But framing the condescension toward casual gaming as a matter of gender politics may have been off base. The first true generation of gamers, people who grew up with console systems and PCs in their bedrooms, is aging. Members of the MSN boards had this to say about why they play casual games:

"I still enjoy posting high scores, even if my days of spending hours online are over now that I've got two kids."

"The shooters I loved tend to get [me] wound up, and these days I can only play in the late evening in the hour or two before bedtime.

"I just want to chill after a long day. A game should be a game, not a job."

"The games take more skill than people realize. There's twitch and strategy, but I don't have to deal with a massive, complicated controller or spend four hours on a learning curve. I just settle in and play."

"My kids took over the Wii and the PS3 takes too much effort these days."

Nearly every anecdote was along those lines. Coincidence? Could it have been a measure of maturity, all along?

It's probably not that simple, but a convergence of influences giving rise to the surge in casual gaming development. As budgets for heavily-promoted, male-dominated products continue to climb to dizzying, multimillion dollar heights, casual games can earn out their profit predictions with far fewer customers, without advertising or support costs. The need to grow the gaming consumer market meant that eventually, someone was going to look outside the "males 18-34" slice of the pie and notice a lot of money sitting on the table. But the aging of the first cohort to take gaming for granted as a natural part of life is an undeniable factor.

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But if you asked me, I'd say the main factor is fun. A casual game gives you a blast of accomplishment, pride, adrenaline (50 words from the letters GRSOLPE, two minutes, GO!) and total distraction from whatever you were thinking about before you started playing. By playing any particular game, you have gained a point of commonality with hundreds, even thousands, of other people. If you play enough, you can be part of an exclusive group set apart from mere mortals. And you can get all of this in less time than it takes to brush your teeth. But there's enough solid design, incentive and complexity to keep you involved for hours. From a profit/loss analysis perspective, it's all gain.

"Casual" has nothing to do with time, attitude, approach or the person behind the keys. Instead, casual is gaming in its purest form: Fun when it's convenient for you.

Sanya Weathers is a freelance contributor to The Escapist.

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