Why the term “casual gaming” needs to die in a fire

In the comments on my previous post, the following nugget of casual-gamer-hate popped up:

I think that 47% figure is factoring in women that play Angry Birds on their IPhones or something.

I hate it when people hate on casual games, and I ESPECIALLY hate it when people hate on casual gamers, especially given that pretty much everyone knows that casual gamers almost always = women. And yet among a certain set of gamers, the idea of casual gamers seems to elicit the same sort of disgust as would lepers or genuine fans of Rob Liefeld[1].

I could write an entirely separate post about my hatred for the Fake Nerd Girl meme, but I won’t.

And I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the hate, and I’m sick of the not-really-veiled attempt to define “real” gaming as the parts that don’t contain girls.

So here are some reasons why I think the hate for casual games is bullshit and why I wish the phrase “casual game” would go away forever.

1. Casual games aren’t games? WRONG.

(Unless you’re talking about FarmVille, which totally isn’t a game, it’s a psychological manipulation marketing tool, and not even a well-disguised one at that[2].)

The problem with saying that casual games aren’t games is that it’s a classic case of moving the goal posts. What exactly is it about casual games that make them not games? The fact that they tend to be addictive? Okay, well by that reasoning you’ve just said that Civilization isn’t a game, because I defy you to come up with a game more addictive than Civilization. (JUST ONE. MORE. TURN.)

From Civ Anon. I can’t tell if this is real, or a very clever parody[2].
Is it the fact that casual games tend to be played on mobile devices as opposed to consoles or desktops? Well by that definition, Pokemon doesn’t count as a game, since it’s played on Nintendo’s mobile platforms, nor do any of the other major releases for handheld consoles that people have played over the years.

Is it the fact that they require no major time-investment to play? You can play a few minutes or a few hours and then stop? Well what about games like Tetris, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, etc? Hell, for that matter, what about any fighting game[3]?

Face it. The only real distinguishing factor of casual games is that they are games played predominantly by women. Saying that casual games aren’t games is nothing more than a declaration that the only “real” games are games meant for men, because only men are “real” gamers. Furthermore, to say that casual games aren’t games is factually innacccurate. ANGRY BIRDS IS A VIDEO GAME. It is a game that you play on a screen that has objectives that are reasonably attainable and is competitive and some people find it fun. Thus, it is a video game.

2. The false commitment binary

When casual games exploded in popularity, a firm hierarchy was established. There were the casual gamers and the “hardcore” gamers, and never the twain shall meet. There were the lowly “casuals” – bored moms and computer-challenged grandmothers playing endless games of Candy Crush and Words with Friends – and then there were the HARDCORE gamers. MEN! MANLY MEN! Manly men playing Call Of Duty and Battlefield on Xbox and gleefully trash-talking each other because they were REAL gamers who were HARDCORE.

The only problem is that this idea of the “commitment binary” – you are either a casual gamer or a hardcore gamer – is complete and utter bullshit. Sure there are some women gamers who only play casual games or who only play “hardcore” games. But there are also a lot of women who play both, or whose habits and inclinations change depending on mood and current circumstances.

To help illustrate the point, I did an (entirely unscientific) poll of a small circle of ladygamer friends on my Google+. Amusingly, while I got 11 responses (including myself), I only included 9 in the following graphs because one woman said that she only played one game at a time in periodic gaming binges, while the other said she wasn’t really sure which games she played would be casual and which games wouldn’t – which just goes to illustrate how incredibly arbitrary the division between casual and “hardcore” is.

Nope. Sure doesn’t look like there’s any real correlation between amount of time played per week and how much of that time was spent on casual versus non-casual games. But just to make things a little clearer, I sorted the results a bit and came up with:

And then you have the mitigating circumstances. Several women said they would play more non-casual games if their mobile devices were capable of running them. Two women also said that their high hours per week of games played was because of long commutes – although one typically played a non-casual game on her commute while the other played casual games on her hers.

What was even more interesting was that polling the women for their favorite games in each category yielded some interesting results. Casual games cited were: Temple Run, Angry Birds, Pocket Frogs, Mystery Manner, BubbleXplode, Word Welder, Scrabble, Tetris, Bejeweled, Kami, Word Monsters, Pet Rescue, Farm Heroes, Juice Cubes, and 2048. Angry Birds, sure, but not a single mention of Candy Crush! And most of these were games I hadn’t even heard of!

Non-Casual games cited were: Tomb Raider, Lightning Returns, Civilization 5, Final Fantasy (in general), Oblivion/Elder Scrolls, Fire Emblem, Assassin’s Creed, Catan, and The Bureau. So sure you’ve got some RPGs, but you’ve also got action, stealth, and civilization-building, to name a few.

So here’s where I break out the feminist theory. (Bear with me.) Gaming habits, like gender expressions, are a spectrum. The extremes, pure casual and pure non-casual, are comparatively rare, with most people falling somewhere in between. So remember, just say no to false binaries.

3. Casual games don’t discriminate against us

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a male gamer in possession of bro-itude must be in want of a woman to make him a sandwich.

Anyone who’s been paying a modicum of attention to the state of women in gaming knows that women routinely face harassment in most areas of gaming, especially when that gaming happens online. One only has to look at websites like the (now defunct) Fat, Ugly or Slutty to see an example of the ways in which women are disincentivized from venturing into “traditional” (read: male) gaming spaces.

And that’s not considering of the sexism of games themselves. Even if you can carve out a safe gaming space for yourself, all too often the very games you’re looking to play end up reminding you of your “inferior” status through objectified female characters, stories void of any women except sex workers, or stories without any women at all.

But “casual” games like Angry Birds or Words With Friends or 2048? They don’t constantly remind us our our second-class status. No one is there to call us an ugly slut or demand that we make them a sandwich. There aren’t any overly-inflated breasts or teeny-weeny costumes. So is it any wonder that women would flock to a genre of games that isn’t designed to make us feel bad about ourselves? HOW SHOCKING.

So with all of the above in mind, I’m going to issue a Commandment.

DON’T CRAP ON OTHER PEOPLE’S FUN.

While some games have broader appeal than others, I have yet to find a single game that has universal appeal. Just because a certain game makes you want to gouge your eyes out doesn’t automatically make it a terrible game, and it certainly doesn’t mean that people who do enjoy that game are objectively wrong and must be taught the error of their ways. All it means is that that game isn’t for you. That’s it. That’s all.

For instance, I have a lot of friends who enjoy Risk. I fucking loathe Risk, or, for that matter, any game where you can know you’re going to lose and still be forced to play for an hour and a half before you’re “out”, and where the game might drag on another 4 or 5 hours without you. But some people enjoy that sort of high-risk, high-reward play style, so you know what? Cool! All I have to do is just not play Risk.

So if someone is playing a game that you hate, ask yourself ARE THEY HAVING FUN? If yes, are they hurting anyone? Like it’s not called Throw Knives at Toddlers or Run Over Puppies with Monster Trucks, right? If not, then CHILL THE FUCK OUT. Even if you have the most amazing rant about how what they’re playing isn’t actually a game, keep it to yourself because no one wants to hear it, and by shoving it in people’s faces you’re making yourself into That Asshole. Yeah, you know the one. THAT GUY.

Nobody made you the Fun Lord. You don’t get to decide what is and is not objectively fun. You don’t get to tell people what they do or do not enjoy. So shut the fuck up.


An Addendum

So after I’d already outlined the post and fleshed out most of the arguments, the commenter who inspired this post decided to prove exactly the point that I making by trolling when I rebutted the notion that Angry Birds isn’t a video game.

What made the trolling more egregious was that his original comment was quite receptive to the idea of women in gaming, if a bit clueless:

… I would think males would be more welcoming to female geeks. I mean…where else can you find women with similar interests? Please continue to try and get more women into gaming in general. The scene really needs it right now.

(You can read the entire comment here)

Because the commenter seemed receptive, I focused most of my response on relating my personal experiences of how I have been made to feel unwelcome (with the added comment of yes Angry Birds is a video game). But apparently sharing my personal experiences and disputing that yes, Angry Birds is a video game, was, I don’t know. Too something. Because he then went off on a bizarre little rant that read like an anti-feminist bingo card and included one of my personal favorites: BUT SAUDIA ARABIA[4].

So thanks for helping prove my point, troll comment guy, that the argument about casual games really isn’t about the definition of games. Also? It takes a special kind of asshole to ask why women feel unwelcome, and then – after I shared the story of how I was sexually victimized at a convention – accuse me of taking creep shots of women at cons for the purposes of slut-shaming them on my blog. Congratulations! You may be a C+ troll but you are an A+ asshole.


[1] OH SNAP

[2] I wanted to make a “just one more turn” joke about 12 step programs, but that would make me a terrible person.

[3] Sure some of the newer ones (like Soul Calibur) have “story modes” where you can play a campaign to unlock weapons and costumes and stuff. But mostly it boils down to, go here, beat up this character, rinse, repeat.

[4] As in, why are you wasting your time writing about sexism in games when women are being oppressed in Saudia Arabia?