Maybe being hardcore is a particularly human talent

I am sure there are people out there who have never been hardcore fans for anything in their lives. They’ve never geeked out about which is the best Pink Floyd album cover, their favourite pylon on the London-North East railway, the optimal way to survive a naked run in Diablo 2, or the best raid composition for the Black Temple (at level, of course).

(Yeah I have known people in my life who were Pink Floyd album cover geeks, and electricity pylon geeks. Envy me!)

But still, it’s these little things which give our lives meaning, and knowing that they’re little things is part of the fun. Will the world end if I don’t get my favourite seat on the 7:24 train from Spinksville Station? Of course not, but it’s still my favourite seat and if you wanted to listen for 5 minutes I could explain precisely why.

I was mulling this over after reading Gevlon’s comments on social gaming. His insight is that casual players usually play casually, won’t get too attached to a social type of game, and will drift off after a short amount of time to something else. This is exactly how I interact with social games, if the short amount of time is less than 10 minutes total. But there are undoubtedly people who, given the chance, will get all hardcore about a game like Farmville.

I don’t understand why. I don’t understand why anyone would pay any money to play that game at all. Why would anyone care about being hardcore on a game that is so obviously casual? And yet, enough people clearly do to bolster some very large companies.

Maybe we just have to put it down to an odd quirk of the human spirit. Maybe it’s that ability to get all hardcore about minor things which made mankind come down from the trees, develop tools, and take over the planet. That strange hardcore geek who had a thing for playing that odd little game with sticks and stones …

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14 thoughts on “Maybe being hardcore is a particularly human talent

  1. Yes, I think that’s probably right. Most casual players are hardcore about something in their lives. It’s possible that they’re hardcore about something in the game, something that isn’t obvious as they mooch around the pack of your group doing less dps than the healer.

    I suspect it relates to our drives towards status. I might not be good at WoW or Farmville but I’m superior at naming electric pylons. Note the word superior – that’s why people do it, I think.

    I think that’s part of the F2P philosophy. Get people to play casually because there’s no barriers. Then gradually encourage them to become hardcore. It also explains why games with enough traction like WoW and SWTOR can be confident of success even with those barriers – they already have hardcore Blizzard or Star Wars fans to whom a couple of hundred quid is not significant in pursuit of their hobby.

  2. There’s a bloke on the 07:58 train every morning who tries to get the seat that is MINE. However, he’s also a smoker, and he’s often stuck on the platform desperately trying to get the last bit of nicotine in while I coolly come up from the carriage behind and take MY seat. His hardcore smoking is clashing with his hardcore seat selection.

    I know hardcore crossworders, football fans, baseball fans, metalheads… I’m pretty sure it’s wired into people to focus down on SOMEthing. It’s just that if it’s football or celebrity lifestyles, that’s seen as “normal”.

    And there’s nothing wrong with pylons.

  3. Hmm. I read Gevlon’s post (and yours, naturally), but I don’t necessarily agree with the concept of casual as it was defined. I prefer to think of ‘casual’ as in between the concepts of ‘indifferent’ and ‘obsessive’. Whether you like something or hate it, the amount of time you spend thinking and acting on something defines your approach. Being a casual isn’t a step down from being diagnosed ADHD, but is instead more along the lines of “yeah, I play, but I don’t go out of my way to read E-J to find out about the best gear combos and attack rotations.”

    Another way of thinking about it is regards to movies. If you really don’t care about seeing a particular movie, you’re indifferent. If you want to go see it and when isn’t important, you’re a casual. If you have to go see it at the midnight showing, you’re obsessive. Likewise, if you despise a particular movie and not only refuse to go but will tell people why whenever there’s a discussion about the movie, you’re also obsessive (just in a different way).

    I don’t think we as a species can avoid being obsessive about at least something. Even those who follow the Middle Path can be said to be obsessed about moderating all things.

    Casuals don’t necessarily chase the ‘shiny’, because if they did I’d consider them obsessed about that chase. Casuals are hard to define because the reasons for their lack of obsession are myriad; about the only thing you could describe casuals in an MMO are by what they aren’t. They don’t spend most of their free time in-game. They don’t constantly research and tweak and discuss and explore the game.

    • I don’t think reading EJ is not casual any more. These days EJ generally has a dummies guide for every spec that can be digested in minutes. Following the arguments is non-casual but just glancing at the cookie cutter summary – that’s perfectly casual. It’s like looking at the TV guide to decide what programmes to watch.

  4. I think there is some merit to the theory Gevlon posted, I don’t entirely agree. I’m also not entirely sure we’ll see continued success in ‘social games’ markets because they were a mistake. And people do learn from their mistakes.

    What do I mean about mistake?

    I think once people realize that they’re not owning anything from the large amount money they’ll spend, they’ll move on and avoid future games or purchases like that. Kind of like the whole dot.com bubble.

    • On the other hand, people are fairly used to paying for entertainment without ending up with ownership. So maybe it will just be that the slot machine model of gaming will catch on even more.

  5. It’s because no two people are the same.

    That is because no two peoples’ brains are wired the same. Nature expects that no two creatures are exactly the same. That is what drives evolution and natural selection. There is a bell-curve that applies to every higher-order creature, a distribution of physical and behavioral properties, and it is a fact. That is what makes ‘casuals’ and ‘hard cores’.

    And there are large groups of people that have similar behaviors, and can be grouped by those behaviors. Again, ‘casuals, and hard cores’.

    Unfortunately, the average human has a really hard time understanding and accepting the fact that ‘everyone is not just like me’, or ‘not everyone thinks like me’. Which is one of the reasons people choose to associate with people that behave like them. The reason they choose the friends and mates they do. That is also human behavior. We like people who are like us, and don’t like people who are not like us. ‘Hard cores’ don’t like ‘casuals’ and vice versa.

    It’s just the way the human animal works. Which is actually just like how all the other animals out there work – but humans don’t like to think they are animals too.

  6. “Why would anyone care about being hardcore on a game that is so obviously casual?”
    You phrase it as if people want to be hardcore in order to be able to call themselves hardcore. I could turn your statement around “why would anyone care about being casual in a game that is so obviously hardcore?”. Does it matter to these players what category they fall in?
    I also feel like adding here that you can easily be hardcore in Farmville without spending any money.

  7. Spending more effort and caring more about the outcome than is warranted by the activity is what playing means. If you look at kids playing un-self-consciously, they’re often very serious about what they’re doing until they realize they’re being watched, at which point their attitude changes.

    The hardcore/casual split is a result of people being self-consciously defensive about over-investing themselves while playing.

  8. You saw that article a while back… I think Lum linked to it… about Zynga having a special store front for their “big spenders,” right? There are people who spend in the thousands on their games.

    People get attached obsessively to things, some more than others. There was a story in the news a couple of years back about the dentist who was so into Star Trek: TNG that her office was entirely in theme and she wore a Star Fleet uniform every day. It came up as news because she insisted on wearing that uniform at jury duty as well.

    And lets face it, we all know some obsessive sports fans. I have friends who spend thousands every year on season tickets to home games, travel to away games, and all sorts of extras. And yet I am the odd-ball because I spend nearly as much time (and a tiny fraction of the cost) playing computer games as they do focused on the local sports team.

    Who are we to judge what is obsession worthy and what is not? We all seem to be hardcore in some aspect of our life. It if happens to be little virtual farms, so be it.

    • True enough. And it does cast the hardcore/ casual split in a different light, because maybe one of the triumphs of MMOs has been making a huge game in which really obsessed players can play alongside ones who are barely obsessed at all.

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