Are Hardcore Games better than Casual Ones?

It seems that what makes or breaks a system is whether or not it has an extensive library of hardcore games. A lot of people label the Wii and DS as “kiddie” systems because of the supposed lack of such titles. Some critics often consider the Wii a fad because it doesn’t have enough hardcore titles to help it stand out from the other next-gen systems (among other reasons). My problem with this paradigm is that while a lot of gamers think this way, most them don’t even know what a hardcore game is. I have heard everything from “if the game has an E rating then it can’t be hardcore”, to “all hardcore games take a really long time to beat”. These are common misconceptions about what hardcore games really are. So, before we can discuss the idea of hardcore games being the better “type” of game, I feel that we should really define what they are first.

Based off my experience with the gaming industry and my many chats with experienced gamers, I have come to a conclusion about the difference between hardcore games and casual ones; hardcore video games require a certain skill level in order to be enjoyed, while casual games are the ones that can be played with little or no gaming ability. Madden and Gears of War are two examples of what I feel a hardcore game is. These two games require a decent amount of skill to be considered enjoyable. If you don’t know how to pass the ball in Madden or how to perform an active reload in Gears, you probably won’t enjoy the inevitable outcome. With most people it doesn’t matter to them if they lose the football game or die in a match of Gears, however, if they can’t understand what’s going on around them, it’s more than likely that they aren’t going to want to play for much longer. Before you get all huffy about how “you” were able to pick up the controller one day and chainsaw half the east cost, you have to understand what I mean about skill levels. If you are a gamer (as in you play a lot of games or play one type of game for a very long time) your skill level is higher than that of just about anyone else. If you were playing third person shooters before playing Gears of War, you probably didn’t have too much of a problem adapting. So, using my definitions, Gears might not seem like a hardcore game because you probably found it easy to play, but that doesn’t mean everyone felt the way you did. My example of casual games would be Brain Age or Wii Sports. Both games take little to no skill to be enjoyable; I mean my mom plays Wii sports from time to time. Granted, she has played games in the past (Pac Man being her favorite), she is by no means a heavily skilled gamer.

Now that we got that out of the way, the question still stands; which is the better game type? Well, that all depends on the game and the people playing it. First we will start with the games. Take Mass Effect for an example. I am pretty sure that we all can agree that this is a hardcore game. As great as this game may be, about a week after its release there were a multitude of previously owned copies available on store shelves (the ones that except trade-ins of course). The main reason it was traded in was because players had beaten the game. They felt that there wasn’t much replay value left once the story was completed. Even with the promise of bonus downloadable content, gamers still chose to trade it in. This also happened with Bioshock for the Xbox 360. On the other hand, it was very difficult to find a used copy of Call of Duty 4. Gamers who love first person shooters flocked to this game upon release and are currently still playing it. Now this could be because it has a nice multiplayer component that adds to the replay value or that it is just an awesome game. Either way, people still play it. The same thing goes with the casual games. Brain Age hit the million-sold mark shortly after its launch. I did not begin to see many previously owned copies in stores until Brain Age 2 dropped. But for every Brain Age there was a Carnival Games (I shouldn’t have to say more).

Now lets consider the gamers, which can be broken down into four groups. Some gamers are only in it for the challenge; meaning, once they beat a title and there is little to no difficulty left in the game, they trade it in. Then there are the gamers who only enjoy playing with other people; Mario Party is there favorite game when they have friends over. Then there are the people who enjoy a good story, and only play games where the developers draft novelists to compose a drama for them. Finally, there is a fourth group consisting of gamers who do not fit neatly into any of the other three groups. They play games just to have fun. Most gamers come from this group. The reason I am talking about gamers and the games they play, is because what’s fun to one person might not be fun for someone else.

For me personally, I don’t think there is a clear yes or no answer as there are good and bad games out there in both camps. On one hand, you have hardcore games coming out where the developers’ focus was mainly on the story and not on gameplay. So, for a lot of gamers, once the story ends, so does their relationship with the title (unless there is a sequel on the way). I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the idea of spending $59.99 ($62 with tax) on a game that I will only play through once. Especially, when I can still have fun playing games that came out eighteen years ago. To this day, Super Mario 3 is still fun and there aren’t even any gimmicks or extended multiplayer online components to help the replay value. On the other hand, there are some great hardcore games that really push the boundaries in terms of what games can do. Everything from displaying a character’s emotions realistically, to discovering unique ways of playing classic genres mostly stem from the hardcore branch of the gaming tree.

Most hardcore gamers out there wouldn’t be where they are now with out playing a casual game first (I said most, not all). Because casual games grab people who aren’t gamers, they help teach people what we, as seasoned gamers already know…video games are one of the best forms of entertaining media-period! Also, some games that were considered casual often turn hardcore. Pac Man can be considered casual, because anyone can pick up the controller and play, but it can also be considered a hardcore game since not everyone can achieve the top high score. Pac Man even had a world championship competition held in New York not too long ago, where the new Pac Man Championship Edition was unveiled. Where casual games start to falter is when they are clearly uninspired. This usually happens when a developer is more concerned with cashing in on a fad instead of making a good game. “Hey the Nintendogs game is making a killing! Lets make a barley playable game with a bunch of dogs and call it (fill in the blank) Dogs. Oh, and lets use the font that Nintendo used as well”. I’m sure the conversations are much more involved than that, but sometimes I wonder.

Bottom line, I am a gamer. I love to play video games. For me to buy a game, I only require that the game is fun enough that, even after I have done everything I could in the game, I still want to play it later. It doesn’t matter if it is hardcore or not. But then again, that’s just me. As I said before, it all depends on the gamer and what they feel is fun. However, just because a game is rated Mature doesn’t mean it’s hardcore and that you should buy it. Some of those games are the opposite of “mature” (Manhunt 2 comes to mind). Just because a game is rated “E” doesn’t mean it is going to be a sub par experience. Hardcore games don’t make a system. Good games make a system. Now you might ask, “well what’s a good game”? I would respond with, “now, that’s a good question!

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