Metagaming: Casual vs Hardcore

I teach first year computer game development at my university, and one of the questions we sometimes use as a way to start some discussion within class is, “What is the difference between hardcore and casual gamers?”

Theory: “Hardcore gamers are the ones who spend hours and hours mastering a game.”

But my Mom spent hours and hours mastering Lemmings. She saved so many little green-haired dudes that those lemmings should have been building shrines to her as their hero. Is my mother a hardcore gamer?

Theory: “Hardcore gamers play games that require excellent hand eye coordination, like first person shooters”

World of Goo requires coordination. Slinging goo balls takes skill — ask any kid with an especially large booger attached to a finger and ready to flick. But I don’t hear many people saying that they’re hardcore because they got the Obsessive Completion Distinction (OCD) flags in World of Goo.

I had this great conversation with a student the other day. I asked him what he felt defined hardcore gamers:

Him: “Oh, people who play lots of different types of games”
Me: “Oh, I play a bunch of different genres.”
Him: “Yeah, but a hardcore gamer has to spend hours mastering them.”
Me: “Do you *know* how many hours I logged on WoW?”
Him: “But WoW isn’t a game for hardcore gamers…”

I find it fascinating that as we drill down further to the definition of a hardcore gamer, it feels a little like the core answer is “not you.”

I don’t really consider myself a hardcore gamer, so I’m hardly offended. Those hardcore folk are crazy go far beyond what is considered normal by most of society, after all. Maybe that’s my definition? I’m happy to play what I want. I pretty much consider it a win if people think of me as a gamer, ’cause that means they’re more likely to invite me to play new stuff with them.

But the question has made me think, is “hardcore gamer” one of those moving targets where women are just somehow not allowed to fit the definition?

Or maybe it doesn’t matter: Would you like to play a game?

Ed. Note. — I’ve edited this post because it contained ableist language, which we are working on not using here. Some comments that were made before this edit also have ableist language along similar lines. I’ll be deleting them and contacting the commenters by email to ask them to rephrase and resubmit. — Skud

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About terriko

Terri has a PhD in horribleness, assuming we can all agree that web security is kind of horrible. She stopped working on skynet (err, automated program repair and AI) before robots from the future came to kill her and got a job in open source, which at least sounds safer. Now, she gets paid to break things and tell people they're wrong, and maybe help fix things so that people won't agree so readily with the first sentence of this bio in the future. Terri writes/tweets under the name terriko, enjoys making things and mentoring others and has a plain ol' home page at

63 thoughts on “Metagaming: Casual vs Hardcore

  1. Hazel

    I don’t usually think of myself as a gamer because that would imply interest in a whole bunch of games I’m just not interested in. Occasionally I try to shop around for another game I might like, but I really don’t know where to start. See, I’m a simmer. I have terrible hand-eye coordination, I’m not very competitive (mainly because I lose) and I get bored at the idea of shooting zombies or cleaving orcs for hours on end.

    The things I like about games are exactly the opposite of what “real gamers” like, whether they’re hardcore or not. I like flexible games that can be played more than one way. I like games with no set ending, and with a lot of options to explore. I like building things. I like fantasy and science fiction, but I want to be the dragon, not slay the dragon. What I wouldn’t give for a fantasy flavored simulation game…

    1. lian

      @ Hazel:

      Brainy Gamer mentioned the forthcoming game called “Fantasy Life” which sounds a bit like what you’re looking for?
      (There’s already the Harvest Moon simulation series, which has fantasy titles as well, but not sure if that’s your cup of tea: IIRC, it’s pretty farming-centered.)

      I do agree that hardcore vs. casual gamer is simply no meaningful distinction, at least not the way it’s being used (hardcore games: aimed at traditional demographic, high difficulty level, or whatever). They boys’ club mentality is nicely echoed in the endless, and endlessly ridiculous, complaint that casual gamers are ‘ruining games’ by ‘forcing’ companies to water down their products. (Hmm now where have I heard that one before..? Why yes! Girl cooties!)

      I can spend a hundred hours at Dragon Age:Origins and simultaneously play poupée girl, a fashion-dress-up social game, which may be the *definition* of casual. Nevermind that there are hardcore poupée players too. So my definition of hardcore is just your level of obsession plus the amount of time you spend on a game. *shrugs*

      By that same measure, I’m a gamer, nevermind that my hand-eye coordination sucks and I don’t play a wide range of genres. I always tell my ‘I could never get into games, I’m too bad at it’ girlfriends — it’s not really a matter of skill. It’s a matter of persistence: with practice, I can play FPS and platformers too. But girls are *supposed* to suck at math hand/eye coordination, so with the constant reminder ‘I don’t have the right aptitude for math this game’ at the back of your mind it’s no wonder you may get frustrated easily and stop playing. Insta-self-fulfilling prophecy! Neat how that works, huh?

      1. Tiferet

        If the way I play Poupee Girl isn’t hardcore I don’t know what is.

        I also don’t understand why people who spend hours typing and working in programs like Photoshop think they have terrible hand-eye coordination. I can’t play ball for shit, but I can do anything I need to do on a computer.

        Then again I thought I sucked at math till I realised how much math I do when I make and/or resize dress patterns and have to figure out not only how many inches to add and subtract to each dimension of the garment but also where the inches need to be added/subtracted based on the shape of the body I’m dealing with.

    2. @thorfi

      I think “hardcore gamer” is one of those definitions that nobody is
      allowed to fit into. :-)

      It’s pretty much an exclusionary club word, used by some to mean “Me
      and my peeps are better, kthxbai.” I’m not sure anyone has an actual
      workable objective and consistent definition of “hardcore gamer” at all.

  2. Vicky

    I’d prefer your first theory / counterexample with “Dad” or “Brother” rather than “Mom”. Otherwise it’s too easy to think “Of course your Mom isn’t a hardcore gamer” without actually thinking about why not, and why the fact she plays Lemmings obsessively doesn’t make you one.

    But yes, I think you’re right about the moving target that women can’t qualify for.

    1. Terri

      The example isn’t a theoretical one: my mother really is a skilled Lemmings player. (Along with many other games… I think Picross is the one she’s playing most recently.)

      But the whole point of starting with her as example was to get you to start with knee-jerk, “of course your mother isn’t a hardcore gamer” and then by the end to get you thinking, “but why isn’t she?”

      I mean, even I have trouble thinking of her as a hardcore gamer, but the skill and touch of obsession necessary to solve every single level of every Lemmings game does seem like the hallmarks of something a little more hardcore.

      1. Andrew Ducker

        Would you mother put time into a game _before_ starting it?

        “Casual” gamers will frequently put in immense time to playing a game once they’ve found it fun, but they don’t seem as interested in investing time upfront to understand games that are massively complex.

        Casual gamers want to be having fun right from the beginning, because otherwise why would they be playing a game…

        1. John 'Warthog9' Hawley

          So the fact that someone is a ‘casual’ gamer precludes them from being hardcore about it?

          I don’t see the fact of being a hardcore gamer as being tied to one type or genre of game. The minute you tie hardcore to a genre you preclude a huge number of people that are just as passionate and interested in their own niche, which I would argue makes them just as hardcore as any other passionate gamer.

          My father plays Civilization: Call to Power almost every day, and has since I installed it on his computer on a whim to see if he would like it. He’s logged countless hours in the convening years (CTP came out in 1999), but most people would not claim he is ‘hardcore’ because most people don’t see turn based strategy games on the computer as ‘hardcore’

          Why is it that someone in Korea who plays Starcraft professionally is hardcore? Why isn’t my dad ‘hardcore’? The likelihood is that they’ve both spent about the same amount of time mastering the game so what’s the difference?

        2. Terri

          It took me about a minute to figure out how to play Quake. Does that mean Quake players cannot be hardcore?

          (Lemmings has a clearly steeper learning curve than Quake in a lot of ways — more units, more combinations of units.)

          Or are you really working from the premise that my mom simply can’t be a hardcore gamer, and just trying to find a rule that excludes her? And I’m not trying to be rude here, because as I said, I have a tendency to do this myself. But think about it: Does your personal mental image of a gamer seem approximately like a youngish male, say 15-30, who likes guns and swears on voice chat when someone shoots him? I notice no one’s exactly saying that in their definitions, but I think that may be the real reason my mother’s not a hardcore gamer: she doesn’t even come close to the stereotypes.

  3. Mary

    Playing WoW is pretty much the definition of hardcore gamer to me; perhaps I haven’t had this conversation often enough. Perhaps that’s a good thing. For me a hardcore gamer is someone who is willing to either have a proper skipping social events and playing until breakfast larval phase in a new game, or someone who regularly finishes long single-player games. Or both. I don’t describe myself that way because my preferred time investment in games is an hour or two at a time, occasionally.

    Re gender and gaming, reading this post I recalled an acquaintance asking for game recommendations for his wife and himself to play together. Despite his explaining in a reasonable amount of detail her long investment in gaming and her tastes and so on, the reflex reaction from his commenters seemed to be “oh… well, party games like Guitar Hero are great for getting women into gaming and they have very easy modes!”

    1. Terri

      Yeah, I thought the “World of Warcraft can’t be hardcore” thing was a little strange too. That actually derailed the conversation because a bunch of us got to talking about it. Those who claimed it couldn’t be hardcore pointed out that it is a fairly easy game to start playing — anyone who’s familiar with the standards of the RPG genre (e.g. health and mana bars, a set of spells, etc.) can learn to play in a few minutes, and you can play badly throughout without really paying strong penalties. Those who claimed it was hardcore pointed out that while it’s true that it’s easy to play badly, there’s a huge degree of skill and planning involved to play well, and the game itself encourages the level of obsession needed to maximize your character’s abilities.

      As the discussion continued, to my ears, it sounded like the people who thought it wasn’t hardcore were largely those who hadn’t played or hadn’t enjoyed playing and thus had never seen the hardcore parts of the game.

      What’s really interesting is that somehow, allowing and even encouraging players with low ability levels did seem to somehow be a “bad” thing on the hardcore front. Which makes me think that hardcore is more of a clique with barriers to entry, and like we’d been talking about with gatekeeping in other geekery, those barriers seemed especially harsh to women.

      1. Oshaberi

        So the message I’m getting from all this is that hardcore games are poorly designed, too difficult, and with unintuitive user interfaces. And probably overpriced too.
        Well gee, that sounds like a great club I totally want to be part of!
        I’d be interested in what games these hardcore gamers do find hardcore.
        I’m trying to think of “hardcore” games, and most of the ones I can think of it was possible (for me anyway) to just pick up and have fun.
        Super Mario Bros The Lost Levels: pretty fun from the get-go despite dying over and over
        Conta III The Alien Wars: pretty fun from the get-go despite dying over and over
        UT2004: Set it on the easiest difficulty (or the auto difficulty), learn where the shoot, move, jump, and change weapon buttons are, and anyone able to operate the controls and see the screen and who’s into gratuitous killing can have hours (or minutes) of fun. Do you have to be interested in gratuitous killing to be a hardcore gamer or something? Because to me anyway it doesn’t seem that much, if any, harder to have fun at typical hardcore games than casual games, it seems more of an silly arbitrary distinction than a meaningful one.

        1. Terri

          Oshaberi says:

          So the message I’m getting from all this is that hardcore games are poorly designed, too difficult, and with unintuitive user interfaces. And probably overpriced too.

          I’m totally going to have to try this definition on my students! I’m looking forwards to seeing their reactions.

          I’m fascinated by this idea that hardcore gamers are hardcore because they’re willing to do stuff that’s not fun for longer. It’s maybe true in other areas too — I’m considered a more hardcore driver because I drive manual transmission, and learning it was more initial work than it would have been to learn automatic. But I don’t know, I’m not sure failing to have fun while you learn somehow makes you more hardcore so much as a touch foolish.

      2. Mary

        anyone who’s familiar with the standards of the RPG genre…

        This is interesting right there, because having that kind of genre familiarity isn’t uncommon in absolute numbers (Blizzard games have sold a lot of copies) but it’s uncommon relatively speaking. Kind of like beginning a sentence with “anyone who is familiar with C-like imperative languages” to describe what one considers a very entry-level programmer to be. It’s already a very insider way to think of things. How does this play out with your students who don’t game (much) if you have any? It must sound impossible to get started.

        Having read the comments thread I’m getting increasingly reluctant to buy into this distinction, because it seems to have inspired people to think “hrm, better work out how to re-jig the definition to exclude Terri’s mother!” rather than question the setup, but a couple more thoughts on status markers in gaming:

        How does professional gaming play into this? Presumably the games that are the biggest in the professional competitions, say Starcraft, are lending status to their players.

        People haven’t phrased it this way in this thread, but there seems to be something along the lines of being willing to continue gaming when you aren’t in fact enjoying the experience. This is presumably treating it like an investment in a skill or in a community. There seems to be some unwarranted suspicion of people who are enjoying it though, as if that makes it impossible for them to also invest.

        1. Terri

          This is interesting right there, because having that kind of genre familiarity isn’t uncommon in absolute numbers (Blizzard games have sold a lot of copies) but it’s uncommon relatively speaking.

          It’s not just Blizzard games — the idea of having health and mana numbers and being able to cast spells is common in a lot of tabletop roleplaying systems, card games, as well as, of course, a variety of other well-known games such as Final Fantasy. It’s also tied to similar concepts mentioned in fantasy literature — the idea of limited health and magical energy, plus set spells that have given effects. And while I agree, this may not be a generally common idea, I’m guessing most people willing to put forward $14.99 a month to play a game will have some basic familiarity with the tropes of the genre. World of Warcraft is, in my opinion, already fairly hardcore to most folk just because you have to like games enough to be willing to pay a monthly subscription fee to play that one.

        2. Terri

          it seems to have inspired people to think “hrm, better work out how to re-jig the definition to exclude Terri’s mother!” rather than question the setup

          Quoted for Truth: as I explained, the definition seems to be largely “not you” or “not your mother” as the case may be. And I find that aspect of things both interesting and perhaps a little disturbing.

          Incidentally, another possible reason certain folk might consider WoW less hardcore is that it attracts a fairly large number of female players. Just saying.

    2. Restructure!

      Playing WoW is pretty much the definition of hardcore gamer to me;

      Female gamers are sometimes stereotyped as playing WoW, so maybe that’s why WoW is not considered hardcore. Because if many women are playing it, then it must not be hardcore, but mainstream.

  4. Alexis

    i don’t even think of myself as a gamer, let alone a hardcore gamer; i think that’s because i almost see those two terms as almost synonymous. Yet i own an N64, a Gamecube, a DS, and would purchase a Wii if i could afford it; i regularly play Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup (one of my all-time favourite games), POWDER DS, KMahjonng and KShisen; i recently purchased World Of Goo and would happily purchase Quantz when it’s officially released.

    i guess that i don’t see myself a ‘real’ gamer because i’m not interested in games which seem to require hours of my attention each time i play them: DCSS, for example, i can play a few turns of when i’ve got a few minutes spare, or when i want a brief break; KMahjonng requires less than 15 minutes to play a complete game. Also, i tend not to be interested in the sort of games which are seem to be regarded as ‘serious’ games and which make one a ‘serious’ gamer (primarily FPSs).

    1. Terri

      I consider myself a gamer, and I actually reject games if they require me to sit still for more than an hour, maybe two if I’m playing with a friend.

      I could actually write a whole post about how I came to consider myself a gamer (and maybe I will) but the most awesome thing about using the label for myself has been about finding other people who play games (whether they consider themselves gamers or not). Now I’ve got more people to swap DS games with, who tell me when cool stuff is on sale, and to play with!

  5. Andrew Ducker

    I think that it comes down to self-identity. A hardcore gamer thinks of “gaming” as being core to their self-identity. A casual gamer might game a lot, but if games vanished from the face of the earth they’d just find another hobby.

    1. Terri

      I like the definition, but…

      I’ve come to find that being a gamer is a part of my identity. If computer games vanished, I’d still be playing card games, board games, running around games, etc. with my friends.

      And yet, I still would hesitate to call myself hardcore.

      On a related note, I did have an interesting conversation with my sister tonight. She commented that although she too doesn’t consider herself hardcore, she’s found increasingly that *other* people do consider her a hardcore gamer. Even though she’s more about Rocket Slime than L4D, that doesn’t matter to everyone.

      Can other people identify you as hardcore even if you don’t self-identify?

      1. Asad

        Can we create categories like middlecore and softcore gamers? The extent of my game-playing consists of occasional Scrabble meetups, over noodles or tacos. I think that makes me a mushycore gamer.

  6. anatsuno

    I wouldn’t be surprised that it’s one of these concepts that some people will happily never apply to women because they live according to some stereotype. But as other people chiming in I’ll tell you what my definition is: not so much of people who ‘spend hours’ mastering a game, though they do, but gamers who play to ‘game the game’ – gamers who out of experience and desire are the type to analyze and dissect the gameplay (even if only in their heads, but they’re doing it consciously), who like and endeavor to push ALL the counters to the max, like my brother who always needs not only to play all the levels in the Mario games but also get every last bonus and every last star and doesn’t consider the game finished until he’s played it to that ‘completely complete’ state under every skill level, too (so, playing the game completely once at the ‘easy’ setting, then again for each setting til you’ve done it completely in the ‘expert’ mode).

    There’s an element of meta-gaming for me that’s implied/signified by the ‘hardcore’ label, which I don’t associate especially with insanity or weirdness or the hours logged alone, but with the entire relationship of the person with the games, plural, and with gaming as besting the ‘system’ and conquering/exploring everything there is to conquer/explore.

    That’s for hardcore /video/gaming though, I realize, and I’m sure there are people I might think of as hardcore tabletop gamers or hardcore larpers or hardcore … other, but, apparently, ‘hardcore gamer’ brings to my mind this particular category of video-game folks first. Huh.

    1. Mike H

      I’ve spent some time thinking about this, and I agree with anatsuno…that “hardcore” is about moving your focus from individual enjoyment to a “meta-level”. For a casual gamer, once the game stops being fun it’s basically over. Hardcore players on the other hand have other goals – I think usually to do with establishing an identity of one sort or another – so any individual game can be important beyond just the enjoyment of playing.

      I don’t want to give the impression that I think hardcore is just a big pissing contest. A game can be important because it develops your skills, because it lets you interact with others you respect, because it’s in some way “innovative” and therefore worth your attention…any number of things can make something valuable on anatsuno’s meta-level.

      In this sense, I think that all that’s really required to be hardcore is to self-define as “hardcore”. But it’s a risky choice because it acknowledges that you want identity and respect. However much you might disagree with fratboys who consider your skill at halo to be the be-all-end-all of a gamer, they are part of your community now and you can’t ignore them in the same way.

      But I think it does matter, and I think time spent dismantling narrow viewpoints of what “hardcore” is is time well spent. Because to become a truly great gamer, you have to gain the benefits of the community and learn the tricks and deal with the pressure of proving yourself in one way or another. It is a risk for anyone to let a community judge them but it’s a shame if anyone is excluded from being a great gamer because they have a different perspective.

      1. Ian

        I’m going with this definition. I’m not hardcore right now, but I’ve been hardcore at various points in my life, including for a couple years with WOW where I raided two to three nights a week, and I Xed off those evenings and made the raids. Hardcore is when you treat it as an important part of your life which is worthy of competing with other activities.

        I don’t consider that any different than someone who’s on a team, say, and has to make practices and games. (Well, except that being a gamer won’t make you fit.) It’s a hobby. Some people are hardcore about a hobby, others aren’t.

    2. Wired

      This is similar to what I was thinking — that the people I know who identify as hardcore gamers are playing a meta-game where their previous gaming experience informs their current gaming. So it’s not just that they are playing Call of Duty, but also that they are comparing it to other FPS’s they have played.

  7. Simon Law

    I heard this great definition: a hardcore gamer is someone who self-identifies as a gamer. They are the people who think that gaming is an important part of their lives, regardless of what type of games they play. For instance, there are hardcore casual gamers, like those who play every new game on Kongregate.

      1. Joe

        I definitely consider myself a hardcore casual gamer. I try to earn badges on Kongregate, I play several casual games a week to completion.

        I love experiencing new play mechanics. You don’t get that from playing a 40 hour console game to completion, you might get deep exploration of a few mechanics, but more often you get repetitive mechanics with deep plots instead.

  8. Alison Scott

    For me, at least part of the distinction seems to be to be how long you’re prepared to spend getting started in your game. Because the casual gamers sit down and start playing — they may then spend hours playing, but they don’t spend the first ten minutes waiting for their game to load.

    1. Terri

      Does that mean that people on dialup playing on Kongregate are more hardcore than DSL customers?

      Actually, a lot of more casual gamers are more likely to have older computers (or in the case of students nowadays, only laptops), so it’s entirely possibly they spend more time waiting for games to load than their “i have the most awesome gaming rig ever” counterparts.

      It’s an interesting distinction, nonetheless. Those games marked as casual are generally less graphically complex and have shorter levels, so load time is lower and thus wait times are probably lower, but I’m not sure if that’s a hallmark of casual gamers so much as a side effect of technology involved. Perhaps playing technologically less complex games is a boundary line? I have a feeling there’s a counterexample there, though.

    2. Meg

      People who play The Sims are considered hardcore gamers then? And people who play SMB2 are not?

  9. Eva

    Maybe the state of gamer labeling has reached a point where we need to be forcing a redefinition. When I was a kid there was no distnction between lemmings and mechwarrior, they were all computer games, played by gamers. Games didn’t get bizarre second class citizen status because they some how didn’t fit with an arbatrary definition of what was “hard” or “manly” enough. I say f*k the term casual gamer, tell guys who try to lable you that way that it’s an insult to your skill and dedication. The less ways they have to ratonalize sexism in their treatment of female gamers,the better.

  10. Janna

    Like many others have noted so far I don’t think the label is defined simply by hours logged or games played. In my mind it’s about the intensity with which it is played. By the time that playing a certain game (or many games) is part of your set of personality characteristics then your hardcore. Like someone wouldn’t be able to define you without saying that you play this game. And at that point it’s not so much a hobby as a lifestyle.

    But I have to say I don’t know many hardcore gamers anymore, they all kinda grew out of it.

  11. Christine

    When I think of “hard core” anything, there’s an air of desperation about it. A painful, driving, need to escape into whatever they’re “hard core” about. Perhaps, for me, the definition of a “hard core” gamer could be expressed as “compulsive gamer”? Given that, while most of the women I know are gamers, very few are “hard core” the way I understand the phrase.

    P.S. I apologize if this was a gamers-only post, video/computer games mostly just confuse me.

  12. Irfon-Kim Ahmad

    I think that most of the people I know who I’d describe as hardcore gamers are women, but then, I don’t know many hardcore gamers. But definitely I can think of maybe three men (myself included) who I’d apply the term to, and maybe six or seven women at least.

    To me, hardcore gaming is about how important gaming is in your life. Hardcore gamers, as you mention above, will spend a lot of time gaming. But more important is that they will schedule around it, they’ll put it on their calendar, and they’ll treat it with equal importance to other things on their calendar. I’m not saying that they’ll be jerks about it (“I can’t drive you to the hospital, I’ve got a raid on,” etc.) but they will not have a problem saying that they can’t go out to the movies because they’ve got a scheduled operation with their Puzzle Pirates crew or they won’t have a problem hopping a bus to a neighbouring city to attend their bi-weekly D&D game. I was thinking that I was going to need an additional clause about how much brain space the game needs to take up, which was basically going to act as a minimum game complexity limit, but I don’t even think that’s true. I think it’s just about relative importance. If someone Xes out every Thursday evening on their calendar to play solitaire and tells me they can’t come out to try the new Moroccan place on Thursday because it’s their solitaire night, then I’m happy to call them a hardcore gamer. I think the difference between a casual gamer and a hardcore gamer doesn’t have to be built on the casual gamer playing casual games — I think it’s about the casual gamer playing games to kill time or even as a fun social thing that they like to do, but not crossing a certain line where they give gaming a certain level of relative importance where they’d think of it when they’re not playing, schedule gaming dates, rank those as important to them mentally and keep them versus other commitments, and in general see it as just as viable and important an activity as others (or more so) in their life.

    So yeah, I know a bunch of women like that (heck, almost everyone I know who has regular D&D gaming on their calendar is female, and I know lots of women who play MMOs on that sort of level or block time out to play computer RPGs), and I don’t see any problem with calling them hardcore gamers.

    1. Stoft

      I would have to agree with Irfon here. For me the planning-your-life-around it is one of the major distinctions. I also believe there is some truth in Anitsuno’s gaming-the-game theory. As an example, both my sister and her boyfriend play WoW, and she is the one who pulled me into it. She has maxed out her character level and does not lack skill yet I don’t consider her a hardcore gamer, whereas I would probably characterize her BF as one. She may plan an evening of gaming, especially when we game together, but so far she has never taken vacation to game. Her boyfriend has. When she tires of playing WoW she will usually switch to some other type of recreational activity, ranging from TV, art, cooking, physical workout to reading. Her boyfriend will find another game. The more I think about it the exclusiveness of being a hardcore gamer is not the exclusion of “lesser” gamers from a certain group, but rather the exclusion of other activities for the sake of the games, whereas a casual gamer will include games in the other activities of their lives.

      Thank you for a good and stimulating blog!

    2. Terri

      My boyfriend describes one of his semi-regular gatherings as “a dinner party where some D&D breaks out.”

      I think the “is it important enough to schedule into your life” is a fairly important distinction, but for me, as a social gamer, it’s not the *game* that makes it worth scheduling into my life, it’s the people I play with. I wouldn’t ever have scheduled myself to play L4D with a bunch of strangers, but I *do* regularly attend parties with my friends where it’s expected we’ll be playing board games once the kids go to sleep. I wouldn’t give the parties where we play games less priority than the parties where we play music, or bake cookies, or just talk. It’s the friends that are important. And that carries even online — I’m willing to schedule to play a game with my boyfriend when we’re in different countries and it’s something fun to do while we talk and catch up, but is that really about scheduling the game or is it pretty much just scheduling a high-tech phone call in a long distance relationship?

  13. piranha

    to me a hardcore gamer is somebody who is intensely into gaming — not just into one game, but into many, and into the mechanics of them, into conquering them, playing and knowing them through-and-through, and when not playing them, then discussing them with other hardcore gamers. also, games are usually a hardcore gamer’s life; their free time, their social time revolves around gaming. with every single one i know i cannot imagine them not gaming; it’s an intrinsic part of their existence.

    i see no reason why this should be limited to men, and i know a few female hardcore gamers, but very few, really. women in general don’t seem to be quite as monomaniacally into gaming, though they might be hardcore into something else, like anime. or they grow out of it. so do many male gamers, but i know some who’re nearing their forties and are still at it.

  14. Nymeria

    I’ve never really cared for the terms “casual/hardcore” gamer. It just seems redundant.

    I guess I can see where some “hardcore” gamers are coming from. In that there’s a certain type of game I love to play. Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Demon’s Souls, the Uncharted series. I love these games because I can literately feel like I’m there, and for the most part the world is free to explore. I’m also petty fond of platforming games Sonic, DKC, the Banjo series, that sort of thing, but they seem to be becoming rarer and rarer. I don’t have any interest in “mastering” a game, I just want it to be an experience if that makes any sense at all.

    For me, I have virtually no interest in the types of games people would call “casual,” but I also think it’s stupid that hardcore gamers act like it’s some US AGAINST THEM thing.

    It’s odd that World of Warcraft is seen as a “casual” game by some, as the circles I frequent it’s seen as a more hardcore-ish type of game.

    1. Nymeria

      Wow reading that over again I wonder if I could have added more quotation marks.

    2. Terri

      I don’t have any interest in “mastering” a game, I just want it to be an experience if that makes any sense at all.

      I think it makes perfect sense. I feel much the same way about other entertainment: sometimes you just want to read and enjoy the book, sometimes you just want to watch the movie. You’re not always interested in the English class/film studies critique. Sometimes the deeper meanings add something, and sometimes you’re just reading teenage vampire smut because sparkles are fun and you’re bored. ;)

      And of course, just like books and movies, my interest in going deeper, whether that’s being completionist and seeing every single level, or even just thinking about how this game reflects society… well, it all depends on the game I’m playing, or the book I’m reading, or my own mood of the moment.

  15. moose

    My mom used to be utterly addicted to Nintendo games. I recall talking to her on the phone while she battled a Zelda game on one of the handheld models, so addicted was she. My sister encouraged her to stop because she was “wasting so much time” on the games.

    Were I employed now I’d get my mom a new machine, or at least a subscription to some gaming site. And if my sister opened her yap I’d point out just how much time her husband spends playing GTA and it’s ilk and tell her to stuff it.

    Me, well. I’m a systems administrator but mostly the only games I can play from the past 10-odd years are the so-called “hidden object games” which seem popular with housewives, if you believe the comments on the sites where you can buy ’em. I can play games like Doom(or Doom II) or Rise of the Triad & such, if I’m having a day of patience — or play it in diety mode. I’ll never be a hardcore gamer, and it’s not my gender. It’s just me.

  16. glittertrash

    I always figured a hardcore gamer was something I wasn’t. Even back in my highschool years when I’d stay up til dawn on school nights to synch times with the Americans who played in the text-based role-playing world I was obsessed with. Even when I skipped parties to stay home and create 150 page websites documenting the world we’d created. “Hardcore” gamers were definitely the boys, the ones whose LAN parties I was occasionally invited to, where they competed with each other to see who had done the most outrageous hardware hacks to be able to run the newest version of Counterstrike (and where somehow, mysteriously, I always wound up being the one manning the sandwich toaster at 3am). I wasn’t hardcore, because my ideal gaming worlds involved text, typing, and (at a pinch, if it had to be graphical), Lemmings. With occasional deviations into Tetris.

  17. Meg Thornton

    I think of myself as a gamer, but I don’t think of myself as hardcore. I play more console games than PC games these days (I own a PS2, a PSP and an Xbox360) and I’m willing to spend multiple hours on them. I’m fond of the RPG genre as a whole, particularly the Final Fantasy series created by Square Enix (formerly Squaresoft) but I’m fond of them for the plot elements more than for the gameplay per se. I play these games to find out how the story ends, and what happens along the way. Game mechanics only interest me when they get in the way of the story, at which point I’m all about learning the mechanics as fast as possible so I can get on with the story already.

    I don’t think of myself as hardcore, because I haven’t really completed many games. My “all done” (meaning “I’m all the way through the plot”) games list currently tops out at four: Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts 2, Final Fantasy 7, and Final Fantasy 7: Dirge of Cerberus. With all the others, I’ll get so far through things, reach a point where I’m banging my head against a wall (having to grind too much, or having gone into an area under-levelled and dying every five minutes as a result) and give up. Then maybe two or three months later, I’ll pick it up again, and start over at the beginning. I’m very familiar with the beginning stages of a lot of games, but not too familiar with the endgames for them.

    I will admit to creating my own “gamer guides” for various games as I go along (it’s more a scribbling down of information I learn from the game than anything else), but these are generally for personal gain only. I don’t play through things fast enough to write up useful walkthroughs for others, and I’ll generally be pretty focussed on learning how to get from point A to point B in the plot more than finding every last sidequest along the way. I suppose the main focus I have is on having fun. If it stops being fun (or if I find I’m dreaming the game, which is a personal “you’re getting obsessed here” marker) I’ll walk away – whether by changing games, or by switching up the balance of my various hobbies for a bit. That, as well, is another mark of not being “hardcore” – I’m willing to walk away from the gaming when it starts taking over my life.

  18. Brenda

    i don’t like guns much – i’m pretty sure it’s the experience of my grandfather and WW2, which through my father influence means i adhore using them even in make believe.

    but i love action games.. so sword play it is. Action without guns please. Assassin’s creed is my current fixation – there was prince of persia before that. I have to finish every level, collect every thingie and do every scenario. To some extent i admit i like watching the character’s cute arse climbing over buildings.

    I’d be into WoW probably if i hadn’t been warned by my twin sister’s obsession, and subsequent monthly expenditure on it. I miss my sister.

  19. Terri

    Oh, I forgot one of my favourite student-provided definitions:

    “Hardcore gamers are the ones who smell kinda funny.”

    Maybe that’s why my mom’s not a hardcore gamer.


  20. Thefremen

    The distinction between hardcore gamer and casual is rediculous, but fwiw I’d say those with mad skillz in whatever they’re playing would be hardcore. Sure, I play MW and L4D2 and TF2 but I am HORRIBLE at those games and did a lot better as a healing pally in WoW. (I still don’t meet the critera for being a hardcore WoW player because I only played 2 hours a day and quit when I got all the equipment one can get by playing in such a limited fashion)

    Maybe this is a better definition for Hardcore gamer: people who have absolutely no responsibilities in life and spend entirely too much time playing games. (like those who have all the OCD flags in World of Goo)

  21. Ravious

    My favorite definitions came from one of Turbine’s devs, and it went something like “a hardcore gamer will put up with less refined UI, buggier content, long travel times, and other things that basically delay or degrade the play experience.”

  22. Brinstar

    I dislike the divisions that the casual/hardcore debate causes, especially amongst gaming fanatics. Many of them try so hard to distance themselves from so-called casual gamers, to the point of being antagonistic and insular.

    1. Thefremen

      YES! Well stated Brin. No matter what trail you’re going on, all skiers care about the snowfall, and no matter what game you play all gamers are affected by issues like Net Neutrality and Censorship. it’s a commonality that should be bringing people together while we tear imaginary people apart.

  23. Kim

    I think maybe the terminology adds to the confusion. Companies like Zynga (Mafia Wars, Cafe world et al) and Popcap (Peggle, Plants vs Zombies) are now specifically referred to as the casual games *market* – ie. a specific genre by itself. They tend to require varying levels of planning/skill (Mafia Wars – very little, PvZ – quite a lot) but generally aren’t meant to be taxing and are simple to get into.

    You’re right tho. As someone who’s been to LANfests and played competitive TF2, I’ve heard the “you can’t call yourself a real gamer unless you’ve X” so many times. Amazing how something that’s meant to be a GAME is taken as such srs bsns!

  24. Eevee

    To casual gamers, games are entertainment; a means unto an end.
    To hardcore gamers, games are a lifestyle; an end unto itself.

  25. Elbi


    I know I’m quite late, but I want to offer my definition nevertheless, although not many people are likely to read it. After all I’m commenter number, what? 60? ;)

    Anyway, to me, the difference between Casual and Hardcore Gamers are whether they think about “their game” without actually playing it or not.
    So, if someone defines “playing a game” as “I start the console/the *.exe/visit the website and play the game. When I exit, I stop playing”, then that’s casual. It doesn’t matter how complex this specific game is – if one stops caring after quitting, then that’s casual. It doesn’t influence other parts of one’s life / free time.
    Otherwise, if, even after exiting the game, one looks up skill trees, or if one should’ve selected that male dwarf noble, because he would be more fun to play, or when the next map pack arrives on Steam… well, that’s pretty hardcore.
    If you spend time with games without playing them, then that’s hardcore to me – after all, you don’t even need the games to “waste” (*cough*) your time with them any more!

    This means that yes, you Terri and me (Game Engineering & Simulation (Master Study), 1st semester) are, per definition, automatically Hardcore Gamers, because we are even talking about them w/o playing them. And making money. Well, you, not me. Pretty Pro, actually ^^

  26. Xyzzy

    I don’t know about today’s world, but I believe there *was* such a thing as a “hardcore” gamer back in the 80s/90s. It usually referred to somebody that, on at least one platform, was fairly talented, knew an extensive amount, and tended to prefer to play the games over other forms of recreation.

    In case you weren’t already aware, online magazine The Escapist intermittently releases excellent articles & issues dedicated to the topic of female (“girl”) gamers. The Google search string I found some of them at was: girl gamers hardcore

  27. Meg

    Theory: Hardcore gamers are whatever sort of gamer you are, and casual gamers are whatever sort of gamers that (insert group you want to exclude) are.

    I’ve logged over 500 hours on Pokemon Diamond. I play a variety of genres — MMOs, jRPGs, strategy, city-building, puzzle, action-adventure, p&c adventure, and the occasional fighter. More than a handful of those games require good hand-eye coordination. I have learned about invisible gameplay mechanics of at least a couple of these games in order to master them (AC: gridding for a perfect town, Pokemon: IVs and EVs). I have had those long all-night gaming sessions. I have probably had cheeto dust on my shirt more than once. I betcha a lot of guys would still say I’m “casual”. ‘Cos I don’t play L4D. Or something something something.

  28. Terri

    There’s two comments in moderation that I’m not going to post because I think they’re likely to encourage gamer-bashing, which I don’t feel is appropriate (and I don’t feel like moderating) here. But they do raise two different issues:

    The first one talks about how some people who consider themselves hardcore gamers are also rather awful people: lots of racism/sexism/profanity to be seen and heard especially in online games. The commenter asserted this was a property of gamers, but I’m more of the opinion that this is a property of anonymous losers on the internet, as succinctly explained in this comic.

    However, it did raise an interesting point: a lot of the things associated with gamers is that they are Not Nice. Aggressive, argumentative, heavy on the swearing, etc. All of which are… you guessed it: not very ladylike. Are girls and women being sidelined as hardcore gamers because we aren’t supposed to be competitive or aggressive?

    The other comment talked about gaming as an addiction, and suggested that my question trying to prime people to think of unusual folk, including myself, as hardcore gamers was much like trying to get people to admit I was an alcoholic. While gaming addiction can be a problem, I think that’s a little unfair. It’s much more like trying to get someone to admit that I could be an athlete, and having them claim that people who play Ultimate Frisbee are some how Not Athletes, and even if I played every week last summer, it wasn’t athletic. You can be addicted to sports to the point of damaging your body (Ultimate is actually particularly bad, and I personally stopped playing after an innocuous accident left me limping for the rest of the summer), but I don’t think getting people to admit that you have impressive skills in an area is at all like trying to get them to admit you have a problem. You’d want someone to acknowledge that you were a great quarterback and asking them to do so would not somehow be akin to getting them to acknowledge that you were likely to have suffered some brain damage from playing football!

    1. Thefremen

      Totally agreed with the first comment, with regards to the second one I’d say the attitude people have about gamers who spend a lot of time with games having to be addicts reminds me more of the way wine drinkers used to be perceived. It used to be that if someone drank a lot of wine they HAD to be drunks trying to get a buzz (the origin of the term “wino”), but eventually there emerged this culture of hardcore wine drinkers who discovered wines that went great with certain foods or desert, and that different vintages had distinctive characteristics. Sure, there are people who use games as a crutch for dealing with depression or other illnesses but there are many more (I’m pretty sure) who savor the flavor of all the different experiences games have to offer, whether it be a robust RPG, a fruity FPS or a woody puzzler with a sweet aftertaste.

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