Just finished the first chapter of Jesper Juul’s A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games And Their Players, about the simultaneous rise of games like Guitar Hero, Wii Bowling, and Dance Dance Revolution, alongside PC games like Bejeweled and Collapse!.
I’m glad that I picked it up, because it is making me think differently about the latest developments in casual games (social; in-app purchasing; etc.) and where they’re coming from. The popularity of games like FarmVille and Draw Something makes a lot of sense within the evolutionary chain Juul identifies from 1980s arcade games built for a general audience to the console games of the 90s, which alienated much of that former audience without the time or want to play such specialized games, to the rediscovered simplicity and “flexible design” of modern casual games.
An important part of this evolution is what Juul calls the “pull” games have on us. It’s the experience of seeing a challenge and wanting to complete it, which can be lost on a lot of people when the challenge you’re facing is something like 13 hours of sci-fi role playing. Picking digital corn or drawing a word, on the other hand, are challenges that lots of people can be sure they will be able to accomplish and feel satisfied with.
This is something I think I’m going to have to ask a psychologist about, because I think it might also play into the motivation for casual gamers to participate in the in-app purchasing model whereby one buys content or features to facilitate further or more in-depth gameplay.
I also want to ask Juul himself about the effects of casual gaming on “hardcore” (traditional console) game development. In this first chapter, he alludes to the idea that the success of these games has made it harder to justify the development costs of old-school games. I’d like to see what role he thinks this has had in the co-option of strategies like downloadable content into console game development.
The book was a lucky find, and I’d recommend it to gamers and non-gamers alike. Moving forward, I think I’m going to skip the game history sections and jump into chapter four, “Innovations and Clones: The Gradual Evolution of Downloadable Casual Games,” and then move on to chapter seven, “Casual Play in Hardcore Games.”