Thursday, January 17, 2008

A New Taxonomy of Gamers: Tying It All Together

This is the tenth in an 11-part series. To start from the beginning, read part one: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Games." Or read the previous post, "Case Study: The Orange Box."

By now, we've developed two different ways to group gamers. First, we considered taste in gameplay. We differentiated between Skill Players and Tourists, and for good measure theorized that Skill Players can be further split into Completists and Perfectionists. Then, we talked about how the perception of value can vary from one person to another, and identified two possible types of consumers we called Wholesale Players and Premium Players. Both of these taxonomies suggest a way to talk about games that's based on a common understanding, and not the subjective nature of game characteristics like genre, storyline, or presentation.

What's still unclear is how to integrate them. It seems logical to assume that Tourists are more naturally going to be Premium Players. The Tourist is looking for dramatic gameplay sequences and narrative high points, and isn't terribly interested in finding hidden items or achieving a perfect rating. That seems to match up with the Premium Player, who is willing to pay more per hour of play in order to finish a game. Skill Players are more likely to also be Wholesale Players. Our Skill Players would seem to want the extended gameplay a Wholesale Player seeks; for the Completist, that means lots of things to find and the time necessary to find them, and for the Perfectionist, many challenges to conquer.

That doesn't necessarily hold true in every case. There's no reason a Skill Player can't also be a Premium Player, and no reason a Tourist can't be a Wholesale Player. And it's here that I want to go all the way back to the beginning -- to when we talked about "hardcore" versus "casual" gamers. We couldn't figure out what those terms meant, and now we can say why.

The reason "hardcore" and "casual" fail as classifications for gamers is because each of those classifications contains contradictory meanings.

Essentially, when you call someone a hardcore gamer, you are saying nothing about what type of games they like to play, or the manner in which they like to play those games. You are simply saying that this guy seems to really like games. Is that helpful to anybody? If anything, it leads to the sorts of pissing matches that inevitably overwhelm online game discussion. That designation becomes a badge of honor to be defended instead of what it should be -- a simple, objective term with no value judgments attached.

There's no reason a Tourist can't be "hardcore" -- no reason he can't be the sort to simply rip through one game after another in search of unique experiences. No reason a Perfectionist can't be "casual," and simply try to master, say, Wii Carnival Games. A Wholesale Player may still want linear, narrative games like Okami, and a Premium Player might be getting his money's worth with quick sessions of the latest Tetris. Who in that group is the casual player? Who is the hardcore player?

So if there is no easy or quick way to combine these questions of taste and value, maybe that's a blessing in disguise. Maybe that means we can stop stereotyping ourselves and broaden the conversation. We gamers contain multitudes. It's time we realized it.

Next: Know Thyself


James said...

I agree with your overall point but the casual/hardcore distinction remains very real and very useful WITHIN a given game community.

In WoW the hardcore have belonged to a guild for a long time, post on boards, perfect their gear, etc. Their defining characteristic is they take the game seriously as a hobby more than a game, and they pour a lot of hours into it.

In shooters, similarly, the hardcore belong to clans, take the game seriously, treat it like a hobby, etc.

Essentially a hardcore player is someone who has chosen to make that game a serious part of their life. Now, defining the general term "hardcore gamer" is much more difficult. I think it is really just an error of trying to apply a concept that makes sense within a single game community to the gaming community as a whole.

Anonymous said...

You should really see the comment in your second part. It states exactly what is concluded here, except without all the confusion. In this sense, it doesn't matter whether someone says Hardcore or Casual. People can think what they want when they hear the words, african american, and black. Nobody is trying to be politically correct.

The point was for you to define the terms properly. Rather than judge whether the literal terms could be used because some kid out there has presumptions about what it means. Nobody from that group is going to give a damn or read this.

And, its not a stereotype. And stereotypes are not all negative. And, unless you are as genius as I am, you won't be able to stop yourself from judging others when talking to them.

meerkat said...

I would say that the Perfectionist trying to master Wii Carnival Games is not a "casual gamer" since he or she is playing in a perfectionistic style and trying to master a game. It doesn't matter if the game is considered casual, since if it's satisfying to the Perfectionist it must have depth to it. Your definition of Tourist lines up pretty exactly with my definition of "casual gamer." So if your tourist is not necessarily a casual gamer, what is your definition of a casual gamer? (The tourist who simply wants to play as many games as possible doesn't sound much like a casual gamer, but couldn't you consider them a meta-completionist since they are trying to complete a collection of games rather than collections in a given game? What if this person's time is at a premium so they actually don't do very well at playing a large number of games? I suppose to really be a casual gamer you have to be both a tourist and a premium-time-person so that you don't spend too much time on games, because that would be kind of "hardcore.")