Frequently, I will hear the general sentiment expressed by core gamers that casual gamers are somehow damaging our gaming hobby. Core gamers will either make snide comments on message boards or offhandedly mention the effect of casual gamers in a negative light. I’ve never understood this behavior since at one time, we were essentially all casual gamers.
Remember how the original NES controller had four buttons and a D-pad. The Xbox 360 controller in my living room has four buttons on the top. In total, the controller has 12 game-related buttons, two joysticks, one D-pad and the Xbox Guide button. Essentially, our consoles have gotten more complicated. Arcade games were the same way back in the day. Many of them only used a few buttons and a joystick. Frequently, they focused less on an engrossing story and more on shorter experiences that were meant to be played with other people. Casual gamers are just playing games that are a lot like the games I played as a kid.
Casual gamers mostly play games that are much more limited in scope. They usually involve much simpler controls and a much simpler scope of the game. The examples I would use are Farmville, Mafia Wars, Brain Age, Wii Sports and the Mario Party series. Let’s use Wii Bowling as an example. Once you figure out how to bowl a strike consistently, the game becomes about repeating the same motion perfectly each time. Someone can pick up the controller and bowl pretty quickly, but it’s going to take some practice to get the motion perfect. I’ve heard people throw around this type of gaming as being bite-sized. Short and simple for the most part. Some of the Facebook games go outside this a little, but they are definitely simple.
Look at Facebook and think about how many people you know who play Farmville. What would happen if you got them to play From Dust? The controls really aren’t that much more complicated, and while I wouldn’t advise starting them off in a volcano, I think many of my friends and relatives who only play casual games would pick it up pretty fast. Many of those casual games are so simple that their target audience can open them up in a browser, play them and close the window. How different is Farmville from Animal Crossing? They’re pretty similar actually, but I wouldn’t call Animal Crossing a casual game. Really though, that’s kind of what it is. It’s about running errands, collecting seashells and decorating your house. There were other things in it, but that’s what you spent most of your time doing.
We should care about casual gamers because they are really just gamers like us. They don’t have all the buttons figured out on the PS3 controller or know how to install a video card in their computer, but they know about health bars, mini-maps and HUDs. They don’t get psyched about the new Assassin’s Creed title or read gaming articles online, but they do get psyched about green cows and playing puzzle games on their Nintendo DS. We should also care about them because they will be the ones to understand why games are so important to us. To us, they are what we once were and to them, we are a potential future.
Now that our hobby has matured, it has expanded to include people who were previously uninterested. Soccer moms, grandmas, doctors, lawyers, politicians and strippers can all fit playing some games into their busy day. We should embrace what they bring with them, an interest in the medium and some legitimacy as a diverse form of entertainment. They also represent potential consumers that we could share interests with. Maybe what they want in a game is the same as what I want and we’re both willing to pay for it.
I know many core gamers have been a little upset at casual gamers because of the Wii. They see Nintendo as having abandoned them to appeal to casual gamers who want to play party games. I understand this a little when Nintendo refuses to release some games in certain regions of the world, but what happened when Nintendo started making money hand-over-fist on the Wii? Sony and Microsoft came up with some motion control things of their own. A few weeks ago, I reviewed Fruit Ninja for the Kinect. I had lots of fun and I probably will later since I’m thinking about playing it some more. That’s the important thing. I had fun.
Those casual gamers are partially to thank for games like Fruit Ninja and Rise of Nightmares. Gaming is really about having fun. Sometimes we want games that are visually appealing and art that helps to create a believable world for us to explore. Yes, we want to see the medium grow and be able to tell deep engrossing stories that make us think about ourselves and the world around us, but sometimes those stories can be about smashing fruit. Sometimes we want space odysseys about saving the universe from aliens, but sometimes we just want to milk cows. Give them time, though, and one day maybe they will get tired of milking their blue cows and step up to seducing blue women.