If there are two words I could do without ever hearing again in relation to gaming, they be would "core" and "casual." At some point, while I let my guard down, these terms not only snuck into our lexicon, they became seemingly the gaming question of our time, the future - and perhaps past - of our industry.
The fallout from the outreach program that was E3 continues, traveling as far as the pages of the New York Times, which termed the reaction of "core" gamers to Nintendo's all-singing all-dancing keynote address "nerd rage." After years of pining for the games industry to become mainstream, fans are now recoiling from the growth, jealously guarding their hobby from those foolish "casuals," and feeling ignored by the companies to whom they have given so much of their free time.
History repeats. When the original PlayStation became popular, the same threat was raised - gamers from the SNES and Genesis days felt threatened by the rush of new "post pub" gamers as they were termed in the UK, who were only interested in having fun with their mates and didn't understand the appeal of the games we thought of as highbrow.
That influx of new blood did indeed lead to a rush of sub-standard games and licensed garbage - but it also produced some damn fine games, series still enjoyed today, and ultimately led to the immense popularity of the PlayStation 2, a console that may never again be matched in terms of the depth of its library. Now many of these gamers who were accused of instigating the ruin of the games industry are the "core", dictating the directions of the blockbuster titles and bemoaning the new uneducated gamer who don't understand the complex depth and intricacies of the latest space marine title.
This is the same reaction that fed PC gamers' insecurities as console gaming, with the original Xbox, began to dominate even the genres that the PC had so long led, the same feeling that had everybody sure the PSP was going to dominate the handheld market and condemn Nintendo's handheld division to the same fate as the GameCube.
The reaction of the fanboys is predictable - what's irritating about this is the industry's willingness to buy into it, to split the industry in two and talk as if there are only two types of player out there, the "core" and the "casual." The division between casual and core is more than merely unhelpful - it is inaccurate and damaging.
We want to divide gaming into "simple fluff" vs. "real games" because it's convenient, allowing us to continue making the same games we've always made while making a few quick bucks from cheap party games for this mysterious new audience. This desire to cleave the industry in two was most evident in Microsoft's clumsy attempts to dress up the Xbox 360 as the console for violence-soaked real burly gamers' games in the first half of their E3 keynote, then rapidly switch to pastel-colored avatar-friendly quiz games in the last half.