Sunday, December 9, 2007

What makes a gamer Hardcore? It's not what you think.

You hear about hardcore gamers a lot these days but what constitutes a hardcore gamer exactly? Who can claim to be one?

If you scan the online gaming forums most people who claim to be hardcore games appear to be fans of the Xbox or PlayStation brands. They love FPSs (Halo in particular), sports titles, and any game appearing on Gamestop's top 10 sellers list or Spike's Video Game Awards show.

In contrast, the casual gamer is normally characterized as someone who loves Nintendo, Mario, and what are perceived as “children's games.”

I would put myself among the second group but I consider myself a hardcore gamer; more so than those who identify with the first group of gamers. I think a hardcore gamer has to meet the following conditions: he has to play a wide range of games, he has to at least be open to different types of gameplay, he has to seek out unusual titles, and he has to log the hours.

If a gamer is not playing a wide range of games and experiencing different genres, I don't think he can be described as hardcore. I recently saw the latest PS3 advertisement on television, Universe of Entertainment. Admittedly, this is the cut-for-television version of the commercial but what they decided to include in the edit is interesting. It seems that the spot spends a lot of time on an image of the PS3 bristling with pistols, knives, machine guns, and fists. The ad cuts to images from Drake's Fortune where the protagonist is firing a shotgun. Then a cut to Heavenly Sword where Nariko is shown swinging her blades around her body. Another cut to the console with the blades wrapping around it. Then some Warhawk imagery. More guns blazing. The spot drips with violent content. I don't have a problem with violent video games. It offends my sensibility as a hardcore gamer however to see the same type of game showcased over and over. Kill the enemy, kill your opponent, kill the monster. Kill me. It's so boring. Isn't there another type of game available for the PS3? The irony is that Sony is trying to appeal to the hardcore gamer with ads like this. Sony subscribes to the popular notion that hardcoreness is measured by love of violent games. But what's hardcore about sticking to a single genre? What about broadening your horizons a little? (As an aside, check out my list of favorite video games. They span 3 decades, multiple platforms, and most genres. At the very least, you'll get a smile or two remembering a game you've long forgotten about.)

If you aren't at least open to different types of gameplay you ain't hardcore. I'd go further though. A true hardcore gamer will not only be open but will seek out new experiences. Approach a group of college gamers playing Halo on-line and you may think that's the image of the hardcore gamer. However, show them a copy of Cooking Mama for the DS and ask if they'd like to play. What do you suppose their reaction would be? You'd likely receive a big horse laugh for your troubles. But why? As a hardcore gamer I was excited to first read about Cooking Mama. It was a title unlike any I had ever heard of before. After 25 years of playing video games those kind of surprises are few and far between. Of course I was eager to try it. What true gamer wouldn't?

Of course, because those experiences are getting rarer and rarer that means I have to try and find games that push the envelope and try to come up with something new. I used to enjoy music and bought a lot of CDs. I even got myself a job in a record store. I quickly came to the point where I had already heard all the hits, the classics; the history of 20th century pop music. Where to go now? I began to read every music related magazine and website I could find. I went to record shows. I bought tickets to see bands I had never heard of. I was trying to find something. Something new, something different, something I hadn't heard before. I still kept tabs on what was happening in the mainstream. It's not hard to check the charts and grab a few titles but that's going to get old real fast. It's the same with games. While most so-called hardcore gamers are content to wait for the new Madden or to buy the games getting a 9 on Metacritic (When was the last time Yahtzee reviewed a game that wasn't already a best seller?), the actual hardcore gamers are importing games from Japan, learning to read Japanese menus, paying for shipping for European releases just so they can be the first to try a new title. As a fan, I put in the hours for my love of gaming.

You have to spend a lot of time if you want to be a hardcore gamer. You need to read the literature--even if it's not in your native language--download the demos, and you've got to play the games. Most gamers who claim to be hardcore look at gaming as something to kill some time when the opportunity presents itself or when friends come over. On the other hand, I play when I wake up, in the bath, on the bus, on my lunch break, before I go to bed.

In sum, it's not the Halo-loving, Dew-drinking, high-fiving, Madden-upgrading jock that is the hardcore gamer. The hardcore gamer is closer to a geek. He is cross-platform, cross-genre, equally skilled with an analog stick or WASD, lives and breathes gaming (not just Halo) and knows a lot about his passion.

I own a Wii, I play Cooking Mama, and I'm hardcore.

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