There are many terms used to denote players of perceived lesser quality in video games as well as other geek activities, sports, and hobbies. You might here someone referred to as a “newbie”, “scrub”, or “terribads”. People on the internet, protected by the veil of anonymity, go even farther using terms like “window-licker” and “mouth breather” making fun of people with mental disabilities or medical problems. (Note: Due to a bad case of deviated septum from having my nose broken when I was younger, I predominantly breathe through my mouth though I try to hide it. I take offense to the terms use). Regardless of the political correctness behind these terms, they are still fairly clear in their intent and they are generally used to describe people below your perceived play level. Back when I played competitive tournament magic, I would constantly hear very high end players whining that they just lost to some “lucky scrub” who had fate on his side that day. The “scrub” may have in fact been a pretty decent player, or above average by most standards but to the professional he was beneath him.
While I may be riding on the coattails of another controversial C word, today I would like to talk about one near and dear to our hearts: Casual. This word has taken on an absolute life of its own and the vast range of stigmas and negativity associated with it is astounding. Before I get into how WoW players perceive the meaning of this word let’s look at it apart from that. The definition of the word casual is as follows:
1. Occurring by chance.
2.a. Occurring at irregular or infrequent intervals; occasional: casual employment at a factory; a casual correspondence with a former teacher.
b. Unpremeditated; offhand: a casual remark.
3. a. Being without ceremony or formality; relaxed: a casual evening with friends.
b. Suited for everyday wear or use; informal.
4. Not serious or thorough; superficial: a casual inspection.
Most of these don’t exactly apply, but the primary definitions that I want to focus on are 2a and 3a. When you refer to someone who is casual about something it means they more than likely don’t do it as often as a professional making it more of a hobby. Similarly you would expect them to be a little more laid back and informal about it.
In console/PC gaming discussions you’ll often find people referring to the “casual gamer” and the “hardcore gamer”. The self proclaimed hardcore gamers are those that actively play first person shooters, triple A action titles, high end roleplaying games, etc. and keep up to date on the current indie titles. This is a very broad brush stroke if you ask me. The people that are referred to as casual gamers are the ones that only play point and click adventures, hidden object games, and most importantly facebook games (Farmville, mafia wars etc.). This is only a perception by the close-minded; it does not, in my opinion, rope in those mainstream gamers that happen to play the BigFish or Telltale games in addition to other titles. Many gamers are furious that their favorite developers are spending resources making facebook games and catering to that sub-set of the community. Many of these gamers are also furious because they fear their favorite franchises will be dumbed down to improve accessibility (Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2 are popular in this discussion but others certain fall in the list). Honestly though, trying to break down the array of gamer types into two classes is pure folly, similar to another multiplayer game we all play.
In many games (sports and video) a casual player is usually just someone who plays it less often and is generally less intimately committed to it. The important thing to remember is that this does not refer to skill. There are plenty of extremely talented players on company or community sports teams that would tell you it is not the case. The problem Is that you will more than likely find less skilled players in a pool of casual participants because they have less time to dedicate to improving their craft. Everyone has their own rate of gathering information and aptitude for activities they partake in. Some people are just faster learners. Just because someone is casual, does not mean they are bad at the hobby they pursue, and just because they may be bad at a hobby they pursue it does not mean they are casual at it (there are people who are hardcore into certain sports but may in fact be terrible).
In WoW the word “casual” has taken on a much more weighted meaning than any case I’ve used before. When I asked some people what they thought about when they heard the word casual here are some paraphrased responses:
1.) Someone who sucks and doesn’t know how to play
2.) Someone who doesn’t play a lot
3.) Someone who only does solo and 5 man content
4.) Someone who doesn’t take any time to read up on their class and improve
5.) Someone who doesn’t know how to min/max their character
6.) Someone who doesn’t care about making their character the best it can be
7.) Someone who stands in fire and sucks at raiding
8.) Someone who just doesn’t care
9.) Morons blizzard is catering to make a complicated game simple and more accessible
There is a lot, lot of venom aimed at this perceived group of people. The problem is that when people try to divvy up the player base they make many of the same mistakes as those i mentioned in the video game player base.
Once upon a time I did the super high end guild thing and was something like 36th in the US killing Kel Thuzad in Naxxramas 40 (hard back then mind you). The schedule and intense level of dedication required to push that content was, what I considered, “hardcore” at the time. Others might refer to hardcore folk (for wow and other games) as simply those that play a hell of a lot more than the average folk. Nowadays anyone and everyone is calling themselves a hardcore raider and anyone they see as beneath them is referred to as a casual. This is ludicrous to me. You can’t just declare yourself “hardcore” simply because you feel like it. I propose that there are many tiers when referring to types of players and those tiers are strictly based on how much or invested a player is in the game and not necessarily their skill. Amount played rankings could theoretically be: Beginner, Casual, Average, Hardcore; and skill modifiers could be Novice Raider, Standard Raider, Experienced Raider, Professional.
Because of all the weight the word carries, people are very quick to disassociate themselves with it and use it as an insult. “Go away casual” “Quit your complaining casual” “Casuals are ruining the game for us raiders”. When a term becomes synonymous with “bad” then it becomes a finger pointing / deflection game. All it serves to do is draw a line in the sand and everyone clamors to get to the correct side of it. Playground politics and fear of being labeled encourages this behavior and perpetuates the animosity. Someone who plays the game casually and raids one or two nights a week (or does solo and 5 man content) may be just as smart and adaptive as a full time player.
As evident by Gabe’s Greater Internet Theory, you can never really take the unpleasantness out of the internet. It is just physically impossible. People will continue to complain and nerd-rage over the slightest things. What I do hope is that we can shy away from using the C word as a form of super-insult embodying everything people think is wrong with the game. We need to strip away all of the unfair assumptions tied to the word and use it in a fair way. Blizzard is going to continue to make their game more accessible to the gamer population because they want to expand the player base. That is an inevitability, and people will just need to get over that fact. Everyone plays the game at their own pace and sees the content they work towards seeing; we all pay the same amount and are worth the same to Blizzard.