Casual/Hardcore vs. the Serious Gamer

Okay. This is going to seem like it has a lot to do with MMO gaming, but at it’s heart it’s about gaming in general — even just about social commitments as a whole.
In the MMO world (and in gaming in general, in a much less formalized/articulated way) there are two labels for players that can tossed around: “Casual” and “Hardcore”.
Definitions of these two terms vary, but in a nutshell, the two might mean any or all of the following, depending on the speaker:

  • Casual – Doesn’t take the game that seriously. Doesn’t play much (less than 20 hours a week, let’s say). Isn’t reliable in terms of showing up for planned activities. Automatically drops game-related activities if something ‘better’ comes up. Isn’t a particularly good player. Isn’t a particularly ‘advanced’ player (has good gear — progresses through game content). Just isn’t very serious about it. Might say they’re showing up for something and just… won’t. Has a life.
  • Hardcore – Takes the game WAY TOO seriously. Plays more per week than they spend at work. Never misses, and usually organizes, planned game activities. Automatically drops other activities if something comes up in game. Is a ‘leet’ player with great gear, ultra-fast progression into end-game content, know the math of the game backwards and forwards, knows the Lore by heart. Is the attendance-nazi for in-game events. Lives the ‘life’ of a Basement Dwelling Virgin Troglodyte.

Clearly, the generalizations above are filled with statements from one side, talking about the OTHER side. In MMOs (and online forums in general) it’s a lot more obvious, but it happens in face to face games, too. We all know the guy who keeps the spreadsheet of all the treasure accumulated at last weeks game — who’s got the best gear so far — who the group has beaten, what the xp-per-session is, and who’s missed the most sessions.
We also know the guy who says they’ll show up to the game, doesn’t for three weeks running, and when he does, arrives with his second six-pack of the day and proceeds to drunk (yes, “drunk”, not “drink”) his way through the game. The other players shake their head at this ‘casual’ person, the casual person wonders about those other five at the table who showed up on time, and clearly have no life.
So… which one are you?

Did you say “neither”? I did.
Did you see parts of both categories that, when stripped of their vitriol, could have been you?
I did. But the other inaccurate stuff makes those broad categories useless.
Do people exist who are just like that? Sure. I’d say they’re both unhealthy extremes, or at least antisocial; in a nutshell, the “Casual” player (in this context) seems to be labeled as the one that is irresponsible and selfish when playing. The “Hardcore” player is the one seen as irresponsible and selfish when NOT playing.
I don’t like those labels, but whatever.
I want a word for what kind of gamer I am, so I’m going to use serious.
Serious… gaming? This isn’t that odd a label. Look at folks with any hobby — biking, yarn, book clubs, softball — no one blinks when they say they take their time spent there seriously. Let’s go with that — let’s treat gaming like any other hobby.
I’m just flat-out discarding time-spent-online. I don’t think it’s relevant.
Player A can spend five hours online screwing around and not accomplishing a @#$@%@ thing.
Player B can have an extremely productive 90 minutes online and then go to a movie with local friends.
Who’s the “hardcore” gamer? Eh.

Right, back to the main screed. What’s a serious gamer? What do I do that’s different from the ‘casual’ person, that makes me look, to them, like a hardcore gamer. Conversely, what do I do that makes a hardcore player thing I’m casual?
Quality Time
I want the time I spend playing a game to be ‘worth’ something. I want it to entertain. I want it to be enjoyable. I want there to be a sense of time well-spent. I DO NOT want a million different things vying for my attention, a sense of directionless activity to no purpose.
So. Here’s what I did this week (not 100% accurate, but something like this):

  • Monday: Crappy day at work. First evening with Kaylee in four days. Played with her, made supper, and after she went to bed, got caught up on Chuck and Heroes a little. After that, logged into WoW and couldn’t find anything to do or anyone to do it with. Kate was done with her TV at this point, and wanted to play, so we both logged into LotRO and did some quests on a pair of characters we play together, but we had some problems there as well. Went to bed feeling I should have just watched more TV.
  • Tuesday: Went swimming at the rec center. Had scheduled time to play with Kate, and we logged on and did that. Different characters, different day, different mood — got a whole lot done. Chatted through the evening using the game’s voicechat function.
  • Wednesday: Went shopping after work. Evening spent with Kaylee. Chatted with a friend from NYC who’s in town about games we want to play while he’s in town, then read up on some of the game rules I’d want to use, and downloaded some resources I want to have on hand for that. Logged into WoW after that, found a group in my guild that was already running the fourth-to-last five-man dungeon that I need to visit in order to get “keyed” for Karazhan, the first “Raid” dungeon in the new end-game (a 10-man super-dungeon with something like 14 bosses throughout — a kind of Taskforce-in-a-box, if you play CoH). Asked them to sneak me in there after they had cleared it, so I could get the ‘keying’ part done. They did, and that was a BIG checkmark off of a long 13-step process to getting keyed. After that, I logged onto LotRO and helped Kate finish up the last of her ‘starter area’ quests and move on to the Breelands with her ‘solo’ character.
  • Thursday: Ignored Grezzk and played Kayti, my dwarf paladin on the alliance-side of WoW. Cleaned up some old quests, and started collecting some materials I need for the next ‘big’ dungeon I want to do with her. Also, following some research on the “maintankadin” forums, I respecced her for a stronger tanking build, which cost me a ton of gold, but the results of which I liked. Kate played some LotRO, but I didn’t know that and didn’t join her.
  • Friday: Left work early and spent some time in the afternoon doing more work on game-prep for that face to face game, and reading up on LotRO quests and appropriate surnames for Men of Gondor. I had Kaylee, so it was an evening of play and food and bedtime stories, followed by some play on LotRO with Kate, in which we agreed to focus on clearning out some missions. ((Friday and Saturday are the two times a week that Grezzk’s guild on WoW runs Karazhan, and since I’m not keyed to that yet, there’s not much I can do with or for them, and I hate being online when they’re trying to find enough people for the group and telling them “nope, I’m not keyed yet, sorry.”)). At the end of the night, I checked the gaming calendar for our Sunday game and noticed that a couple people hadn’t replied that they could make it and one had replied with a maybe, leaving three of six players actually commited to showing up for sure. That’s not enough to warrant the drive, especially with Kaylee, so I cancelled the game.
  • Saturday: I had Kaylee. We watched cartoons. Colored. Rode bicycle (inside and outside), and then she helped me vacuum and shampoo the upstairs carpet. During naptime, I ran some laundry and did two quests on Grezzk that can be repeated each day and earn him reputation with a faction I like, and some of the guys in the guild started up a run to the “third-from-last” five-man dungeon I need to get keyed to Karazhan, and we did that, even though I told them I would have a wakeful toddler somewhere in the middle. They didn’t mind, and she didn’t wake up until just before the last boss and sat on my lap telling me what was going on. (“Look! A dragon! Yikes! Run!”), and then I logged off. In the afternoon, we went out shopping. I picked up some pottery we’d painted two weekends ago, picked up my new tux and let Kaylee charm the counter ladies, and stopped at Cold Stone Creamery for some Ice Cream with Kaylee. We went home, played our way through the ensuing sugar rush, read a bunch of books, and went to bed. Kate and did a little LotRO stuff, which mostly amounted to use running around the Old Forest in fear for our very lives. OLD MAN WILLOW. YIKES! RUN!
  • Sunday: Rainy rainy day. Kaylee and I played with cameras, puzzles, watched cartoons, did laundry. I did some more item-collection-for-the-dungeon on Kayti and finished up a few quests with another paladin she runs with, trying to get ‘done’ with a zone I’m well-and-truly ready to be done with. Grezzk’s guild runs a TWENTY-FIVE man dungeon that I *can* go to on Sundays for an hour or two, and though I didn’t sign up (due to having Kaylee), since she was sleeping I logged in at the appointed time to see if they needed me. They did, but they didn’t get enough healers online by 10-past the hour, so the Raid Leader called it off and folks split off into smaller groups. I simply logged into a lowbie that I could leave when Kaylee woke up, and spent the time chatting with Julie and Rey, who had found me online and logged in to say hi! Great to talk to them again. Afternoon fun with Kaylee, including extended, extra-wet time in the tub. I had PLANNED on some time with Kate that evening, but had forgotten that my evening had been commited to helping out some of the NYC guys who haven’t been playing WoW lately, so while Kate played LotRO, Grezzk returned to lowbie-land and helped a couple of my friends obliterate their enemies (15 levels below Grezzk, and dead in seconds) so they could reap the multiple quest rewards and get closer to the zones that I currently play in, which would be really nice. When they called it off for the night, I logged into LotRO for a bit and did some stuff with Kate, which involved shooting orcs (more on that in other post) and some exploration. Tonight, we’re going into the Barrowdowns. Pray for us.

Now then…
What the casual player will say:
“Holy xrist! All the guy does is game, game, and prepare for more gaming! @#$@ing GET A LIFE, dude.”
What the hardcore player will say:
“You cancelled your face to face game? What about the three people who COULD play?!? You’re not keyed to Kara yet?!? You wasted two hours hitting lowbie mobs with your 70? You only run those daily quests every couple of days? WTF?”
Here’s what I say.
Whatever you’re going to do, be completely present within that activity. If you’re going to read, read. If you’re going to watch a show, watch a show — don’t play while the show is going — you’ll play like shit and you won’t catch something in the show. If you’re going to play, schedule your time so that you don’t have distractions, and if you know your end-time is set, LET THE PEOPLE YOU PLAY WITH KNOW THAT.
Sunday night, I logged in and one of my guild leaders let me know that they were available for ‘whatever you need’ with regards to getting keyed to Karazhan. Word has percolated throughout the guild that I’m not a smacktard, and not a bad player. (With exactly 0 epic gear pieces in 17 body locations, I’m doing the same damage per second and performing the same group functions (crowd control, etc) as the hunter class-leaders wearing nothing but epics), and they want to get me to a point where I can do more stuff with them.
That feels good, but I had to tell him, right off: “Thanks, but even if I get keyed this week, I’m gone this coming weekend.”
Focus. Figure out the thing you’re doing, and DO. THAT.
If you say you are going to be someplace at a certain time, it is your responsibility to be there. You made the commitment, and if you fail to meet it, then you fail. Period. If you show up late to something you said you would attend, you are telling the others waiting on you that you do not feel that their time or efforts are valuable or matter to you.
That some of the appointments you’re commited to making are in a game does NOT make a difference. When you make a commitment to other people, whether in a game, in your workplace, or to a member of your family, the type of activity does not matter, it’s about the fact that you made that commitment to another person. If you failed to meet that commitment, then you fail.
Did I want to fight easy-mode guys for two hours on Sunday night while Kate was exploring the Old Forest and being chased by bears? Hell no. But I made a commitment, and it was important to me to honor that. I *could* have been doing that on my desktop and logged into LotRO on my laptop… would that have been better? No, it would have been worse in every quantifiable way.
Same goes for a clash in commitments between Local Stuff and Long-distance Stuff — I have to decide where my commitment is strongest and tell the other commitment I can’t do it, with some warning ahead of time. Deciding which thing IS the commitment to stick with is my problem.
I’m a serious gamer because I take those commitments as seriously as I take any other commitment.
Not MORE seriously. Not LESS. Just as much as I feel they deserve.


  1. Hard to disagree with what you say, and I was shouting, “My God, I hope neither” when I got to the first cut in Google Reader.
    I think it comes down to, as you say, honoring commitments, within the bounds of reason — which usually means balancing longer-term, more important commitments against shorter-term, present ones. The “casual” gamer isn’t honoring commitments beyond “what I want to do right now,” whereas the “hardcore” gamer isn’t balancing their other, more important commitments (family, work, health) against the immediate obsession of the game.
    And, yes, commitments in a game are important — not because it’s a game, but because you are making a commitment to *others*. If I was making an automated appointment in a solo-vs-computer game, I wouldn’t worry about it. If I’ve told folks (local or remote) that I will be somewhere at some time for a game activity, I will try my best to be there the same as if I were invited to their house for dinner or to some other function.

  2. I don’t think of myself as a casual gamer. I spend almost *all* of my free time gaming, planning for games, researching for games, thinking or talking about games. Of course, “free time” is time not spent with things of other Consequence.
    Which makes me ask… which is a better situation?
    1) Commit to going to a game knowing when you arrive you have numerous distractions at hand…
    2) Make an effort (all intention, everything packed up, game brain “on”) because you want to game but bow out at the last moment because something unavoidable occurs?
    3) Cancel your gaming time entirely because your potential distractions are more effort than the gaming is worth?
    Now 1) is rude to the host, but at least you’re THERE and you CAN get to the meat of the gaming. Of course, 2) is ruder to the host who will have made plans, although there should be an out for “real life,” and 3) is probably where I should stay. Not rude to host at all. [sigh]
    I *hate* cancelling out, but I have to more often than not because my “distractions” _are_ overwhelming, and they’re not always predictable. Weekend before last – spent Friday morning through most of Saturday sick. Not predictable, not a good time to game, and certainly not fair to anyone else around me who might have been exposed. Last weekend – had a “surprise visit” from family that completely disrupted my plans, including my limited ability to contact people about changes in plans. That’s two out of three opportunities. Tomorrow night? I’m on my own, completely expecting to be available.
    Who knows? I’ll probably be hit by a freak meteor left over from the Draconids.

  3. WoW you love games as much as I do, where can I find more people like you?

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