Blogging on the Bus: Casually Hardcore

Hello. Welcome to what I hope will be a semi-weekly column called “Blogging on the Bus”. The topic of conversation is simple: whatever I want to talk about at that particular time. Maybe a specific game, maybe a news item, maybe just some thoughts. My hope is that this becomes a weekly – sometimes more, sometimes less – soapbox for me, and hopefully an enjoyable read for you, the reader. This isn’t Unbranding the Sheep; that will continue whenever I feel something directly affects the consumer. That said, hopefully, this will be more enjoyable to write than those pieces, which tend to be negative due to the topics within.

Do you have something you’d like me to talk about? Comments? Questions? Complaints and grievances? Send them my way to Alternatively, if you want to ask the entire Kliq, you can email Guy Desmarais

I’ve always considered myself a hardcore gamer. When most gamers were struggling with Crash Bandicoot, I was playing a fan translation of Final Fantasy V. Long before internet message boards evolved beyond Usenet, I was arguing with real-life friends, almost to the point of fisticuffs, that it was Aerith and not Aeris, calling her death “passe”, and making most of my friends go “Nei who?”. I beat the original Dragon Warrior at nine years old, Ultima: Quest of the Avatar at eleven, and I’ve used Kanji dictionaries to get through text-heavy Japanese games. I’ve owned the tabletop Pong, the Neo Geo Pocket Colour, and have played a savable Metroid on a Famicom Disk System. In short, I earned my hardcore gamer merit badge long ago.

With that established, I recently found myself surprised to see how my gaming habits have evolved recently. I work in the daytime, go to the gym afterwards if I have time, come home, cook dinner, write for whoever about whatever, and use the remaining time I have left to play games, if I have any. Due to this schedule, I end up multitasking a lot, meaning I tend to play DS games at lunch, or play a quick round of NBA 2K9, maybe a game of Football Manager (which runs in the background) or even a round of… *gulp* Bejewled. Meanwhile, copies of Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, all three Xenosagas and Dragon Quest VII sit on my shelf, as I try – and fail – to muster up the energy to sit down for a few hours with an epic quest. Likewise, I don’t feel like I have the time to spend to learn how to properly play games like The Witcher or Grand Theft Auto IV.

Passing over great JRPGs to play a sports game for twenty minutes? Multitasking my gaming and my work? Playing Bejewled!? Have I gone… casual?

After asking myself that question, the first thing I did was take a scalding shower while scrubbing myself with one of those abrasive pads usually reserved for kitchen pots that have food caked on them. After getting out of the shower and dressing the more immediate wounds I’d created, I contemplated a question in my head: what exactly made a “casual” or “hardcore” gamer? Is there a check-list? What causes one to go from one extreme to the other?

In my “hardcore” youth, I would spend hours upon hours playing the more involved games of the day. I’ll turn twenty-nine in May, so most of my youth was spent playing games like Final Fantasy IV and VI, Chrono Trigger, Lufia, Lunar, Suikoden, anything with “Zelda” on it, and anything with “Phantasy Star” in the title, as well as lighter, but no less more intense games such as Tecmo Super Bowl, NHL ’94, Gunstar Heroes, Contra and Castlevania. I absorbed these games, going through them as much as I could while still maintaining a social life and strong athletic skills. I could still go through most of the games from that era, the ones I truly devoured, almost from memory alone, even after years of having not played them. I sucked up guides, tips, tricks, magazines, words from other players, anything I could about the games to make sure I got the most I could out of a game, and as I got older, thanks to improvements in technology and my own personal resources, I started researching fan translations of unreleased games, importing, and even trying to translate things myself, even if most of my results have been poor until recently, where I was able to fumble around the latest Fire Emblem like a drunken prom date.

If that sounds like a clandestine existence, there’s also a dark side to being so devoted, especially in my teens; a complete lack of perspective, and a fanboy mentality, all ripened by the time I put in to develop my opinions, making me, in my mind, more “qualified” to speak on these issues than anyone else, combined to turn me into someone that must not have been too enjoyable to be around at times. I was all over the Super Nintendo vs. Sega Genesis arguments to the point where I made it a school project in middle school (I got an A- basically for being a Sega fanboy. God, I love public education), argued breathlessly the merits of of the Phantasy Star games on the Genesis and why they were better than Final Fantasy (“But dude, Phantasy Star III sucks”. Thanks, PSIII, you made me lose a nerd argument once. I’ll bill you for my therapy sessions), decided that stupid mascots like Bubsy, Gex, Boogerman and the like were going to ruin video games as we knew them (close, but I put Sparkster from Rocket Knight Adventures into that category before I played the game. Whoops), and would break up with girlfriends who couldn’t understand that games were as much a part of me as their hickeys. In short, I was a prototypical nerd, and probably would have ended up in a lot of lockers had I not played contact sports. Praise Joe Pesci the internet hadn’t developed past ARPANET until I was late into high school, or I would have been one of those message board idiots you see nowadays, breathlessly defending my preferences to the death.

On the other side is the casual gamer. My mother is a casual gamer; she spent her free time today playing a game called Dynomite, a Popcap game that involves shooting coloured eggs at likewise coloured eggs, with higher points given for consecutive shots; it’s more or less a faster paced version of Bust A Move. There’s nothing to it; no story, no real advancement except a faster drop rate and more colours, just mindlessly shooting eggs at other eggs until the game ends. It’s almost retro in a sense; the only real sense of accomplishment is getting a higher score than before. Any attempts at getting her to play more involved fare have generally fallen on deaf ears; she’s happy finding a game, sticking with it, and playing all 100+ levels, whether it’s Peggle or Bejewled or other games one would consider to be rather simple.

(A brief aside relating to getting my family to play more involved games: try to take a casual gamer in your family and get them to play a JRPG, especially an older one. For awhile, Real Arcade had some Genesis games on their service, before Sega got around to whoring them out to anyone that would take them like the pimps they are, and one of them was Phantasy Star II. I tried getting my mother and aunt to play Phantasy Star II. My aunt mocked it the whole time. “You don’t do anything? You give orders? You sit here and program it all day? I don’t call trying to tell stupid people what to do all day a game, I consider it an extension of my current job! It’s just… programming!” As for my mother? She got Rolf killed soon after venturing out from Paseo because she went too far. This is where I tried to explain to my mother what “level grinding” meant. I haven’t seen a more bemused look from her in all my life; it was a look that said “you make pretend anime characters walk around and get into fights you barely control just so you don’t die, and you say I’M the one that needs help?”)

To hardcore gamers, my mother is more or less the enemy. She’s the reason Nintendo can more or less say that regular and hardcore gamers aren’t important to them anymore. Why would they? Everyone and their dog bought a Wii and one of those stupid peripherals because they were the latest fad. Naturally, they’re the reason the Wii is loaded with crappy shovelware and straight-to-bargain-bin garbage that obscures the good titles, right!? Stupid casual gamers, not buying Okami! Because of THOSE people, companies are going to stop making games like Gears of War, and Halo, and Grand Theft Auto! Those bastards! We want our bloodbaths!

Hold the phone! While all of that could theoretically be true if you want to stretch things, on the other side of that coin, every game I just mentioned is or was $60 USD at the time of release. That much money nowadays seems like a lot for people that were used to $50 games for so long, but that’s because games were $50 back in the 80s, too; if you think it’s hard to swallow buying Two Worlds or Too Human for $60, imagine buying the Atari 2600 version of Pac Man and E.T. for that much! We all did that with the 2600 games, all NES games from Super Mario Bros. to Chubby Cherub, most Super Nintendo and Genesis games (some of those even cost up to $70, including at least a few I’ve bought such as Phantasy Star IV), and all throughout the last generation until straight-to-bargain-bin games became more popular. A hardcore gamer and disposable income can be a dangerous combination. Here’s a pop quiz: what do Megaman X8, Disgaea 2, No More Heroes, Dungeons and Dragons: Tactics, Phantom Brave and two of the three Xenosaga games have in common? They are all games I’ve had for over a month that I haven’t even LOADED yet, let alone beaten, due to either lack of time, the time commitment within, other games I’m playing, or not having beaten the prior game (like with Xenosaga). Granted, not all of those were games I bought new for $60, but even with used purchases and discounts, that’s easily $150 in software, and that’s just a SAMPLE of my own collection, a collection that also includes collector’s editions of both Lunar games, Final Fantasy XII, and multiple Japanese titles, all of which cost a pretty penny. In the meantime, the casual games I’ve mentioned above don’t go a penny above $20, and some cost significantly less than that; every Popcap game ever made is on Steam right now for $100, and they often go on sale. Laugh at a casual gamer and their games all you want, but I don’t see them doing things like owning two copies of Pokemon so they can trade with themselves, owning four different copies over three systems of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, buying the Famicom Disk System versions of both Zelda games despite not yet owning a Famicom Disk System, or bringing their Dreamcast onboard an aircraft carrier for a deployment, knowing the odds of it getting stolen were about 2:1, then replacing it years later after it was stolen. By the way, all of the things I mentioned are things I’ve personally done at some point in my life, and I’m sure a lot of hardcore gamers could tell similar, expensive stories themselves.

With all the categorization of people into different classifications, we seem to miss one key thing: the whole point of video games is to have fun. So when casual gamers come by, like girls getting into our tree house, we tend to react badly due to our fear of being marginalized, not to mention the fear of cooties. If I’ve learned anything in thinking on this subject, other than the fact that abrasive pads aren’t fun to bathe with, it’s that the hardcore vs. casual gamer debate is a bit silly because in the end, because the point of all of this is just to play. Have fun. And instead of trying to judge someone for the games they play, try to frag them instead.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to playing my ancient copy of The Oregon Trail in DOSBox. Everyone here that grew up on that same game that identifies as a “hardcore” gamer likely forgot that would be pigeon-holed as a “casual” game nowadays; I sure had to think about it.


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      Alex Lucard

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