The terms “hardcore” and “casual” have been thrown around a lot the last few years. But do we really have a definition for these terms? What is “casual”? What is “hardcore”?

When many of us started gaming, there was no such division; there were only games by genre: adventure, RPG, war/strategy, simulation, puzzle, etc. We bought what appealed to us, and that was it.

Somewhere down the years, that changed. While we still have genres – though the lines become more blurred every day – several are now thought of as “hardcore”.

Typically, these are the ones aimed at the “young male demographic”. So it would seem that anything outside that narrow market would be a “casual” game. In other words, a non-violent one.

However, James Portnow over at gamasutra has a different perspective. His idea of a casual game has three features: playable in short sessions; lacks a definite end; and is replayable.

That’s a pretty loose definition. Which is not surprising, since his theme is “casual games for the hardcore”. He believes there is an underserved market here: quick, interesting games that would appeal to the “hardcore” players (although he doesn’t define “hardcore”).

That may be true. But according to my post last year on Accessibility & The Casual Gamer, it seems that “hardcore” and “casual” don’t mean as much as they used to, if they ever meant anything at all.

A survey conducted by Big Fish and NPD disclosed that many who played “hardcore” also enjoyed games that could be labeled “casual”. Further, those who played mainly “casual” games spent about as much time on them as “hardcore” gamers did on theirs.

Really, it’s time the industry dropped those terms. I think the closest one could come to a definition of “casual” would be for the player, the one who plays a game now and then, of whatever type. Not the game itself.

Which is not to say James is off-trail here. I think he’s right that there’s a market for short games of the kind now called “hardcore”. Not everyone has time to wade through, say, a Fallout 3 or Mass Effect.

Of course, there are some such games out there already; he mentions a few in his article. No doubt more will be coming along. And with enough of them, we may finally be able to ditch those annoying labels once and for all.

Redefining Casual For The Hardcore on gamasutra