“It was a simpler time, when games were primarily marketed to children, and they were easy enough that your sister could jump in for a few hours and not be intimidated”
Why do I love Bejeweled 3?
More interestingly, why is my first reaction to keep my love of Bejeweled 3 secret? Why, when people pick up my iphone, do I wince at the thought that they may see games such as ‘Cooking Mama’ and ‘Diner Dash?’ I started writing this blog to talk about the game mechanics of Bejeweled 3, to show why it’s such a solid game, why it belongs among the ranks of RPGs and FPSs and why it should not be dismissed as simply a puzzle game.
But then I started thinking about the hierarchy of games I have constructed in my head, and I wondered why puzzle games are seen as so inferior to more serious (not in the education sense) games like COD or StarCraft or WoW. What is it about certain games that make it so easy to write a blog on Civ 5 or Fable 3 but so difficult to talk about Bejeweled 3 or Diner Dash? I could only think of one thing: hardcore gamers play serious games casual gamers play puzzle games. I want to be seen as a hardcore gamer, not a casual one. And such labels are dependant on the types of games we play, right?
Why does this matter?
It matters because when hierarchicalized terms are perpetuated without being interrogated, we disenfranchise whole groups of people. This means that those people get fewer advertising dollars spent on them, they don’t get the good designers, they don’t get the good developers, they don’t get the good ideas, they don’t have people willing to spend time and money and creativity on making gaming better for them; they are, essentially, second-class citizens.
And this becomes a cycle. As fewer companies put money into puzzle games because they aren’t seen as ‘real’ games, then the game quality plummets, fewer people buy them, and even fewer companies will make them. It seems extreme that just by creating this little distinction between hardcore gamers and casual gamers that an entire audience could be left out, but it happened. This is why no one in the industry saw the facebook game revolution coming; the video game industry had self-homogenized to the point that they had stifled innovation. They believed in their own stereotypes of gamers. And this led big companies to be blindsided when a few little companies decided to take the other 70% of gamers seriously.
Getting Down to Basics: Definitions of a ‘Hardcore Gamer’
I found three solidly used (and I stress competing) definitions of hardcore gamers:
1. A hardcore gamer is one who spends most of their leisure time playing games
2. A hardcore gamer is one who masters the games they play
3. A hardcore gamer is one who plays many types of games, masters several, and heavily participates in the community surrounding video games (ie. the history of games, forums, wikis, etc)
I didn’t find this as part of a definition, but I did find several sources indicating that most hardcore players have a disdain for certain consoles, particularly the wii and the DS. The sense I get is because those consoles are seen as kids’ toys. For example, one author wrote (in all seriousness, mind you): “Ask most girls in their mid twenties, and they’ll tell you they loved Super Mario Brothers 3 or Bubble Bobble. It was a simpler time, when games were primarily marketed to children, and they were easy enough that your sister could jump in for a few hours and not be intimidated.”
Also, I’d like to note that having fun is apparently not on anyone’s list of what it means to be a hardcore gamer, which I find kind of sad. The dictionary defines ‘hardcore’ as
1. Unswervingly committed; uncompromising; dedicated
2. Pruriently explicit; graphically depicted (this is referring to porn, and I’m pretty sure it has no bearing here; so I’m going to ignore it) or
3. Being so without apparent change or remedy; chronic Let’s examine the 1st definition of hardcore gamer.
Is #1 (the leisure time player) unswervingly committed to gaming? I’d say that spending a majority of your free time does not necessarily mean you’re committed. You could play because of boredom, and it does not necessarily mean you even care about what game you’re playing. All it really takes to be committed to something you spend time doing is a conscious attitude. For example, I’m not really committed to eating breakfast every day. I don’t care if I skip it; I have no particular attachment to breakfast; but, I will eat it if it’s there, which is almost all mornings. However, I could be a hardcore breakfast eater who avoid skipping breakfast at all costs; I could spend time planning what to eat for breakfast the next day; I might even be upset the whole day if I have a bad breakfast. Essentially, this part of being hardcore is nothing but an attitude. Do #1’s appear to be chronic players? I’d say that if they indeed spend a majority of their free time playing games, then yes, they are chronic players.
How about #2s? Does being a master of a game necessarily mean that they are 1) dedicated or 3) chronic players? I think it would be dependant on the player and on the game. Mastering something does nto necessarily entail any sort of commitment to it. Sure, it would be difficult to master WoW without putting in some serious hours; but then again, what does it mean to master an open-world MMORPG like WoW? Do you master it by completing achievements? By PVPing? By seeing bleeding edge content? I think you’d find much disagreement about what it means to master WoW amongst the community. I personally think this is far too subjective of a criteria to be applied.
So, on to #3. The 3rd type of player is certainly more thought through. This also included the gaming community, something that I obviously am quite dedicated to. I care about the community around games. I care a lot. I do agree with the definition in that those who invest in the gaming community probably also probably dedicate most of their leisure time to games and are chronic gamers. One problem, though, is that some games lend themselves to community building and some don’t. Not many forums have popped up around strategizing for games like Diner Dash and Bejeweled 3. But is that gaming community about theorycraft or is it about something bigger? I certainly have a huge community that I play CityVille with. I ask people to send me items, and even more so than many games that would be considered ‘hardcore’ I rely on those people to get me through the game. Most of my neighbors are my RL friends, and so we talk about FB games in person all the time. I feel this is as much a community as forums. Community is a pretty broad word that can manifest itself in all sorts of surprising ways.
What Does All This Mean?
I’m suggesting three things:
1. a major component of being a hardcore gamer is attitude. If you believe yourself to be committed, if you feel like you are invested in the game and the community, or if you have mastered a game according to your own definition, then you are a hardcore gamer.
2. There is no evidence to suggest that particular consoles or particular games are necessarily hardcore while some are necessarily for kids or for casual gamers.
3. Most importantly, perpetuating these terms without interrogating them does incredible damage to the community gamers claim to love.
While there is nothing wrong with being proud of your gaming accomplishments, supporting a system that disenfranchises so many people has material and psychological consequences. Drawing a line about what is a real game and what is child’s play is dangerous, especially since many of us came from the same origins, playing the same games as children, and it unfairly and unwarrantedly excludes people who could potentially enrich and innovate the gaming community.
Finally, what does this have to do with gender? Everything. Women are again and again identified as casual gamers and excluded from hardcore gaming groups. This means that few of them are taken seriously in the gaming community. As fellow podcasters have noted, they are told again and again that they cannot get advanced copies of games because “women only play the Sims.” According to the quote I used above, women can only comprehend games that are made for children, that are simple, or that require little experience to play. This perpetuates the cycle of keeping gaming as a boy’s activity, that is until a few people decide to explode that stereotype and rake in the cash (as the facebook game developers did). The bottom line? Delineating between who is in the club and who is not is not fair to players, hurts innovation, stifles growth, keeps women out, and is pretty much completely groundless.
Oh, right, one more thing: Why do I love Bejeweled 3? Because it’s freakin; awesome. And I’m not ashamed to say it.