What is Play?
Now, before I talk about casual games, it would probably be a good idea to talk about some terms that center around games. The first one I’ll talk about is play. You do have to play games after all.
Play Wales, an organisation which works to promote children’s rights to play and make areas for them to do so, defines play as this:
“Play is a spontaneous and active process in which thinking, feeling and doing can flourish; when we play we are freed to be inventive and creative. In play everything is possible with reality often disregarded and imagination and free-flow thinking taking precedence.” (Play Wales, 2014)
This definition ultimately means that play is something that we do for fun, where we invent our own imaginary worlds (or join a pre-created one in the case of playing a board game or video game), and the rules that govern those worlds.
The second definition I found came from Eureka!, an interactive childrens museum based in Halifax. They say this about play:
“For all of us, play is a universal activity that doesn’t necessarily depend on being able to talk the same language just a simple desire to explore and discover, either alone or with others.” (Eureka!, 2015)
Whilst this definition isn’t particularly scientific, it does raise a good point. The language of play is not specific to each person or culture. It allows interaction between people who cannot speak the same language. This is also true for online MMORPGs, such as World of Warcraft, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. It allows for pvp collaboration with other players, who could live next design or to you, or could live thousands of miles away, and not even speak the same language as you, but are still playing alongside you to achieve the same goal regardless.
Structured and Unstructured play
Structured play is where the activity has a distinctive set of rules to adhere to, and objectives to complete. Board and card games fall under this category, as they have specific ways that the game is played, and specific criteria to define who has won. Even Lego’s Creationary is structured. Although there are no rules how to assemble your creation, it still has an objective. Most video games also fall under this category.
Most forms of art would fall under the category of unstructured play. This method of play may have no rules about how it is done (unless you count physics of course), or specific objectives to complete. Some games, such as Minecraft, fall under this category, as the user creates their own objectives rather than following preset ones.
Interestingly, there is a game that switches from structured to unstructured play partway through. EA owned developer Maxis, famous for making the Sims series of games, also created a much less known game called Spore. Spore was a game about evolving a creature from the primordial goop of a planets ocean, to a highly advanced space-faring race. All the way through the game, the player has a choice of how to approach each new creature or situation, what traits to acquire, even what their creature looks like, but there is the specific objective of becoming the apex species. Once the player has reached the final section of the game, the space stage, that’s it. No more evolving, no more objectives, just a sandbox space game where you can forge alliances, trade spice, and even destroy planets. However, you don’t have to do any of it. The only massive evil to defeat is the Grox empire who surround the galactic core, but you don’t even have to go near them if you don’t want to. The only objective in this section of the game, is to have fun.
What is a Casual Game?
Casual gaming is a subject that does not have a definitive term within the gaming industry, so I am going to attempt to find a definition here, as a definition of what I’m trying to accomplish will undoubtedly help with the project.
The first definition I found of what a casual game was, was from a website called Causal Game Revolution:
“A casual board (or card) game is played in under an hour, set up and taught in under 10 minutes, and requires some light strategic thought. Casual games are not specifically marketed to children, but can be enjoyed by anyone from older children to adults.” (Casual Game Revolution, 2015)
Although this definition is about board games, not more modern computer games, it still has a lot of relevance for the definition of a casual game, as many mechanics that appear in Board Games also appear in Computer games. The definition itself was complied by publishers, distributors, designers, retailers, and others involved in the industry, though the article doesn’t say exactly who.
Another definition that I came across was a definition by a named industry professional, James Portnow, as part of an article that he wrote on Gamasutra. He defines a casual game using three points:
“1. A game that can be played in short sessions (10 minutes or less)
2. Lacks finality (there’s no definitive point when you’ve finished the game)
3. Replayable ad nauseam” (Portnow, J., 2009)
Replayable ad nauseam means that it can be played to the point where it is tiring or irritating.
However, both these definitions ignore the fact that some casual gamers play games like Call of Duty or Halo 3, not to get as good as possible, but to socialise with their friends and other people. One definition that takes this into account is a definition of what a casual gamer is from urban dictionary, which states that a casual gamer is:
“A person who plays games but aren’t competitive. Usually they are just there to be social and have fun but if they end up losing in the game they wouldn’t mind. They don’t put in a lot of effort to try to win. They may or may not play long hours of games. A casual gamer doesn’t place their gaming as a first priority.” (Urban Dictionary, 2014)
So, from these definitions, I believe that we can define a casual game as:
“A game which is played for fun only and not to gain levels or skill. Casual games tend to have simple mechanics and are easy to pick-up-and-play, have near-unlimited replay value, and usually have a social or collaborative element in order for people to connect with each other.”
What is a Hardcore game?
As I have found a definition for Casual games, I am going to give a definition for hardcore games, just so that the differences are obvious.
A hardcore game is essentially the polar opposite of a casual game. They require the input of time, effort, and energy to become good at. They often have definitive stories, and tend to be more immersive than casual games, as a less immersive game is easier to jump in and out of as you please. This does not mean to say, however, that hardcore games have to have top-notch graphics or be incredibly complex. Some games that could be considered hardcore are entirely text-based adventures, or old obscure games.
One distinctive part of hardcore gamer culture is esports, where fans of video games gather to watch other people partake in video game tournaments. There are specific events set up just to go and watch the tournaments, but there are online services, such as twitch, where people can view the tournaments.
Hardcore gamers usually hold a certain level of dismissal towards casual gamers, as they do not see them as really having to overcome any barriers of skill to become good at a game. This can lead to the two groups to become frosty and apathetic towards each other.
But this is a big world, there are more types of games out there than just casual and hardcore. I found a company who creates applied games, which they defined as:
“Applied Games have many names. You may have heard of serious games, advergames, exergames, edutainment, gamification, etc. These are all part of the same category. The term Applied Game simply refers to the use of game principles in a strategic way in order to make any subject more accessible, more cost-effective and more fun.” (Center for Applied Games, 2015)
According to this definition, Applied games is simply the use of game theory, in other areas of the world that are not games. Applied games seek to teach, train, or inform people. In other words, they are games that are used for purposes of informing or training, not entertainment.
Play Wales (2014) What is Play and why is it important? [online] Wales: Play Wales, Available from : http://www.playwales.org.uk/mobile/index.php?page_url=informationsheets&lang=eng [Accessed: 27th Oct 2015]
Eureka! (2015) What is Play? [online] Available from: https://www.eureka.org.uk/our-expertise/learning-through-play/what-is-play/ [Accessed: 27th Oct 2015]
Spaghetti Box Kids (2008) Structured vs Unstructured Play: Is That What Really Matters? [online] Available from: http://spaghettiboxkids.com/blog/structured-vs-unstructured-play-is-that-what-really-matters/ [Accessed: 31st Oct 2015]
Casual Game Revolution (2015) What is a Casual Game? [online] Available from: http://casualgamerevolution.com/about/what-is-a-casual-game [Accessed: 27th Oct 2015]
Portnow, J. (2009) Opinion: Redefining the Casual for the Hardcore [online] Available from: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=23249 [Accessed: 27th Oct 2015]
Urban Dictionary (2014) Casual Gamer [online] Available from: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=casual+gamer&defid=7964772 [Accessed: 27th Oct]
Poon, T. (2011) The Hardcore Gaming Myth [online] Available from: http://kotaku.com/5843253/the-hardcore-gaming-myth [Accessed: 27th Oct 2015]
Center for Applied Games (2015) We Make Games Applied! [online] Available from: http://www.centerforappliedgames.com/applied-games/ [Accessed: 27th Oct 2015]