Love or hate the strong role that casual games–and the people that play them–hold in the world of video games, it’s hard to argue just how dominant the movement for simpler, more approachable games have become. They have brought in new games to fold, gamers who will hopefully graduate to more complex titles, and are a huge source of income for developers and publishers. However, some casual games are so stripped down in terms of structure, can they even be called games at all?
Every piece of software that has ever been labelled a game is effectively a collection of scenarios that have three things in common: an objective that must be completed, obstacles that prevent the player from reaching that objective, a logical way to overcome those obstacles, and a penalty (or penalties) for not accomplishing those objectives and rewards them for doing so.
In each level of Super Mario Bros., there are enemies and pitfalls (obstacles). Touching an enemy or falling into a pitfall results in the loss of a life, and losing all of one’s lives results in having to restart the game (penalties). Reaching the end of the level allows the player to move on to the next level, and a score tracks the player’s progress and mastery (rewards and objectives).
While Super Mario Bros. may not be a terribly complex game–comapred to Grand Theft Auto IV or Metal Gear Solid 4–it is, by definition, a game. Furthermore, it allows for a sense of freedom as gamers can define their own objectives (obtain a high score, complete a speed-run of the game, or merely kill the final boss).
Conversely, software such as Wii Music is lacking all of the traits that define a game; the same could be said for Animal Crossing: City Folk or Second Life. Why is this a bad thing for video games and core gamers?
The answer is simple: if non-games sell and sell well, then developers will begin making more non-games. Does that mean that the death of video gaming is at hand? Probably not, but we could see a tremendous shift in the gaming industry and how it work–and a dwindling population of core gamers–in the future.
What can gamers do? Bring new gamers into the fold with quality titles. Don’t use casual games to entice your friends into gaming simply because they are easy to play; demonstrate the satisfaction that comes from playing deep, engrossing games. Create not a new breed of gamers, but continue to strengthen the line of the time-tested core gamer.
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