I’ve been called a lot of things in my time when it comes to gaming. “Blithering idiot.” “Total bastard.” “Keyboard-turning skill-clicker.” And perhaps the most caustic of all: “mouth-breathing casual.”
Most of these terms come from my wife. Ours is a happy marriage.
Anyway, the last one is sticking with me because to some gamers, ‘casual’ is an extremely dirty word. It’s why the role-playing servers in World of Warcraft are looked down upon (well, that and the atrocious characters running around… here, feast your eyes). Folks who play Magic: the Gathering professionally are more keenly following the buzz on the upcoming Innistrad expansion than the news of a new duel deck featuring Venser and Koth. Sticking with 4th edition D&D rather than using Pathfinder or the old AD&D ruleset probably also marks me as one of those ‘casuals’.
Thinking about it, I’m pretty okay with that.
Gaming is a close runner-up behind writing in terms of favorite ways to spend my time. While I don’t burn a lot of lean tissue in a round or two of Team Fortress 2, I do engage my brain when coming up with refinements to a Commander deck, developing plotlines for a tabletop campaign or working on my macro skills in StarCraft 2. I get a lot of enjoyment out of these things, and I don’t want to lose sight of that by taking the hobby too seriously. I’d like to think I can get good enough at StarCraft 2 or the upcoming Guild Wars 2 to break into the e-sports scene, but it’s going to take a lot of practice before I get myself beyond the level of ‘casual’.
The thing about moving beyond being a casual gamer is that gaming, for the most part, is a rather expensive pastime. Take Magic, for example. To become competitive you need playsets of the most powerful cards available, and that requires a rather large monetary investment. Oh, and the cards you just dropped hundreds of dollars on? They won’t be useful in the very near future. Either the expansions they’re from will pass out of Standard’s ruleset or the card itself may get banned or restricted. You can trade a bit, sure; in fact I’ve started to do some myself since I can’t afford to keep buying singles. But the fact of the matter is that the competitive Magic scene will always be dominated by people who have more disposable income than you. No, thank you.
StarCraft 2 is more accessible in that you don’t need to buy anything other than the box the game comes in, and maybe an authenticator. The hurdle here is dedication and brain power, not cash. You can build your muscle memory and multitasking ability through practice alone, making it more a time investment than anything else. The occasional break for StarJeweled or Aiur Chef with a friend is fine, though, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. You can’t take this stuff too seriously.
I think that’s why some people look down their noses at casuals like myself. I understand the mindset. Gaming is serious business. I used to look at it that way. I would get livid when wiping in a dungeon or getting the facial treatment from an Alliance rogue. It got to the point that my wife stopped playing with me. I was taking it too seriously. I started to fall into that trap again with StarCraft 2, so I took a break. Now that I’m back to it, I’m taking it more easily. I’m using multiplayer (2v2, 3v3) matches to practice and also replaying the single-player campaign on the highest difficulty, and while it gets me angry when things are difficult, I’m not destroying my keyboard or terrifying the cats. Because I know it’s just a game, I should be enjoying it instead of loathing it, and I don’t want to be the next Idra, doing things like ragequitting out of frustrating games I’m about to win.
I think, in the end, it’s more healthy for me to be a casual gamer making my way slowly towards pro-level skills than the kind of gamer who wishes so hard to be pro that they lose sight of all the fun they should be having. If that means I get made fun of on occasion because I like Commander so much or I don’t have the APM of a Korean demigod, so be it. My blood pressure will stay low, my wife will actually want to play with me and, most important of all, I’ll be enjoying the experience.
To me, casual seems like a pretty damn good thing to be.