Since I've logged over 80 hours of gameplay in SquareSoft's classic PSone RPG Xenogears, I knew I was up to something. Aside from the probability of never achieving contact with a female, the sensation of "hardcore" gaming was all over me. It was like when I first pressed the A button and watched Mario stomp a goomba. It was like landing that knock-out punch to Glass Joe in Punch Out. Just like using an elixir during a hectic Final Fantasy turn-based battle, the experience was refreshing.
But these days, I've been hearing several of my peers hosting many Wii Sports nights. Though the mix of pseudo-sports activities and hot wings seemed enticing, I was always hesitant in attending one. So one night, after cancelling my booked schedule consisting of nothing, I attend one of my buddy's Wii Sports event. I laughed. I played. And I laughed some more. But during my laughter, I asked myself, "Is this considered hardcore gaming", then immediately, I was pummeled down in Boxing.
So really, what's the definition of a "hardcore gamer"?
First, let's look into what exactly qualifies a gamer as hardcore. Growing up with the Japanese gaming scene, I always preferred titles from the east. I wanted to be considered hardcore. I can't tell you exactly how many quarters I've spent in the local arcade machine, trying to perfect Wolverine's 99 hit air combo in Capcom's Marvel Super Heroes. I have beaten virtually every Final Fantasy title I got my hands on, except when I realized I wasn't actually living in Vana'Diel. And yes, speaking of the MMOs, I did experience the World of Warcraft--calling in sick at the job (not this one Stephen!), lying to my significant other that I had to work an extra night shift and attending 10-hour-long guild raid sessions. Aside from de-leveling to "loser" class, does that sound hardcore enough?
Or how about the folks like my peers, who plays endless hours of Wii Sports with actual human interaction. The gamers who shred endless combo streaks in Guitar Hero, call in UAV strikes every 30 seconds while playing Call of Duty 4 online, Madden NFL athletes who would always top the online charts and Katamari Damacy pros who have rolled up a ball bigger than our planet--do they qualify as hardcore as well? Does playing a specific genre of game have anything to do with the meaning of hardcore?
Perhaps being hardcore simply means finding your own gaming niche and community. Depending on the games we play, people would perceive things differently. I always admire folks who just completely annihilate opponents in RTS titles like Starcraft, hit every single drum cue on Rock Band and perfects the art of head shots in Unreal Tournament. But then if I would tell them about my explorations in the world of Azeroth, they would respond with an "...Oh cool", while they wear a question mark symbol over their heads as if I was turning in a quest to them--a completely careless reaction. Community perception can be a key to open up the hardcore doors, but if you look at it at another way, it could be quite the opposite.
One of the images from our BlizzCon 2007 archives
Since the early days of online gaming, no matter what title you played, no matter what loot you were trying to get and no matter how high your kills-per-death ratio was, there was always one common goal--bragging rights. When it comes to competition, it gets really personal, even in games. I can't tell you how many times a crime has occured in local PC cafes just because someone got pwnt with an AK47 in Valve's Counter-Strike. Playing hours of Gears of War online, I considered asking myself, "Am I really enjoying this, or should I keep on working to get my 10,000 kills for the Seriously achievement?". Does online gaming contribute to the hardcore gaming niche or is it just mainly for bling? Or on the other hand, does online gaming's appeal attract more attention from the opposite of the hardcore crowd: casual gamers?
Earlier this year, the National Purchase Diary group (NPD) reported that, from ages six to forty-four, 72% of people have played video games in 2007. And you bet your ass the casual gaming market made a significant contribution to that percentage; heck, even Electronic Arts created a casual games division. According to a report by CNET in 2006, the casual games market is expected to be worth $1.15 billion by 2011. And more recently, since E3 2008, many have speculated that one of gaming's most revered founders, Nintendo, has left the "hardcore" crowd and went inside a mini van to create titles for soccer moms. While casual gaming did contribute to the video game industry in terms of profits and appeal, can it be considered "hardcore"?
All these questions I've asked, folks, and I've come up with one answer: "Hardcore" gaming's meaning is up to you. We might not play the same games, enjoy playing online or logging endless hours into an RPG title, but the gaming industry still continues to pump out an exciting variety of titles we ALL can enjoy. And the more we play, the more we find out what really puts the "hard" in the core of gaming.