This is the second in an 11-part series. To start from the beginning, read part one: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Games."
Think about all the words we have to describe our games. You probably have concrete, specific associations with words like "platformer," "JRPG," and "brawler." Hell, "Metroidvania," with all its rich connotations, has even made its way into the lexicon. What words describe gamers with a similar lack of ambiguity? Those few that spring to mind are nebulous at best.
To the extent that we consider ourselves specialists within the broader rubric of "gamers," it's mostly to express a preference for a genre. That's not good enough. It confuses the effect with the cause. You don't like role-playing games because you've liked other role-playing games. You like them because you respond to qualities endemic to that genre, but there's no reason you wouldn't respond to those same qualities skillfully deployed in another type of game. We need a bottom-up taxonomy that accounts for this.
The two classifications most commonly applied to gamers are "hardcore" and "casual." These terms may be hopelessly broad, but they're an excellent jumping-off point. It would help to define them, once and for all. That's easier said than done. Is a "hardcore" player somebody who eschews popular mainstream games like Halo, or plays weird Japanese games like Persona to the exclusion of all else - that is, someone with narrow or elitist taste? Does a player count as "casual" if they spend hundreds of hours playing only mini-game collections for the Wii, or racking up high scores in online puzzle games?
Maybe we should distinguish the two solely in terms of dollars spent on games -- but I think anybody who got hooked on Desktop Tower Defense this year would admit to having felt hardcore at least some of the time, like when their boss was at the door but they kept on placing turrets. And some of the most committed gamers around pirate a good majority of their software. So expenditure isn't it, either.
If we can't accurately define the two most common terms applied to video game players, then we'll have to look for better ones.
Next: Skill Players vs. Tourists