Thoughts on "casual" games? What does that term mean to you?


#1

Been thinking a bit lately about the idea of casual games, and what exactly that means for a saturated market with endless niches. In my mind, casual games range from Flappy Bird and Candy Crush to Alto’s Adventure and Monument Valley–that is, games with extremely simple mechanics and an extremely forgiving game loop and difficulty curve. Does that seem accurate?

But then I look at those examples and I see that they’re all fairly “commercial”, in the sense that they’re meant to appeal to as many people as possible. So I’m left wondering if there’s a middle-ground for games in this vein, with simple to understand mechanics, a non-demanding “pick up and play” game loop, but maybe with a tad more depth, story, and relative difficulty than your average casual game. Not hardcore, not casual… CASUALCORE?! No no, but something along those lines. :slight_smile:

Maybe I’m describing something that already exists, and if I am, I’d love to hear about it. To me, this seems like an interesting space with potential, even though it’s pretty hard to define.

Thanks!


#2

a casual game for me is one that is flexible about how much time commitment it demands in one sitting. something that I can hop up and away from at any given instant without penalizing myself.


#3

The majority of games of solitaire/patience end in loss but it’s a casual game. I think the association with all casual games having a more forgiving curve or being easy is possibly tied to trying to define the class of “casual players” (with all the gendered issues that term has - including how hardcore-casual isn’t a consistent scale between genders) more than actually working as a useful rule for classifying games.

A classic Tim Schafer game is casual? (I doubt many would make the case) What about his more modern work? What about Jane Jensen? What’s the hardcore to casual differentiation between Gray Matter (2011) and Broken Age (2014)? Is it a factor of the game or the audience. The link I dropped above makes it pretty clear that hardcore women focus on different aspects of a game (and their intensity of drive is what differentiates in that study from casual to hardcore) to hardcore men. But if you wanted me to try and bucket games by what the popular crowd called casual, I’d probably use those motivation categories to say the areas hardcore women are most attracted to are going to be called casual games. If your RPG contains the wrong kind of crafting (that doesn’t sufficiently masculinise cooking or tailoring) then it’s casual, otherwise it can be called hardcore.

Edit: I would say that trying to define casual as a block of games will always fail (and usually fall into the trap of gendered and gatekeeping ideas about “real games” etc). The term actually applies primarily to how games are played and you can be a hardcore player who spends a lot of hours and gets really into the systems or go to the other end of the scale and be more of a casual player. And it’s per-game. WoW has lots of both. Overwatch has lots of both. You can be a very causal player of Overwatch but hardcore into WoW (and there are many ways to be hardcore into WoW, even if that mainly takes place on chat interfaces as you run a big guild and manage other players).


#4

I’d call a casual game anything you play absent-mindedly. It isn’t part of your identity, you don’t schedule your life around it, most of time when you play it you aren’t even giving it your full attention. It’s something you play to kill a few minutes. I got a game on my phone called Piano Tiles I’ve been playing for three years now. Most of that time I’ve played it on the toilet.

There really shouldn’t be a stigma for that kind of thing.


#5

This sounds like the space most big console games attempt to fill, to me. Games for people that play enough to spend a chunk of change on a box dedicated to video games, but not enough to invest in a gaming PC. Pretty much all Nintendo first party games fit that description.


#6

Yeah, I 100% had that thought as I was writing the post. But the more I thought about the way those games progress, it felt less true. The description fits maybe in the first quarter or first half of those games you’re describing, but becomes less and less accurate the deeper you get into the game. I’m thinking more of something that keeps its level of engagement and difficulty on an even keel as it goes, escalating only ever so slightly and focusing more on diversity of play than difficultly.

Does that make sense?


#7

I think that’s a great description, and I ABSOLUTELY agree that there should be no stigma whatsoever, no matter how you describe casual.

But, do you think there exists that same kind of game, which you can more or less play absentmindedly and in spare moments (say before bed, on the bus, etc), that encompasses the depth of story and world building as a more robust, “non-casual” game?


#8

That’s my general vibe as well - it’s a game I can play while watching Great British Bake-Off, or as a podcast or audiobook game, or while I’m in an elevator.


#9

I think this is pretty accurate, but you could technically say this about certain turn-based games (Into the Breach comes to mind), that are more than happy to sit and wait for you to input a command. Would that make those kinds of games “casual”? Maybe it’s more about the amount of thought a game demands while you play, no matter what happens when you walk away?


#10

Do you ever find yourself thinking of those games when you’re not playing them? Or are they simply an in-the-moment, play-and-forget experience?


#11

So I couldn’t disagree more. My podcast games are often grognard strategy games (where there is very little audio or narrated story so podcasts can be a great thing to layer on top to ensure my hours are spent somewhat maximised) or the sub-genres we explicitly label hardcore (the simulation end of driving games for example). The would rarely get put into the category of casual commonly understood (as I say above, I’m on the side of the labels not being great for games rather than styles of play/gamers but we still have a common understanding of how they are typically used and it’s not for simulation driving games or grand strategy titles).

When I throw a TV show onto the second screen and start up Factorio or Slay the Spire, it’s not because I’m not going to give them enough attention or that being able to do that makes it more likely they’re casual in play style.


#12

I was specifically referring to a game that fits in all three criteria - in an elevator, while watching TV, and listening to podcasts.


#13

A little bit - two of the games that fit that criteria for me are Magic The Gathering Puzzle Quest and Fate Grand Order. I find myself thinking about future events (and also what historical figures would make interesting characters), for F:GO and occasionally thinking about which Planeswalker I want to focus on next in M:TG:PQ.


#14

Great examples, thanks!


#15

So I would argue pretty much all games can be played casually. For example I play chess with a friend very casually once in a while, the game is just moving on autopilot while we talk and drink coffee or whatever. But I would not call chess a casual game. A casual game. I think, at least encourages or is designed specifically to be played casually. Should you even be able to play a casual game non-casually? What a casual game actually is is hard to pinpoint but I think a lot of the posts above have done a good job in trying to find a suitable definition.

To me a casual game is something I can play with little to no mental effort. The rules should be simple and there should not be a great amount of mechanical depth or variety. I also think a good casual game has a certain fluidity in it’s movement/interactivity. It should resemble the act of doodling on a piece of paper or flipping a coin.


#16

I like that, and it seems to echo the concept of low barrier to entry.


#17

So I think a kind of key part of the term “casual” is its opposition to the term “hardcore”, which is deeply related to the cultivated consumer identity of “gamers”. A response I’ve heard to statistics about gaming demographics (like this pamphlet) have said that things like mobile games and Facebook games shouldn’t count. But the term “game” is extremely broad, just like the term “book” or “music”, and so on. Flappy Bird is by all measures a game.

The term “casual” refers more to the user’s relationship with games than it does games itself. The idea of a “hardcore gamer” is erroneously attributed to the type of game being played, even though a “hardcore gamer” could be one who plays RTS games or competitive FPS games. The question, for me, is more essentially: is it something the person does casually, or is a hobby? (as in this lol) Do you do Sudoku when you’re bored, or do you have bookshelves of the Nicoli books? Do you go on runs from time to time, or do you go on runs every morning and get the runner’s high?

I’m of the opinion that the divide between these types of play-style and these types of people is steadily thinning, especially due to ease of access. For example, “art house” directors like David Lynch are becoming more a part of the common discourse, instead of someone only “film buffs” are into. Similarly, “hardcore” games like, say, competitive shooters like Fortnite are explosively popular. (For the record, I think this is a good thing, and further breaks the divide between (scare quotes) “high” and “low” culture.)

So, all that being said, what I think of as “casual” is more dependent on how it demands your time and attention, but also importantly mastery. But this is also kind of complicated because games like Farmville are designed to demand attention, despite being ostensibly “casual”. I think Tetris, Animal Crossing and Sokobon/puzzle games games are great models for this stuff; they demand little from you but pass the time in a pleasant and meaningful way. I think of these games a lot like things like kendama or yo-yos; games that are engaging for the fundamental act of playing them, but don’t require dedicated mastery or dedicated attention.


#18

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. This part especially stood out to me “demanding little from you, but passing the time in a pleasant and MEANINGFUL way”.

The meaningful aspect is key imo to moving beyond your average simple/frivolous game with fleeting novelty, and onto something greater that will perhaps make a greater impact on you.


#19

I don’t think any two people are going to have answers that align perfectly.

To me though, a casual game is one where the barrier to entry is relatively low, and the typical play session is relatively short. The skill ceiling for a casual game can be incredibly high, but it is easy for a novice to grasp it and engage with it on an enjoyable level. Tetris is a casual game because even someone who has never played a game before can grasp the concept and play it within seconds. You can play it at astronomically high levels, but that doesn’t stop people from having fun with low level play. It’s also why I wouldn’t consider Dead Cells or Super Meat Boy casual. The basic mechanics are simple enough, but they are nowhere near as enjoyable at the lowest skill levels.

Now in internet parlance “casual games” are whatever games are really popular with a wide variety of people that people who wrap up their identity with their hobby look down on. The Sims, Madden, CoD, Mario Kart, whatever, these are all “casual games” because they don’t require some ill described level of skill or knowledge of the medium.


#20

I guess it depends how you’re playing it. I’ve played a lot of Final Fatnasy games pretty absent-mindedly on the GBA while the TV is on, but also I’m very much no casual about my Final Fantasy fandom and I’m a freak about it.