Casual vs. Avid vs. Hardcore
December 1, 2008 12:33 PM   Subscribe

What semi-objective criteria can I use to draw lines between a "casual" gamer, an "avid" gamer and a "hardcore gamer" ? (Extra points if it has varying degrees within each category)

This may seem like a silly/arbitrary question, but it has become quite contentious in my group of friends. None of us own up to the idea of being a "hardcore" gamer--some describe themselves as "avid" or the even milder "casual."

I'm looking for factors (# of games owned, # of controllers owned, % of time spent playing, degree to which you care about winning vs. having a good time) that can reasonably (yes, reasonably) be used to assemble something of a graph or chart indicating the general traits of the above three types of gamer.

The reason I'm doing this on MeFi is because...well, I think the hive mind (gamers and non-gamers) could help give us a better, more commonly-held picture. Also, because my friends and I are all very biased and conceited people who don't want to confess the ugly truth.
posted by AlbatrossJones to Technology (41 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I may have failed to mention this--but if you could also provide what you think what the range is for each category...i.e.:

(this is just an example, not my opinion)
Factor: # of games owned
Casual = 1-5, 1-2 of which are new
Avid = 5-10, 2-3 of which are new
Hardcore = >15, 4-5 of which are new

posted by AlbatrossJones at 12:35 PM on December 1, 2008

The first thing that comes to mind would be console ownership. It's doubtful that a casual gamer would actually own a PS3 or 360. A casual gamer might have one older console. But it isn't permanently hooked up.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:40 PM on December 1, 2008

Casual gamer: Owns only a Wii
Avid gamer: Owns a 360 or PS3 and maybe a Wii
Hardcore gamer: Owns a gaming PC and either a PS3 or 360 and maybe a Wii.
posted by Grither at 12:41 PM on December 1, 2008

Note: My list had no room for the "old-school" gamer. Which might be a hardcore type, but might not be. They own and still game on an Atari.
posted by Grither at 12:43 PM on December 1, 2008

Response by poster: But couldn't someone who only owns a Wii still be a hardcore gamer? If they bought a bunch of games every month or so, and played a lot? Maybe if it ...MATTERED A LOT TO THEM?
posted by AlbatrossJones at 12:45 PM on December 1, 2008

Within the industry, the distinction often puts more weight on the kinds of game played and how complex their controls and learning curves are, than on the amount of time or money invested.

As such, if your favourites tend to be games like first person shooters (which require fast reactions and mastery of complex controls), even if you don't play often or own many systems or games you'd likely be considered more hardcore than someone who spends more time and money on simpler games.
Other examples of hardcore games would be RTS games, turn-based RPGs, etc.

But by the same token, a "casual gamer" in industry speak doesn't necessarily mean someone who plays casually.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:46 PM on December 1, 2008

The biggest factor I see isn't how many games or what game hardware the person owns, but how much time the person spends gaming each day/week/month, etc.

I've got a mid-range (sub $1000) gaming PC and I've only played two games on it with any regularly over the last year. I play an average of an hour and a half per night, four or five nights a week. Some people might not consider six to nine hours a week to be much and wouldn't call me anything beyond a casual gamer. So perhaps an even better indicator is what percentage of their free time the person spends gaming. If you stop to consider with work, family, and other random obligations, I'm putting about 80% of my free time into gaming with that six to nine hours.

Factor: % of free-time spent gaming
Casual = 1 - 40%
Avid = 40 - 70%
Hardcore = Over 70%
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 12:47 PM on December 1, 2008

I would have thought that the amount of time spent playing would be the biggest determinant of 'hardcore-ness'.

0-5 hours / week = casual
5-20 hours / week = avid
>20 hours / week = hardcore

or something like that.

I think part of the problem with these discussions is that the hardcore gamer demographic has a very long tail, so that lots of people don't think of themselves as hardcore because while they own an Xbox 360 and a gaming PC and play 20 hours a week, they know other people who own a Wii, 360, and a PS3 and play 40 hours a week. Kind of in the same way that someone who is a millionaire doesn't think of himself as rich because he knows people who are worth 20 million.
posted by pombe at 12:47 PM on December 1, 2008

Nope. And if they care more about winning than having fun, it is more about a competitive personality than any level of "gamerness". Also, careful in the moderation of the thread, otherwise you could get chatfilterpwned.
posted by Grither at 12:48 PM on December 1, 2008

[[Dollars spent on video games per month/Dollars spent on all entertainment (including video games)]+[Percentage of leisure time spent playing video games]+[Percentage of gaming time spent alone]]/3.
More than .50 would probably be "Hardcore", more than .30 would be "Avid", and more than .10 would be "Casual". This isn't exactly precise (It excludes less measurable statistics), but it's probably pretty close.
posted by chairmanroflmao at 12:48 PM on December 1, 2008

I know several people with some/all game consoles and even some computer games, but rarely play them. I don't think ownership should have much to do with the definition.

On the other hand, some people play a single game (like halo) with complete fanatical devotion.

I'd say that the only way to really know if you are hardcore, avid or casual would be to take a good, *honest* look at yourself and figure it out that way!
posted by Astral Newt at 12:49 PM on December 1, 2008

Hours played per week, # games owned, favourite genre, preferred platform.

Of course, any objective/quantified scoring mechanism will eventually run into someone who self-identifies into a different category, e.g. someone who considered themselves "serious" because they play Brain Age for 3 hours a day although it's the only game they own for the DS.
posted by GuyZero at 12:49 PM on December 1, 2008

Along the same lines as my previous answer, percentage of disposable income spent on gaming-related purchases...

on preview, chairmanroflmao seems to have factored that and a lot more into it.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 12:50 PM on December 1, 2008

Academic video game researchers often would prefer to not categorize players, rather looking at a more continuous measure. This study uses a 1-7 scale of how often one plays a game. This study uses categories of "Children chose from six time range categories: no time; 1–2 h; 3–6 h; 7–10 h; 11–14 h; more than 15 h."

If you have access to academic articles, try a Google Scholar search for "video game exposure" and you'll find a number of other studies. It appears that there is no standard way or scale to measure this.
posted by k8t at 12:55 PM on December 1, 2008

A casual gamer plays using someone else's stuff.
An avid gamer owns his own.
A hardcore gamer owns a spare set.
posted by Class Goat at 12:56 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, some people play a single game (like halo) with complete fanatical devotion.

Yes, I would describe someone who owns all of the speedrun records for a certain game, for example, as more hardcore than some random kid whose parents buy him a new Xbox 360 game every week and plays them several hours a day.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:58 PM on December 1, 2008

But couldn't someone who only owns a Wii still be a hardcore gamer? If they bought a bunch of games every month or so, and played a lot? Maybe if it ...MATTERED A LOT TO THEM?

No. That's not what "hardcore gamer" means in this context. Nor can you go simply by amount of time player or whatever... there are old grandmas that play freecell, solitaire, or hearts for many hours but that doesn't make them hardcore gamers.

Hardcore gamers almost certainly own a gaming PC and a console.

Hardcore gamers own something besides a Wii. You are not a hardcore gamer if your console is a Wii. Sorry.

Hardcore gamers almost certainly pay more for their PC video card than casual gamers spend on their entire console. As a corollary, a hardcore gamer plays FPS games, probably multiplayer although this may or may not be their focus.

Hardcore gamers are good at games. If you suck, you aren't a hardcore gamer.
posted by Justinian at 12:59 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

In addition to number of hours per week, I would also somehow quantify hours per session, or desired hours per session. Just as an example, I consider myself a casual gamer because I do not have the fortitude to play anything for more than an hour or so. The hardcore gamers I know will play for 8-12 hours at a stretch, if they have that much time available. Not everyone does have that much time, of course.
posted by cabingirl at 1:02 PM on December 1, 2008

I hang out with "hardcore" gamers. They play one game, which is Super Smash Brothers Brawl for the nintendo Wii. Here are some things that they have done:

Banned 90% of the stages, because they're "Uneaven"
Banned the use of items, because they allow inexperienced players to win against someone who plays 6 hours a day.
Banned the use of specific character, due to several criterion related to the "game balance"
Perform "chain grab" combinations, which are impossible to break out of.
Claim that Super Smash Brothers Melee, an older game, is "better" due to things that are not apparent even to me.
Use, liberally, a set of jargon terms coined exclusively for this game by enthusiasts. Example: Directional Influence (or DI, for short)
Travel hundreds of miles for tournaments, playing for cash prizes.

Really, they're pretty cool guys. They just take it way, way too seriously.

But, I've had a guy slam his controller down and get in a verbal argument with us, and then stomp off in a huff, because we were not abiding by tournament rules and making proper counter picks. This was during a casual tuesday afternoon, when we were feeling goofy and decided to pick the same goofy character.

So yeah, that's hardcore for me.
posted by hellojed at 1:07 PM on December 1, 2008

This thread will go no further than the discussion you're having with your friends.

First, opinions vary too much. F'rinstance, to some people, a casual gamer is someone who spends little time gaming, and never spends money on it, only playing free online games or on other peoples' consoles/computers. To others, that person is not even a gamer at all, they're just someone who plays games, sometimes.

Also, there are way too many criteria. # of controllers, # of consoles, which consoles, # of games owned, hours spent gaming, % of free time spent gaming, dollars spent on gaming, % of disposable income spent on gaming, context of gaming sessions (alone, IRL group, online multiplayer, competition, etc), # of energy drinks consumed per session, preferred brand of drink, color of console, preferred gaming magazine or site (the last few seem jokey, but there are undoubtedly some gamers out there who consider them important to one's gaming identity. Those people are unequivocally in the hardcore gamer category). It's really hard, if not impossible, to synthesize these into one set of criteria.

I had a third point, but I forgot it. I think my argument is made though.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 1:09 PM on December 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

A casual videogamer would not use the unqualified "gamer" to refer to videogamers specifically. Avid or hardcore videogamers would.

(I find it sometimes amusing, sometimes frustrating how videogamers, role-players, and board gamers will each use an unqualified "gaming" to refer to their hobby and "gamer" to those who share it.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:30 PM on December 1, 2008

I think there are interpretations based on time and interpretations based on preference.

The way my brother and I always looked at it was, playing 80 hours a week of Dance Dance Revolution or some online MUD does not a hardcore gamer make. That person would just be an imbecile. If the content is facile, casual, or easily accessible, the player probably falls into the casual category.

On the other hand, someone who plays increasingly abstruse and obscure games would be a "hardcore" gamer; I'm trying to think of an example involving micro-management and lots of data but cannot come up with one... maybe someone who plays the back catalog of Lucasarts adventure games and X-COM type wargames would fit this.

If it seems like that comparison is weighted towards "the older the game, the more cachet and seriousness," I think that is merely coincidental. Overly complex games have sort of gone by the wayside, generally speaking, so in modern games less and less of the spectrum is comprised by that sort of thing.

I always thought of something like the Baldur's Gate/Fallout/Planescape Torment games to be necessarily exclusive by nature of the denseness of text and somewhat cerebral nature. People playing them when they were new were probably more, uh, "serious" than people playing Sega Genesis, and for people still playing them today, it's an even more rarified and niche thing.

I think that a simple scale would be PC--------Console. The closer to the PC end, the less casual, I reckon. There is an investment on the level of the machine, the actual content tends to be more data-rich and involve maneuvering HUDs and such. The console rewards the casual player with ease of use and simplified interface. Note that most console games are third-person moving a sock puppet around type game, while a lot of PC stuff (excluding FPS) was some sort of map or grid-based simulation.

The scale based on a time seems to be more of a modern thing. As does the whole "hardcore" vs. "casual" delineation, for that matter. I dunno. People who played games excessively used to be called dorks, now they're called "gamers." Now it's a lifestyle or something.
posted by softsantear at 1:31 PM on December 1, 2008

I think the people above who point out that hardcore has something to do with involvement with and commitment to a particular game are on to something. It's not just about time but also about dedication and commitment. People who are at the top of the Halo leaderboards or the CounterStrike leaderboards are one example as are the people who are putting together wikis on Super Smash Brothers or World of Warcraft.

In fact for many of these games there is what I think of as a meta-game - a whole set of expertise to mini-max your performance in the game. In World of Warcraft there are whole websites devoted to what gear is best, which spell rotations maximize your theoretical dps and lots and lots of detailed arguments as to what gear/build/spell rotation is optimal for any particular role/situation. In FPSs I imagine this sort of expertise is more things like know spawn locations, good places to snipe from and good weapons combinations.
posted by pombe at 1:42 PM on December 1, 2008

Since opinions vary, my individual viewpoint probably doesn't matter much, but here I go:

Platform doesn't matter, period. You can play on Wii, 360, PS3, or all three... or even older systems like SNES or what have you. There are casual, avid, and hardcore gamers who play each platform.

Ownership doesn't really matter, but I'd contest that it'd be difficult to be a "hardcore" gamer if you didn't own a console at all, though you might still be able to qualify as at least an avid gamer.

Number of games, controllers, consoles, etc. doesn't matter. I would consider myself somewhere between an avid and a hardcore gamer and I only own one console with one controller and (currently) three games.

Total money spent on gaming doesn't really matter. I don't have much extra money left over at the end of the month, so I don't get to spend a lot on games. It's the same reason I don't own many games (because I sell the old ones in order to buy newer ones).

In a certain sense, the amount of time one plays games does not matter. The example I'm thinking of is the one given above about someone's grandmother playing Solitaire or Freecell for hours on end. She may be doing it because there is really nothing better to do, or out of habit, or just to have something to do with her hands. It's really the intention of playing that makes it mean something.

Ultimately you're going to find that it's very difficult to nail this down in terms of a number, and even if you find what's right to you, someone else may wildly disagree with you. In my world, though, the level of gamer that you are is moreso about the amount you "care" about games than anything else.

What I'm saying is that if your primary hobby is gaming, and you think about games all the time, and you read and study and learn about all the current and upcoming games, and while you're not playing games you think about the best way to beat that boss or that opponent, and you do everything you can to find times to play games... then you're probably a hardcore gamer. I would consider myself on the verge of this.

I think the final step in defining a hardcore gamer, and the step that I haven't personally taken yet, is the competitive aspect. Some might disagree, but take this in a broader sense. You don't necessarily have to be competing with someone else in an online game for this to be true. Competition could mean speed runs, completing a game to 100%, or even just challenging yourself to do something difficult or unusual that's outside the bounds of the normal game. I think achievements on Xbox 360, Games for Windows, and Steam and trophies on PS3 will bring this out more even in players that don't typically play online.

There are people out there who probably only have an NES, and probably challenge themselves daily or at least multiple times weekly to do that one thing in that one game that's super difficult, and to do it to the best of their ability. These people are probably rare, sure, but I'm sure somewhere out there, they exist. And I would call this person a hardcore gamer.
posted by joshrholloway at 1:44 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding hours played. There are lots of hardcore gamers who just play one game like counterstrike or WoW. More than 5 hours day? Thats hardcore.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:46 PM on December 1, 2008

I think the line is drawn at what a gamer does when he finishes a game. A hardcore gamer will either repeat the game on a higher difficulty or start up a new game right away. A casual gamer is more likely to shut down the video games and do something else.

Also I think anyone who has a gaming agenda falls into the hardcore category. Some people mark their wow raids or guild meetings on a calendar. Others mark release dates.
posted by valadil at 1:51 PM on December 1, 2008

I think hours played is the only valid criteria. Everything else is subjective and depends on personal playing preferences. Someone could not be a completionist and still play plenty hours a day on different games. Everyone has their own gaming style, and one doesn't have to nerd out and be writing wikis to consider themselves hardcore. I also think it's silly to call certain genres more hardcore than others. Everyone has their genre preferences, and while FPS' may attract more slavish devotees than others doesn't mean a strict puzzle gamer is less hardcore.

Casual- Less than an hour a day

Avid- 1-2 hours a day

Hardcores- 3+ hours a day

That pretty much sums it up for me! Guess I'm in the Avid range... :)

And yes, this means that your grandma that plays online card games for 3 hours a day is totally harcore, just because you're into FPS's and sneer at puzzle games doesn't make her any less of a gamer, even if she doesn't consider herself one. ;) (My mom is totally hardcore, she plays her Brain Age games on the DS ALL NIGHT while watching TV!)
posted by thejrae at 2:04 PM on December 1, 2008

Well, complicating this is not just that there are casual vs. hardcore gamers, but there are casual vs. hardcore games. Although definitions will vary, they tend to break down like this:

Casual game:
- short learning curve (but often steep mastery curve)
- multiple ways to recover from mistakes
- short completion time
- simple interface
- considerable support for learning game rules

Complex game:
- hard learning curve
- few ways to recover from mistakes
- game can take days or months
- complex two-handed controls
- requires knowledge of gaming idioms, controls or conventions
- theorycrafting about rules encouraged

There are certainly games that can straddle those definitions. For example Portal offers considerable support for learning the game rules, and offers no penalty for falling, but still requires comfort with first-person shooter conventions. Still, something like Burning Monkey Solitaire falls into one segment of the market while EVE Online falls into the other segment.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:28 PM on December 1, 2008

The way my brother and I always looked at it was, playing 80 hours a week of Dance Dance Revolution .... does not a hardcore gamer make. That person would just be an imbecile

While I agree that DDR play alone does not make one a serious gamer, it galls me just a tad to hear once again that a couple of years ago, my friends and I were apparently imbeciles. Admittedly, we weren't playing 80 hours a week, but we played it all the freaking time. We had enormous amounts of fun, most of us saw a lot of improvement in our wonky physical coordination -and we all still had giant, bulging, glistening turbo brainmachines. Several of us were very Serious Gamers who played loads of For-Real Games, too.

Clearly, you've not been witness to just how astoundingly hardcore DDR can get for some people. I'm not in on the gaming culture these days, but it's hard for me to believe that the kind of game snobbery exhibited by very proficient DDR players doesn't rank right up there with the most potent and obnoxious of all gamer snobbery. It's even got all the right elements of sexism and xenophobia as well (I observed one extremely, extremely good, competition-winning DDR player start a fight with the declaration that women and non-Japanese people were inherently inferior players.)

This is one reason why there is no point to arguing over what makes someone a real gamer, or a what constitutes certain levels of devotion to gaming. It just brings people out of the woodwork who have snotty things to say about the legitimacy of other video game players.

There's a lot of great analysis going on in this thread, that I am enjoying immensely, but it will be hard to work out a good list of criteria (although I agree that hours of one's life invested is a good, if not a universal rule.) Aren't your friends kind of enjoying fighting over this, though? It really sounds like the kind of things that groups of friends enjoy fighting about. If that's the case, nothing you say will settle this matter, because they have a social habit of enjoyably bitching about this.
posted by Coatlicue at 2:30 PM on December 1, 2008

I think hours played wouldn't be a huge factor. I think intentions and actual game choice are huge parts of being a gamer.
The roommate of my friend in college would play the snake game (eat the dot, grow longer) on her phone for hours every night. Her goal wasn't to get the highest score or become better at the game... she didn't even play it for fun--she did it to run down her battery. She refused to charge her phone at night until her battery was completely dead (because back in the day, bad charging habits resulted in phones with a 1 minute talk life).

My mother sits in front of the computer for at least 2 hours every weekday playing games... but her games are, or become very mindless. Her current favorite consists of colored blocks that appear and you click on a same-colored set of 3 or more and they disappear. At first it can be somewhat strategic (set yourself up so you can clear 20 blocks of the same color in one click) but it will quickly get to the point where the blocks appear so frequently that for a good 25 minutes she's only frantically clicking her mouse at random areas of the screen. The game turns into "How fast can you click your mouse?"--and that's her favorite part. I wouldn't consider her a gamer.

I think the games that gamers play require some skill and have a learning curve (as opposed to: "just click on the boxes as fast as you can"). I think that when they play there's a goal beyond "beating the game".
If you play many games with only the sole purpose of beating them then I would categorize you as a "casual" gamer.
If your goal was to complete an RPG 100%, or become proficient at quickly centering your cross hair at someone's eyeball, or beating another player's score (I think beating your own score as a goal is "casual") or winning every battle up to the final boss without taking any damage then you're moving up the ladder.

Buying game related accessories or paraphernalia give you points: strategy guides, action figures, a weighted mouse, wireless/bluetooth controllers or headsets, etc. (unless you're buying them to look like you're a gamer or as a status symbol).
posted by simplethings at 3:10 PM on December 1, 2008

The students in my game design class are all hardcore gamers (if not hardcore students). So one criterion you could add to the list is "has taken a class in college on game design or programming." (Not that all hardcore gamers take classes, but if you go so far as to pay someone to teach you even more about games than you already know, you must be hardcore. Or think you are.)

Only super-hardcore uber-gamers have actually written a gaming design or programming textbook. It takes a special class of hardcored-ness to write a textbook.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:21 PM on December 1, 2008

It's how much you get out of it. If you enjoy getting 100% completion in a game, you're hardcore. The 100% completion is not the defining factor, nor is how many consoles or different genres of games you own or how many hours played, an indicator. It is how much you enjoy and how much you want to consume more of it.

Same goes for any activity. Many people play golf just to network, many people buy cars for the status symbol. They may rake in the hours of playtime incidentally, but they're not enjoying it the same way the hardcore would.

Micheal Schumacher probably doesn't drive as much as he used to or in any of the same class of vehicles nor at the same speeds he used to. But I would be willing to bet he still loves driving like he used to and that makes him hardcore. I would consider myself avid or hardcore, because whilst my play habits change wildly with my moods, I always enjoy gaming, much more than the norm.
posted by Submiqent at 3:37 PM on December 1, 2008

I will say that other video game researchers would probably consider things like hours played, recall of knowledge, resources invested, immersion in various gaming discourses, intensity of response, and so forth important to developing an understanding of the difference between casual and hardcore. I do a different kind of video game research to which this question is only tangentially related, but when I asked players in a study, "What kind of gamer are you?" I got a lot of resistance to the term itself that I later followed-up on to explain. It didn't make sense to me to slap a label on a player that they themselves refused and each defined differently (like the gamers responding to this question).

I can tell you from my own data that players who identify as a "casual" gamer do so often because they don't want to be identified as a "gamer," with all of the relevant meanings that identity carries. A few characteristics of this group (again from the research I'm conducting) are that they often do not talk about gaming with their friends, they are less likely to play regularly, they often are only interested in one or two games, are less likely to develop strong social ties "in game," and most significantly, are less likely to relate the experiences of gaming to other areas of their life.

Of course, these results are not generalizable to include players I haven't worked with. They offer only a little slice of what the players I worked with consider to be relevant to being a gamer or not; if I interviewed 1,000 players, I would know more. As for the responses on this list, thanks, you all have been very insightful!
posted by mrmojoflying at 4:27 PM on December 1, 2008

The Hardcore/Casual split doesn’t work any more. It’s an incomplete description because as games have pushed deeper and wider into the demographic landscape the old assumptions don’t work any more. Hardcore might mean game literate, and it might mean seeking punishing games, but there are players who self-identify as Hardcore and yet detest any game that will make them feel angry (a feeling that enhances fiero, and can be associated with punishing games). We have no way of distinguishing between those two state of affairs in our current language.

Similarly, Casual might mean less game literate, but there are a great many players who self-identify as Casual but who are clearly well versed in the language of gameplay. And Casual might mean desiring more forgiving games, but about one in five players who self-identify as Casual still say they looking for (or willing to tolerate) anger in their play – roughly the same proportion as in Hardcore players. Once again, the term describes multiple different kinds of players, between which we cannot distinguish in our current language.

posted by juv3nal at 4:34 PM on December 1, 2008

There is actually a tool in the social sciences called the SLIM (Serious Leisure and Inventory Measure). You have to get your hands on an academic article, but here's the link to the information you'll need to find the article.

Even if it doesn't help you directly, it would be a great read for you to see how folks approach these types of questions. (I really enjoyed the article.)
posted by bilabial at 6:44 PM on December 1, 2008

At least for PC gamers only, I agree with a previous poster that the amount spent on the video card delineates. For example, I would argue for the following:

$350+: hardcore
$100 to $349: avid
$1 to $99: casual
on board video: I like to play solitaire to pass the time until the grandkids visit

bonus question: Does your RAM have its own heatsink?
posted by jtfowl0 at 6:46 PM on December 1, 2008

As you can see, elitism will always try to find a way to cut out those that it does not deem worthy. Spend a lot of hours playing video games, but not "approved" video games? Not hardcore. Only own system X? Not hardcore. Spend too little money on your games? Not hardcore. Spend lots of money but you're rich so it doesn't matter? Not hardcore.
FWIW, as a totally casual (formerly hardcore) gamer who has known (and dated, yes, the ladies and gentlemen of the gaming world sometimes do have naked interactions) many gamers of varying levels of hardcoreness, I think it is all about the hours put in. I have a lot of disposable income, some of it goes to purchasing games on a whim that I may only play a little bit before putting down. I do not think this makes me a hardcore gamer. Playing more than a few hours a week, playing a new awesome game like you don't have any other obligations, that is a serious gamer. Those people that have no social life beyond their WoW tribe? Hardcore. Frankly, I think a granny that spends 40+ hours a week playing solitaire is pretty hardcore in her own right.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:09 PM on December 1, 2008

I own an xbox360, which I bought 2 months ago and got four games with it. I've only just completed The Orange Box, am halfway through GTAIV, and have played ten hours of the other games combined. I probably fire the machine up every third or fourth day for an hour of two hour session.

If you asked my housemate who does not play games, she'd say I play a lot (avid?).

What I'm saying is that if your group of friends is discussing this with contention, and they will go as far as to describe themselves as 'avid', you are almost certainly 'hardcore' in the minds of non-gamers, even if they don't know that the term 'hardcore gamer' exists with a specific cachet.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 2:32 AM on December 2, 2008

supersquirrel, obviously you are the expert, and I am not, but I wonder whether programming and designing games really necessarily makes one a "hardcore" gamer in the way many self-described "hardcore gamers" think of it. Many of these people spend nearly all their free time gaming, and, frankly, may lack some perspective into what other people do and enjoy.

It seems to me that there are probably some hobbyist or professional game designers who do it as much or more for the love of programming or CAD or what have you than for gaming. Also, take an example such as Miyamoto. This is a person who obviously understands non-gamers. Obviously he takes games and gaming very seriously. But he obviously also has a lot of IRL contact with RL non-gamer people, otherwise it's doubtful he could have masterminded something like the wii, or Mario, or Yoshi, or his many other achievements. Practically speaking, he is obviously a hardcore gamer, as much as anyone else, but if you compare him to the stereotype of the hardcore gamer, he just might not fit. Of course that probably says more about what people think about hardcore gamers than about Miyamoto himself.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 3:40 AM on December 2, 2008

supersquirrel, obviously you are the expert, and I am not, but I wonder whether programming and designing games really necessarily makes one a "hardcore" gamer in the way many self-described "hardcore gamers" think of it.

Oh no, I am hardly an expert. I learn more from my students than they do from me. I personally identify more with this comment: "hobbyist ... who do it as much or more for the love of programming or CAD or what have you than for gaming".

I think what I'm trying to say is that certain hardcore gamers want to learn to design and program games because they think that they can make better games than what's out there, or they have this fabulous idea for a game and need the skills to make it come to life.

Casual or avid gamers may also have ideas, and most definitely will have opinions on what's good, but only a hardcore gamer will proceed to that next step of trying to create their own game.

Obviously not all hardcore gamers want to study gaming formally. My gaming students tend to belong to that subset of hardcore gamers with the hubris to believe that their idea will be the next big thing, and it's only the minor annoyance of not knowing how to design and code the damn thing that stands in the way of their ultimate success. (My tests and analysis papers tend to stand in their way too, but they have to go through me to get to the really fun classes. bwa-ha-ha)

Of course that probably says more about what people think about hardcore gamers than about Miyamoto himself.

Sure. There's obviously a stereotype of gamers, and there is the reality. In reality, to be a successful game designer/mogul, you have to have people skills and a good understanding of the human mind, and you have to be (or have been) a hardcore gamer.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:44 AM on December 2, 2008

Time is a good indicator, as is knowledge of gaming/gaming culture.

Money spent indicates virtually nothing. As does the collection of hardware you have lying around (PC systems may be the obvious exception)

Both my siblings play online games for free every once in a while. Maybe average an hour a day, max. Casual.

My sister avidly plays board/card games, every chance she gets, but dislikes the same games online.

Far too many of my friends play Warcraft obsessively.

Also, getting a mere 100% completion does not make you hardcore in many/most games. Avid, yes, perhaps. Or low on cash. Finding gamebreakers/unexpected and unintended ways to win/complete/totally mess up the normal flow of the game is much closer to the spirit of hardcore gaming. Of course, I also count spending a lot of time playing a game till you understand it enough to get bored and picking up another game to repeat the pattern as pretty hardcore.

I think theres also a dual meaning of hardcore... people who play games like they wish it was a job, vs people who play games that like to kick you in delicate bits.

If you have games running in 2+ internet tabs, you're at least avid, probably :)

Do poker players count as hardcore? I think so.
posted by Jacen at 11:33 PM on December 2, 2008

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