I occasionally encounter people on gaming forums who talk about “hardcore gamers” as if there’s some kind of accepted definition of the term. You know: “hardcore gamers are gamers who play more than 25 hours a day and who only drink Red Bull intravenously” or something like that. The problem with such ‘definitions’ is that they rely heavily on vague concepts, which means it’s very easy to play with your interlocutor’s head by recursively asking them for definitions, complaining that their terminology is imprecise. That rhetorical technique is the real reason they killed Socrates.
So what is a hardcore gamer?*
One incredibly useful resource I found for talking about gaming demographics is the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) – the company that owns and operates the E3 gaming expo. As a consequence of where they sit in the industry, they see a lot of what the publishers are dealing with, gaming privacy/content legislation, game demographics, and the marketing spend of various big publishers.
They publish a report about gaming: READ IT, which is required reading for anyone who wants to say they know anything about hardcore gamers. It’s chock full of cool statistics like:
When trying to nail down a definition of hardcore gaming, the first move I usually get is “hardcore gamers play a lot” Well, that’s pretty easy to respond to: “everyone plays a lot.” You want to know who really plays a lot? People stuck in airport departure lounges who play Sid Meier’s Pirates for iPad for 8 solid hours like my friend and I did in London’s Heathrow Airport, yesterday. Or the millions – literally millions – of people who play Candy Crush or Words With Friends while sitting on subways or buses to and from work.
Well, then there’s that other thing: age.
There seems to be a flat spot in the gaming demographics right around the age where people are at the peak of their careers. That sort of makes sense. One thing the ESA statistics really exploded for me is that hardcore gamers are not teenagers. There are some gaming communities that are dominated by older gamers. For example, the community that plays Elite:Dangerous has a substantial and very active community of 50-60 year-old pilots some of whom retired from flying for various air forces and who’ve had careers and show a great deal of self-discipline and who use IT skills very effectively. A teenager who goes up against a 53 year-old IT consultant that’s flying wearing an HTC Vive using a Hands On Throttle And Stick(HOTAS) set-up with foot pedals and speech-recognition commands, is in for a horrible and fairly brief dogfighting experience. I don’t think hardcore gamers are necessarily the old IT grey wolves who play macro’d, cool, calm and collected, either.
Maybe hardcore gamers are the ones who play the most popular games! You know, like: Whups… Like The Sims. Or Minecraft. And “Words with Friends” Words With Friends is huge in the smart phone gaming category, though I suspect Pokemon Go has blown it away for a while. But just in terms of who is playing what the most, the top games of all time are Minecraft, World of Warcraft, and Diablo 3. Then you get into Counter-Strike – the first 1st person shooter on the list – which is followed by The Sims.
There is a key point beginning to emerge from all of this: Games have become a social phenomenon. My first years of gaming were spent sitting around playing Wing Commander or Gabriel Knight – alone – because low-cost networking wasn’t going to come along for a while.
Games are a family phenomenon as well. If I may add as an aside, that statistic looks like of weird: parents aren’t “family members”? How did they score it that way and why?
Where are we now in our quest to define a hardcore gamer? It’s starting to look more and more like a hardcore gamer is someone who spends 10-20 hours a week playing World of Warcraft with a circle of friends, or digging MineCraft with a parent. I do know one family that plays Call of Duty as a unit; their room entry technique is impeccable and the 14 year-old sniper is scary.
56% of The Most Frequent Gamers Play a Multiplayer Game At Least Weekly
I don’t think the people who talk about hardcore gaming are really talking about generic multiplayer, though. Mild Spoiler: usually around this time the hardcore gaming proponent says “you know, like Call of Duty – that’s a hardcore game!” Oh, well, it’s not even on the list of best-selling games of all time. Grand Theft Auto V has about the same sales as Euro Trucker, both of which – combined – are a 12th of the sales of World of Warcraft. If you zoom in on a single year then you’ll find the fad-games which haven’t made a blip in the best selling of all times chart: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was #1 in 2014, ahead of #2 Madden NFL 15. Then you have Bungie’s shooter #3 Destiny, followed by Grand Theft Auto V at #4 and Minecraft at #5. When you look just at the PC market, it’s: The Sims 4(#1) and The Sims 3(#2).
So, it’s not the age of the player community, it’s not the popularity of the game – what on earth is a hardcore game?
Around now is where I start asking them “Are you defining a ‘hardcore game’ as being a ‘boy’s club’? You know, a social space where homophobia, racism, and sexism are tolerated? Because it’s starting to look like we’ve eliminated the other possibilities.”
It gets interesting when you slice up the gender distribution in some of the popular games:***
World of Warcraft: M 60% F 40%
Minecraft: M 94% F 6% ( <- this was before it was available on Xbox!)
After Minecraft became available on Xbox, it adjusted to about 50/50. By the way, researching this kind of material can be painful if you have even a rudimentary understanding of science in general and statistics in particular. You’ll see lots of comments like “I guess minecraft appeals more to men because thinky stuff.” You won’t see lots of comments like “I guess Madden NFL appeals more to men because men like thudding their heads against things.”
Guys People Rule
Another possibility is that hardcore gamers are gamers that have a life-long committment to games. I’ve heard that argument before, too, and I have to admit I like it because it places me somewhere in the hardness vicinity of tungsten. The first game I played was “spacewar” on a DEC PDP-1 in 1972 at the Johns Hopkins University summer fair. And I’ve been gaming to some degree or another ever since. But when you try to get into “how much gaming have you done?” fights it seems sort of irrelevant. If I had stuck with playing my version of Tank War I wrote on my high school’s Ohio Scientific Challenger, I’d be the undisputed world champion by now. Rating a gamer’s hardness based on what they’ve played results in silly things like trying to count the total number of titles played, or the total number of hours spent sitting in a chair.
That just gives a huge advantage to us older gamers in terms of our hardcore-ness. (I cannot help but notice Anita’s got no Amiga games or TRS-80 games, and no Atari 800 cartridges. Sniff. Xbox? She hasn’t even got any rolls of punched paper tape, FFS. Compared to me and my friends she’s a n00b. But then, compared to me and my friends, most gamergaters are n00bs too! Hey, I helped re-code and debug a decompiled version of Peter Langston’s Empire for BRL v6 UNIX, I can haz hardcore?)
There are No Hardcore Games, or Hardcore Gamers
There’s really no such thing as a hardcore game or a hardcore gamer. There are some people who take every single game seriously and/or spend insane amounts of time on it. Search for websites devoted to helping people
cheatwin at Words With Friends and you’ll find lots. Search for websites devoted to pretty much any game and you’ll find it’s got a serious group of players, or it’s out of print and off the shelf.
The people I encounter who talk about hardcore gamers appear to me to be using vagueness to generate a mythical status of “hardcore gamer” that they can then claim that people are not. It’s a variation of a “no true scotsman” fallacy, and it’s easily defeated using linguistic nihilism.****
What’s going on is that there are games that are more or less popular and there are games that sell more or less well. The gaming industry is awake to the issue of gender in games and has been for some time, which is why we are beginning to see non-hypersexualized female avatars in some games and loosening of gender roles. There’s some outcry about this, of course, but it’s coming from those that are attempting to police and protect their perception of those pre-existing roles; a perception that is clearly demonstrated as wrong by anyone who looks at the demographics of gaming or where the money is being spent. The big companies that are producing games, like Blizzard, Bungie, Microsoft are not stupid (mostly) and see this as a matter of expanding their markets – deliberately limiting the appeal of your products is never a successful strategy in an entertainment industry. Similarly, limiting your social horizon is never a good strategy in a social game, unless your idea of fun is isolating yourself and then complaining that you’re lonely.
So the end-game for this discussion, for me, is to not allow my partner to claim any special status of “hardcore”ness and then switch the discussion to the properties of what makes a good game. Does having more complex and interesting plot structure make for a better game? Then embracing gender issues, gender oppression, and homophobia might make for interesting plot-points whereas leaving them out limits your landscape. Does having more complex and interesting characters make for a better game? Then embracing diversity ought to make for more interesting and complex characters, whereas games built around broad stereotypes aren’t just potentially offensive, they’re stupid and shallow. Does having the ability to play your character with a broader range of avatars give you more room to feel connected to your role-play? Then embracing diversity ought to make people role-play better – after all, we’re not all beefy white guys with 120″ shoulders and 26” waists and … oh, that’s not you either?
Sure, it’s about gender and class and power and whatnot, but it’s also about better games. That’s why the boys’ club in gaming is under attack: games like Duke Nukem are pretty stupid and it’s immersion breaking to try to get my head into that of a musclebound doofus who apparently has no cerebral cortex and operates off his brain-stem alone. When someone says that political correctness is ruining gaming, ask them why they want to play such bad games. There are loads of really great games out there and, ultimately, resorting to a bit of 3D rendered booty is a way of insulting the customer: “See? I think you’re so stupid you’ll buy this crappy game because it has a 3D rendered booty and a shelf-boob in it, instead of buying something that’s pretty good that has deep strategy and a plausible story-line driving the gameplay.”*****
If there are “hardcore gamers” they appear to be the players that like pretty mediocre games. Why are they patting themselves on the back for that?
(* I am going to avoid scare quoting “hardcore gamer” even though, by the time we’re done here, you’ll hopefully be as confused about what is a “hardcore gamer” as I am!)
(** I watched all of “Deadwood” while flying to the galactic core in Elite:Dangerous. It’s an excellent show.)
(*** I know it’s not binary, but that’s how the demographics I have are reported)
(**** I don’t know another term for it, but “linguistic nihilism” is my inner language for it. It’s when you use tropes of extreme skepticism, pyrhhonian-style, to destroy people’s ability to define words, then roll that into an epistemological challenge. That’s basically what this article is doing: if you can’t define “hardcore gaming” you don’t know what it is, and therefore maybe it’s a figment of your imagination. Socrates used this technique all the time, especially in Euthyphro, where Euthyphro complains to Socrates that:
I shall still say that you are the Daedalus who sets arguments in motion; not I, certainly, but you make them move or go round, for they would never have stirred, as far as I am concerned.
Another technique of linguistic nihilism is to deny your opponent the use of language by asking them to define terms until they fall into a circular argument, then reject their argument as untenable because the definitions depend on themselves.)
(***** I did play the beginning of Tomb Raider 1, but I deleted it because I was playing Master of Orion instead)