Casual Has to Stay

This week, I'm reading a book called "Cemetery Dance," which is a fairly entertaining yarn about voodoo murders in New York City. "Crime and Punishment," it ain't, but there's nothing wrong with a good "beach read" -- and there's nothing wrong with marketing a book as such. If you want to be reading something like "Angels & Demons," you don't want to get stuck with "The City of God" by mistake.

So what's the point of discussing my reading proclivities? Last week, my co-columnist Josh called for the elimination of the term "casual games," and now this week, it seems only fair that I call for the exact opposite. The point of the term "casual," as Josh noted up front, is to distinguish games that have a gentle learning curve, but the problem with this term is that many "casual" gamers are finding themselves spending hours on, or on their Nintendo DS, or on the latest concoction from those addiction peddlers at Popcap.

A casual game is not unlike a beach read -- without the negative connotations, of course. They're easy to get into, and the best of them can be extremely difficult to put down. In gaming, the distinction is still a useful one -- developers who want to portray deep or mature themes, or who want to create immersive entertainment experiences generally steer clear of the "casual" designator, and that in turn is helpful for consumers, who want to play a game where, for example, they don't have to murder someone with a golf club or spend 10 hours a week farming potion ingredients. And while there are certainly people who play casual games in a very serious way, that doesn't make the term useless or even inappropriate -- casual games are games that it is possible to enjoy casually. You can sit down and play "Peggle" for 10 minutes and make some progress; playing "Mirror's Edge" for 10 minutes isn't even going to get you started.

Another major component of the "casual" gamer demographic is their lack of identification as gamers. The word "gamer" conjures up a host of associations -- for marketers especially -- some of which are legitimate, and some of which are growing more bogus by the day. But by and large, people who play largely casual games don't identify themselves as "gamers," and don't fit the associations that have grown up around that term -- in other words, they're only casually associated with the overall gamer culture.

I certainly don't claim that "casual" is the ideal term to describe these games and these gamers, but it is the term that has arisen, and for good reason. Goodness knows we don't need more buzz words in this business.

3 comments about "Casual Has to Stay".
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  1. Christopher Payne-taylor from sAY-So, May 22, 2009 at 6:16 p.m.

    Nice that someone has their ear to the ground, so to speak, which is by no means a common occurrence in the gaming world. I mean, what part of casual don't we understand?

    The dictionary definition of casual I've seen most recently is, "without definite or serious intention." Which, of course, is why casual game players don't identify themselves as gamers. Gamers take themselves and their games veeerrrry seeerrriiiooouuusly! By contrast, casual game players are mostly in it for the fun, not the lifestyle or "culture."

    Small, persnickety note: while beach reads may be analogous to casual games, the metaphor breaks down when applied to MMORPG games and ageless works of literature like Crime and Punishment.

    Bottom line, folks ... no matter how big or labyrinthan the game, it's still a game. Maybe if professional sports understood that, they wouldn't be paying $20M a year to a guy who throws a ball real hard. But, hey, who said intelligence had to have any casual relationship to money? Certainly not Dostoyevsky.

  2. Anthony Giallourakis from, LLC, May 22, 2009 at 7:27 p.m.

    A casual game differs from a core game based on the level of interaction which is required, the amount of multi-tasking involved and the overall cost of the experience.

    Advergames are usually casual in nature, but sometimes can offer dimensions which suggest they are less casual than others.

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  3. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, May 26, 2009 at 2:43 p.m.

    Well put. A simple examination of the definition of casual is all that is required. Definition number two reads: "Not regular or permanent." Its use opposite the word formal has perhaps colored the meaning over time; however, it's definition number two that gives us the phrases casual employment and casual sex. It doesn't mean sex in a tee shirt and sweat shorts...

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