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Chuzzle & Scrabulous

December 3, 2007

After reading Ian Bogost’s article over on Gamasutra.com, Persuasive Games – Video Game Zen, I spent a lot of time over the weekend playing a whole bunch of Popcap’s games on purpose, Chuzzle being my favorite. These games were in addition to my regular daily bouts of Scrabulous (on Facebook).

I don’t think of myself as “casual gamer”, the industry’s term for people who primarily play games like this. In fact, there’s a duality of identity for me when it comes to my gaming interests, and I practically dismiss one of those identities.

First off, there is the gamer that I’ve been since I first figured out you could program a C64. On computers, I prefer single player experiences, particularly RPGs. I still vividly remember the first time I played a graphical MMO. My reactive, initial impression: WTF are all you people doing in my world? I didn’t like it – I didn’t like that all of these intruders were roaming around. I sat back somewhat startled and offended and watched them run by, much like someone might watch a herd of people running unexpectedly through their back yard. Their presence felt like an invasion into my gaming space, my “magic circle”. I’ve since gotten over that, but have always remembered how odd that initial experience was, particularly since I knew what I was getting into when I got into it. I suspect this is largely due to my experience on the Wizardry series.

As I’ve gotten older, life has forced changes upon my gaming habits. I can’t do those 10-hours-at-a-clip play sessions anymore. In fact, it’s hard to get immersed into game worlds like I used to. While my husband gives me plenty of time to play games (when your wife’s a game designer, that comes with the territory), it’s rare that I’ll say something like this: “I need 10 hours to play Bioshock.” I pick and choose my time around life’s other activities, including the time I enjoy spending with my kids who aren’t quite ready for Bioshock just yet. When I do play games – easily 10+ hours a week – the time is usually crammed with a whole bunch of games from my play pile or captured in 15-minute increments or during my SCAD office hours. I try to give each game enough time to get a feel for the patterns in the game, but I rarely finish them. Most game designers are like this, in fact. Our play experience is very broad, by necessity, but shallow.

This brings me, at long last, to Chuzzle, Scrabulous and other games like them. I play these games without a conscious intent or professional purpose. As Bogost discusses in his article, I play them to relax. I could flip through a magazine or watch 10 minutes of something on TV, but I choose to play games. This is actually a big part of who I am as a gamer now, and it grows every year as my kids and responsibilities and studies into game design become a larger part of my life.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Alvaro Cavalcanti permalink
    December 3, 2007 5:25 pm

    That’s funny. I used to say the same thing, that I’d rather play a game (RPGs) than watch TV. But since I’ve married and became a daddy I’ve subconsciously changed that. But that’s ok for me, maybe now that I’m into game design I probably might add more games to my daily routine.

    But the real funny fact in my home’s routine is that a couple of months ago I installed Chuzzle on our PC. I played a little but my wife, who claims to be a non-gamer, was dragged! She couldn’t stop playing it! She would call on me every time she won another trophy and would spend hours playing it on the Zen mode.

    It was then that I realized the power of the casual gaming, and how casual gaming can become anything but casual, after all.

  2. December 3, 2007 9:26 pm

    The whole “casual/hardcore” split has always irked me, because it’s never that well-defined. As I mention in my game industry class, I see it as simultaneously describing three separate things:

    1) Amount of free time spent playing games. Which implies that the office secretary who plays Microsoft Solitaire and online Hearts for 30 hours a week is “hardcore”, while people like Brenda and me who love all kinds of games but can’t manage more than 5 or 10 hours due to hectic life schedules are “casual”. Oops.

    2) Amount of disposable income spent on games. Certainly makes sense to the business suits, but one must then question the wisdom of targeting the market of “people who don’t spend money on games” and trying to convince them to spend money on games. Again, oops.

    3) Game literacy, i.e. awareness of the industry and the latest games and genres and such. This is actually what people think of, most of the time, when they picture a “casual” or “hardcore” gamer in their mind. But unlike the other two methods, this one isn’t quantifiable — at least, not unless you start giving people a written exam on game trivia to try to measure how “hardcore” they are, which isn’t nearly as easy as asking how many games they buy in a year or how many hours they play in a week. Strike 3, you’re out.

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