This is a continuation of my rant from two weeks ago concerning the definition of “hardcore” gaming. I have no intention of making this a scientific endeavor, nor do I care if my views come across as simple-minded or whatever, I simply wish to dive into my own head and see where I stand on this “issue” as a gamer. I know I’m not alone in the way I feel, and the conclusions I hope to come to below must be shared by someone out there, even if only on the Interwebs. Well, let’s do this:
The Definition of “Hardcore”
I DO NOT believe that a hardcore gamer plays any one particular genre of video game; however, I DO believe that a hardcore gamer is NOT exclusive to any particular gaming genres. If I step on some toes here, let me apologize, I do not wish to alienate anyone or purposefully make anyone upset, but allow me to list some of my “pet-peeves” from the current gaming climate (from my personal experiences):
1. If you only play one particular game/genre, you are not a REAL hardcore gamer. A hardcore Halo or Madden player perhaps, but NOT a hardcore GAMER.
2. I don’t own, nor do wish to own at the moment, an Xbox 360. You aren’t hardcore simply because you do.
3. If you buy a game because you saw it on TV and it looked a lot like GTA/Halo/Madden/Call of Duty and lots of people seem to be playing it, you didn’t make a hardcore game purchase, you fell for the HYPE.
Now, allow me to better explain myself. I know several people that at various times have stepped to me with these and other retarded ways of thinking. I honestly get annoyed with some of these folks as they are not really hardcore gamers in my eyes – gamers yes, but far from hardcore. I believe that there is far more to gaming than the FPS or the sports simulation or the fighter. I don’t play many games that fall into these categories, and you may question my reactions to certain players of these games, but I do, in fact play FPSs, sports games, and fighters on a regular basis. I own both Modern Warfare titles and love the hell out of them. Madden is a guaranteed purchase from me every two years (I tend to get the odd numbered titles). When I need to pound a guy into the dirt, I often have a hard time deciding whether to do so in Tekken, Soul Calibur, or Mortal Kombat.
My taste in games leans more toward engaging stories and narratives, micromanagement, and customization. As you may guess, I tend to play a healthy dose of RPGs. This does not, however mean that I only play RPGs or that my gaming experience is overloaded with the genre. Quite the contrary, I often play a variety of titles (many of which technically span multiple genres). I buy, rent, and demo anything that catches my eye, regardless of what it is. Even the cute and the quirky. Some of my favorite games as of late have been “non-standard” affairs: Everyday Shooter, Echochrome, The Last Man, Noby Noby Boy and Mafia Wars (great time killers), and, most recently, Heavy Rain. Some of these titles could be labeled “casual,” but as I will explain shortly, that doesn’t matter to a real “hardcore” gamer.
You see, to be “hardcore” in my eyes, you must be dedicated to not just your passion – not just your game of choice – but to your hobby. This means that you are a gamer first and a mere player second. You might very well be devoted to one or two titles, or religiously be a practitioner of a single game type, but you aren’t automatically put off with the idea of playing other games. Your library may not include many different titles, but you’ve played a variety of titles. Think about it, to fully appreciate the current medium, a familiarity with certain “staples” or “classics” is a must. I don’t really mean that you should have played a title because everyone said you should. No, there are certain titles that have transcended mere word-of-mouth credibility: Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy VII, Grand Theft Auto III, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Super Metroid, Mega Man II…
That list can go on for a while, and if you want to call yourself a true “hardcore” gamer, then you should have played most of those titles by now (or at the very least, you should be intimately aware of their impact on gaming and the mainstream). If you can’t hold an intelligent conversation about THESE games, you are NOT hardcore.
“Hardcore” Games – Old Skewl
Is there such thing as a “hardcore” game, or a game for hardcore gamers? Well, I want to say yes, but there are clearly games being developed now that appeal directly to the more traditional gamer that are far from the complex, in-depth games that are normally associated with “hardcore gamers.” Games like Rock Band and Super Smash Bros. fall into this category. These are games that are simple enough for the inexperienced gamer to get into, but deep enough for the advanced gamer to find, learn, and exploit the meaty underlining mechanics.
Of course, there was a time when accessibility was not a concern for developers. There was a time when games were hard – on purpose. The Mega Man franchise comes to mind here. With Mega Man 10 now out on XBL, Virtual Console, and PSN, a new generation of gamers can experience what it was like to play games back in the late 80s and 90s, when there were no tutorials, infinite lives due to checkpoints, or even (in some cases) save slots. To beat a game like Contra or Mega Man in this period required real skill and dedication. If you wanted to beat Legend of Zelda, Metroid, or Solstice on the NES, you were pretty much obligated to draw out the world map yourself because these games never give you a map and they happen to be hundreds of panels/rooms long. Hell, even the iconic Super Mario Bros. gets pretty unforgiving in the later worlds; I’ve only beaten it once, ever – and then with assistance.
Does that make me (or any others in the same boat) less hardcore? I don’t think so. Every gamer is different. Their skill set and abilities will vary vastly from person to person. Experience and practice are the only way to improve. We get better as gamers in general as we play. Thing is, most games require similar skills and abilities, so simply playing games in general will make you better at playing games.
Frame counting. Requires precision timing and excellent reflexes. This skill is essential in many fighting titles; however, frame counting can allow you to play through Super Metroid at blistering, game-breaking speeds.
Gaming conventions. You pop in a platformer and you expect the jump button to be “A” or “X;” you can basically play any platformer with just bit of general knowledge. If you reach a room in a game with no enemies, a safe-room, you can generally expect a save point/checkpoint, a set-piece moment, cut scene, and/or boss fight in the next room or area. Conventions like these make our experience both predictable and manageable, we aren’t overwhelmed by the set of tasks set before us, but instead we can focus on those tasks.
Basically, if you don’t play games, the skills, knowledge, and abilities needed to play most games will be lacking in you. A game like Mega Man 10 will kick your ass and you won’t like it. You will be frustrated – in a bad way. If you play games, the insane difficulty of Mega Man 10 will make you frustrated, but you will enjoy it every time you bang your head through your wall in that frustration. You will understand it (the difficulty) and will not feel like the task is impossible, but rather that you just aren’t on the proper level of skill yet. You know you can get there and will strive to make it there.
Then there are titles that are made to be accessible to a wider audience but include content and gameplay meant to satisfy the traditional gamer. Generally every major release that gets coverage of any sort in the media falls in this category. I know this is a huge generalization that is not always the case, but for the moment, we’ll run with it. The big budget titles that get released tend to cater to the gamers. the Wii has made its name by NOT directly focusing on the current gamer population, but by expanding into the underservered non-gamer and “casual” gamer markets. There is a large difference between what we will call a ‘hardcore” game and a collection of basic mini-games. How so? the skill required to play and the expectations of the developer for the player(s). The makes of God of War III assume and require a certain amount of gaming knowledge from the player that is not expected or required from a player who plays Nintendo’s Wii Sports. In fact, Wii Sports is designed to teach players how to play on a Wii and most mini-game packages on the Wii simply emulate Wii Sports. You kinda need to already know how to use a Duelshock controller to play God of War, despite the fact that the game will most likely include some sort of tutorial on how to play the game.
We will continue this discussion at a later date. I’ll dive into my interpretation of the “casual” gamer and “casual” games to conclude this series of rand()thoughts. Please feel free to leave your comments below.