You see, when I was at school, "casual" was a phrase to describe a stylish, if unchallenging, sort of person - floppy fringe, nice trousers, smart jumper and shirt, shiny shoes; nice boys and girls, basically - so it was part of my vocabulary. However, I had my mum, and her Tetris addiction specifically, in mind whenever I referred to casual gamers.
Casual/Hardcore has become so ubiquitous now that I hesitate to claim it came from me, but I can't think where else it might've started. Indeed, Digitiser used to use casual rather sneeringly, looking down our noses as those for whom gaming wasn't the be-all and end-all, and implying a certain elitism.
We never really meant it, or even particularly cared, but as the years wore on it became clear that there were those who really took it seriously. For them, there was a badge of honour in being a "hardcore" gamer - and everyone else was in some way deficient.
Even though the casuals were the ones with an actual life and families and that...
So, if we created the casual/hardcore terminology - which has since spread around the world - then I'm sorry. But - hey - it's okay: because now there aren't just two types of gamers.
According to gaming and esports analysts Newzoo, there are now as many as EIGHT types of gamer!
People love a label - whether it's one they apply to other people, or as a form of identity for themselves. We love a bit of tribalism, and we love to generalise, so Newzoo aims to do the work for you by lumping everyone into one of eight categories, broken down as follows:
- The Ultimate Gamer (13%) — Somebody who spends all their money and free time on games.
- The All-Around Enthusiast (9%) — Someone who lives a balanced gaming life in your playing, viewing, and buying habits.
- The Cloud Gamer (19%) — An early adopter of game streaming services and will only spend money on hardware when necessary.
- The Conventional Player (4%) — An owner of tons of gaming hardware, who would rather spend their time playing games than watching other people play games.
- The Hardware Enthusiast (9%) — They keep up with all the latest hardware trends and probably have a $5,000 extreme-build rig with RGB lighting everywhere.
- The Popcorn Gamer (13%) — They don't play games too often, but like watching others play games.
- The Backseat Viewer (6%) — Someone who used to play games avidly, but they got older and acquired responsibilities, and now watch esports and let's plays.
- The Time Filler (27%) — A person who plays games when they have the time. Probably owns a console.
The problem with a list like this is that I struggle to know where I fit into it. It's like a form of astrology; when I look at the supposed traits of the various star signs, I can see elements of myself in a number of them... but I kind of, sort of, begrudgingly go "Yeah, I suppose I'm a Leo"... Because that's what I'm told I am.
With Newzoo's gamer list, I dunno who I am. I'm a bit The Time Filler, I'm a bit The Cloud Gamer, I'm a bit The Conventional Player, I'm a bit All-Round Enthusiast. Even a bit The Popcorn Gamer. And The Backseat Viewer.
And I'm definitely not The Ultimate Gamer. God forbid.
But this is the issue when you start getting more detailed with your labels; at least casual and hardcore were obviously sweeping, blanket, statements - and it was kind of a given that everyone beneath those umbrellas would be individuals, all of whom had slightly different relationships to gaming.
The second you get more detailed, the second you try to make a definitive list, the labelling falls apart, because it highlights how diverse people actually are.
Although, according to Newzoo's rather Buzzfeed-y quiz, I'm an All-Round Enthusiast, and my brethren and I make up 9% of the gaming audience...
"Choose which dessert you want to order and we'll tell you what type of gamer you are!"
If you're going to start getting more specific like this, then where are the people who only play, I dunno, flight simulators - like my mate James? Or the ones like my mum who only play games on Facebook? Or feminist gamers? Or retro gamers? Or people who are in it for the community aspect alone?
I understand Newzoo's aim with this, and that it's an impossible task... but it also seems like a completely pointless task.
What worries me is how this seems to be a reflection of the tribalism that the world appears to have descended into.
You're either left, or right, or a centralist, or with us or against us, and there's no room anymore for nuance or any shades of grey. Gamers can't be broken down into eight types! I mean, aside from anything, I don't even identify as a "gamer". I just play games as part of my life, same as I listen to music, and eat food.
I don't go around calling myself a "muso" or a "foodie". Why are some gamers so desperate to label themselves? Why are they so proud of being a "gamer"?! Again, it's that us-and-them, manufactured, tribalism, but it also seems to be something to do with identity.
I was talking to one of my kids the other night about the various "tribes" at her school. It feels like individuality is less valued than ever. Now it's all safety in numbers. At the same time, I've never really felt like I fit in anywhere - so the problem here feels like it might be with me
In this sort of second era of Digitiser's existence, I've found myself on the fringes of the retro gaming community, but I don't really identify as a retro gamer. Just as I always felt like I was lurking at the edges of 90s games journalism, an unwanted, uninvited, and disruptive guest at the table, here I am once again kind of an outlier in retro gaming YouTube, not really feeling comfortable in any sort of box.
For me, it's not even something I see as a good thing. I take no pride in how I feel unable to categorise myself, and I'm not sure I like not feeling like I belong.
I've got that instinct to be a part of something, the same as everyone else, but the only real tribe I feel a part of is my family. I don't have a need to belong to another one, even though part of me envies those who can fit into those boxes.
And yet, tribalism and belonging aside, there's still something depressingly reductive in trying to place all people who play video games into one of eight categories.
I'd genuinely be interested to know what you think; do you fit into any of the categories comfortably? Do you feel like you're part of a tribe, or a community?
You know what to do: comment. Comment hard.