admit that in the grand scale of worldwide game playing, I suck, big time. I’d probably get better practice but I simply don’t find it fun playing against overenthusiastic people that are so dedicated to the game that they lose all notion of the fact that ‘it’s just a game’. Is that the statement of a ‘hardcore’ gamer? Er…No. Hardcore 2; Casual 2
It’s at this point that I stopped thinking (not an unusual occurrence if my girlfriend is to be believed). Why do I have to justify what my habits are? Surely I am a gamer first and foremost, whatever my habits are beyond that are irrelevant. I may simply drop in, casually, on a game for 15 mins with a group of mates or I may sit down for hours each day, on my own, to play through the latest blockbuster game in a ‘hardcore’ manner. It’s all a modern phenomena anyway. Before the Wii, and to some extent the Nintendo DS, the tag was, more often than not, ‘gamer’, the only variation was how often you played. Yes, the extreme of that gamer ‘label’ could be referred to as hardcore but it wasn’t a label in itself. It’s only since the emergence of ‘casual’ as a label on its own that ‘hardcore’ has had to become the polar opposite. Bruce Lee famously once said “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water in a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water in a bottle it becomes the bottle. Water can flow; creep, drip or it can crash. Be water my friend…be water.” I couldn’t agree more. I’m not a hardcore gamer. I’m not a casual gamer. I’m going to be water instead!