PlayStation Vita

What Makes Portable Gaming So Casual?

How portable gaming fits in the hardcore gaming discussion.

Hardcore gaming. It’s a thing, apparently. I for one have never understood the necessity of a distinction between gamers based upon how much or how “hard” we play. What baffles me even more, though, is that it’s possible for games or even entire gaming systems to be hardcore or not hardcore. And unfortunately for all gamers, these distinctions are a big deal for people trying to get into gaming.

Now, I know what people call hardcore games. If it can be considered a Major League Game or what have you, it’s probably hardcore. The Starcraft series, hardcore. Civilization, hardcore. Fighting games, hardcore? Console games tend to get a bad rap from exclusively PC gamers, but that’s not the angle I want to talk about.

If there’s one thing PC and console gamers (and the hybrids, of course) can agree on, it’s that portable gaming isn’t hardcore. The logic goes, “if you are playing something that doesn’t require substantial time investment over short periods of time, then it is casual.” Which is to say, if you don’t sit and play for hours, you’re not hardcore.

A Nyko brand auxiliary battery pack for the 3DS is mounted to the underside of the portable console, providing additional battery life.
Or one of these things that make the 3DS even harder to fit in your pocket, purse, or other storage site.

Now, this ignores two things. One, that portable gamers don’t sit and play for ridiculous lengths of time (I used to carry my DS cord with me so I could plug and play everywhere) and two, that there aren’t people who take portable gaming just as competitively as console or PC games.

I mean, I don’t know about y’all, but looking at how much effort people put into Pokémon games, I’d say they are pretty hardcore. People spend hundreds of hours min-maxing trying to create the perfect monsters to breed a dozen times so that the monster’s descendant can have a very specific set of skills and attributes.

Me, I don’t really go for all that, so I guess that makes me casual? My method of play favors personal choice and more organic play. I pick monsters I like and I don’t spend too much time grinding. I’ll do some grinding for both personal story reasons and to get a little bit of cash for my character, but that’s typically not to buy stat improving items.

A player character in Pokemon X or Y consults with a sales associate at a clothing boutique and is told to check merchandise in the back of the store.
Every single item in the back of the store costs an arm and a leg and you engage in glamorized dog-fighting in order to fund your clothes obsession. Hardcore?

If I do grind, it’s to buy fashion items, if we’re talking about X or Y. Is it not hardcore to spend hundreds of hours so that you’ll be able to buy a really awesome and overpriced trench coat? If not, then how is it any different from playing dozens of Team Fortress 2 sessions so as to acquire a hat?

And so what if people only play a game five minutes at a time? I play Animal Crossing: New Leaf rather sporadically, but I’ve clocked over a hundred hours in that game just as sure as I did it in Morrowind. Difference is I didn’t have a dungeon in my house’s basement in Morrowind. Can’t get more hardcore than playing for months and months so you can get that eeeeeeeeeevil apparatus for your house, can you?

Then we have games like FTL: Faster Than Light. “BUT WAIT!” you shout, “FTL is a PC game!” And it is. But it is also on the iPad. And that means it is also a portable game. The game-play lends itself to both long and short play-styles, but I’d say that anyone who is familiar with the game would say that it requires a light level of investment.

A game of FTL: Faster Than Light. The player's ship is on the left and is attacking or being attacked by the ship displayed on the right.
If a game can be good regardless of what system it’s on, you might have proof of the inanity of gamer elitism.

What, then, changes between the system upon which it is played? Is it possibly nothing?

It’s nothing.

What this means, ultimately, is that the distinction made between console (computer or gaming) gaming and portable gaming is a matter of elitism. And it’s a really weird one, too. The bulk of it being people bragging about having enough free time to invest in playing video games almost exclusively.

Gaming is nice, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not something gamers should be boasting about, that they spend more time than other gamers gaming. It’s rather inane and elitist to engage in self-praise over how much of their leisure time they devote to a thing.

This has a very noticeable effect on the ease of entrance into gamer culture. Much like the n00b/newb conversations I remember people having years ago, gaming continues to prove itself a hostile entity to people who aren’t as unilaterally invested in the media, and that’s sad.

Gaming means many things to many people, sure, but I don’t see any benefit in self-aggrandizement over gaming more besides pettiness. Gaming gets a lot of licks for being immature, and it’s not hard to imagine why when not only does the culture treat itself like a boys-only tree-house, but it also mercilessly mocks the people who don’t have the time or means to game in the tree-house, or aren’t doing so on the most obnoxiously large TV or monitor ever invented by humankind.

A tetris-like game, the player had to align descending sets of blocks to match other sets, lines, and rows, in order to clear space and avoid a game over.
Hardcore or not, I enjoyed it at the time.

And yeah, I bet there’s some lingering resentment over gaming being more socially acceptable now, but I’ve always wondered why. I played Gemstorm as a kid. A whole lot, when I could get away with it. Hardcore levels, y’all. Gemstorm master! I don’t remember anything about casual and hardcore back then, I just remember there being games. And I played them. Instead of judging people for how they have fun, escape, relax, or whatever, why don’t you just sit back and do you while they do them?

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  • I think people also associate portable gaming with children and childishness. I mean, how often do you see a kid with a 3DS v. a PS4 or a full-rigged out gaming computer. I think a good deal of the antipathy stems from the fact that it’s so easy, a child could do it and easy =/= hardcore.

    • Savannah Winter

      In addition to my youthful features, I’ve heard said that playing my 3DS in public makes me look younger, so I can see that. And I guess there is some desire by gamers to shed that childish image but doing it in a way that is even more childish probably isn’t the right way.

      And your last point is really good and I hadn’t considered it. Obtuseness and counterintuitiveness make something hardcore. I hated Dark Souls and X3 at first because they were both obnoxiously clunky, but I don’t consider myself hardcore because I’m enough of a masochist that I got used to it.

  • Psh. You’re just mad ’cause you ain’t hardcore, n00b! Hardcore is the new Xtreme! Since even casuals play for like a hundred hours a week now, I’m pretty sure it’s now defined by much you hate the games you play rather than how much you play them. It’s not about how much you invest and on what, it’s about being too cool to enjoy yourself and bragging about how much everything sucks. Everyone know gaming has been shit since Ms. Pac-Man, anyways.