Games less casual

casual games

All games are casual. Computer games are no exception. Games have been casual for centuries. There is no distinction, in terms of structure and mechanics, between a first person shooter and a game of pop the bubbles. Casual games are nothing new. And they are everywhere.

Contrary to popular opinion in the video games industry, everybody plays games! People play scrabble, they play chess, tic-tac-toe, cards, etcetera. People have always played games, casually. And now they play them on computers. The so-called rise of casual games does not exist. It’s simply people using computers (and other techno-gadgets) more.

Some computer games, however, offer more than casual entertainment. These games simulate believable environments and feature interesting characters, artificial intelligence, deep stories, sophisticated soundtracks. Games like this show us a glimpse of the future of the interactive medium.

But to this day, sadly, even most of these games still contain a mind-numbing layer of casual gameplay. Get the keycard, kill the boss monster, solve the puzzle, collect the gold, win some stupid game. Go to the next level, start again. Ad nauseam. Completely destroying the delicately woven layer of fiction and simulation that can be so rich and meaningful.

While we can play games with computers, we don’t need computers to play games. But to create an interactive illusion, an immersive and believable environment, a fiction that responds to your every move, requires a computer. This is where the heart and soul of computer entertainment lies. This is what we need to focus on.

The casual designers can continue to explore the myriad constellations of “interesting game mechanics” and “cool level design”. As they have been doing for centuries. We can even learn a thing or two from them. Accessibility for instance. While there may not be much difference in terms of structure and mechanics, the interfaces of explicitly casual games are often simply much better designed. Because casual games target everybody, their interfaces need to be intuitive and simple. There is no reason for interactive entertainment to be complicated.

Casual gameplay is universally appealing. Even on a computer. Everybody plays casually at some point. But these experiences are not meaningful. They are not important to most people. Casual game experiences are nowhere near as significant as experiences with film, literature or music.

If we want to realize the enormous potential of the interactive medium, we need to get rid of casual gameplay! Move on. And concentrate on the unique things we can do with this technology. Less casual, more ambitious, deeper, interesting, new.

20 thoughts on “Games less casual”

  1. Interesting. Up until the very last paragraph I was nodding my head along, feeling that you’d spied out the truth about what it means to game casually.

    I agree that as new tools are developed, artists will invent experiences for us that we couldn’t even have imagined previously. It is precisely because of this that casual play is so important.

    As you noted, people have been playing casual games forever, and with good reason. Because they’re fun!

    Crafting a memorable experience is not trivial, and there are many ways to hook into someone’s feelings as they’re experiencing your creation. Games can use the same techniques as books and movies, such as the creation and relief of tension in storytelling, as well as previously unexplored techniques unique to the medium, but as soon as an experience abandons Fun as one of its tools, it ceases to be a game.

  2. I love how you’ve discovered this key distinction, which I really feel is incredibly important, and continue to refine it. I’ll be hounding every designer I know with your posts on this subject :-)

  3. Michael, please. Could you come up with a new idea soon? I agree with them, but you’ve posted the same sort of thing over and over. Their main point(s) are the same.


  4. I agree that the main point is the same. I’m just looking at this same issue from different angles. Somebody has to do it. Because everybody keeps cranking out the same rubbish continuously. I’m sick of it. If they don’t stop, I won’t either.

    I promise I will shut up when a game is published that I like to play. It’s been years now. My Playstation is gathering dust. I’m bored. Make something nice already!

  5. I’ve been more of a “hardcore gamer” as some might say, and to me, these articles definitely offer a fresh and genuinely inspiring perspective on these things.

    Reinforcing your main point by approaching it from different sides might not offer anything new to someone who already agrees with you, as that would probably mean preaching to converted.
    But it might make your thoughts more accessible to someone like me who’s still somewhat following what the big fat industry keeps throwing at us.

    Anyway, keep fighting the good fight, buddy ;).

  6. I agree with Chuck, this point needs to be hammered home. We’re so close. I enjoy the big releases, but it bothers me that someone who enjoys good novels or arthouse film would find so little to like in the world of games. Everything is still so mired in genres.

    For example, I wish someone would take the dialogue tree out of Mass Effect and make a realist game set in an office, with lifelike characters rather than space marines. Not that I don’t love space marines, mind you – but we need something more.

  7. There’s so many games with worlds and characters that appeal to me, but I can’t play them because they are either too difficult or too typical in terms of gameplay (or both).

    It’s so bad that I’m wishing that Bioshock was a movie instead… (and that’s a real shame because I’m a strong believer in the superiority of the interactive medium)

  8. I don’t even like movies that much. But I have to admit that they are better at certain things. Providing content for different kinds of people, for instance.

    I don’t think I’m the only person in the entire universe who thinks that many current games are too difficult, even if their worlds and stories are attractive (but maybe I’m one of very few game designers who thinks so?). That doesn’t mean I want them to be movies. I just want them to be easier to play.

    (Only if that’s not an option, I would want them to be movies, because at least then I can see something (lately I have seen more games through YouTube speedruns than I have actually interacted with them…).)

  9. Wait, less demands on the player for interaction = less casual? What the…? Casual and not casual is something to be determined by the viewer/player. I can watch a movie casually, or I can become totally engrossed in it.

    Some players play these more challenging games and become totally immersed in the virtual control, virtual environment.

    I do agree with you that the interaction could be more interesting. Frequently I avoid good, highly rated games simply because I dread running and jumping through another bland environment.

    Developers are trying, though. I mean, it’s being introduced reeeeaally slowly, because most players and developers do not particularly wish for more, or perhaps are not even capable of imagining something greater, but. In time, you know. I’m feeling optimistic.

    … but still somehow pessimistic at the same time. Oh well.

  10. I think you’re honing in on something with these posts, not just repeating the same thing over and over necessarily. Seeing it from this angle, in terms of “casual gameplay” does help me. :) I’ve recently decided to get good at casual gameplay so I can feel confident moving onto more experimental territory. Accessibility has not been my strong point so far. :p

  11. The more I read these the more converted I become, it’s almost scary. That may be a ‘lie repeated often enough becomes truth’ thing, but maybe not.

    In particular I agree with your criticism of gameplay that it’s usually too boring and too challenging, often keeping people from seeing the interesting parts of the game.

    However, I still like playing games and am not totally adverse to having both gameplay and interactive stories in one game. I just finished Persona 3, a Japanese RPG, and I loved both its story and its gameplay. But perhaps the two should be more separate, so that either / both are optional, and the player can partake of both in whatever degree they wish. Forcing someone to beat a level to see more story or more of the game world, or to sit through a lengthy story segment to get to the next level or challenge, is annoying for people who strongly prefer one over the other.

  12. Thank you for your very interesting opinion. If we speak about quest-adventure games, developers often meet casual temptations which force them to implement “mini-games”, puzzles etc. in their storyline, to “fill” the gameplay and add some interaction. I wonder how would you describe the ideal adventure game for you?

  13. The problem with such mini-games is that, while they may be enjoyable onto themselves, they often interrupt the flow of the game and break the experience of the fiction. I’d say, let mini-games flourish on cell phones. And remove everything from other games that does not contribute to the story, the theme, the feeling and atmosphere.

  14. I wish every game developer would have your opinion on that, recently I have been very frustrated with the developement of the gaming industry, never before it was that profit orientated. Mostly sequels to minize the risk of a financial disaster, small to none innovation because EA owns almost every other bigger game company. And almost the only two genres still existing are FPS and RTS and MMORPG, I still remember times with lots of flight simulators, adventures, RPG and alike, and most of them were good.

    And for Console gaming . . how is your view on Nintendo? Are they innovative for giving us Wii & DS or are they making shallow games? What do you think?

    However, for what I´ve seen so far from ToT I could hug every last one of you. Please be there forever.

  15. Thank you, Mineral. Nintendo has definitely broken the mold and proven that there are other ways to be successful, very successful. You can really feel the influence of this when you talk to business people in the industry. They are a lot less certain about their “proven models” and a lot more open to experimentation.

    That being said, most games that have been made for the Wii and the DS don’t exactly expand the medium. One could say that Nintendo has removed all the fat from games and reduced them to a more pure state, with a focus on playfulness over challenge. The best games for their consoles have been light-hearted and whimsical. This has allowed them to access a type of gamer who was left behind by bombastic excess and skill and time requirements of games on other consoles.

    Nintendo, in a way, has returned to the original casualness of games. And that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. But in essence, this is not innovative. It embraces the roots of gaming. But it doesn’t go much beyond that. Yet.

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