When Reading through Chaosophy, one cannot help but be reminded of a similar collection of interviews and texts collated of Gil
A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games and their Players
by Jesper Juul
The MIT Press, Cambridge, London, USA, UK, 2010
252 pp., illus. 109 b/w. Trade, $24.95/£18.95
Reviewed by Robert Jackson
University of Plymouth
Explaining how videogames have undergone a casual explosion in recent times was always going to be the most self-evident part of Juul’s empirical investigation. Indeed, the most prominent parts of A Casual Revolution are when Juul shows how stereotypical views of ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’ players are put to one side. This isn’t necessarily alluding to any post-structural observation that ‘casual’ is some sort of empty signifier, but rather, denying there was a binary incompatibility between ‘hardcore’ and ‘casual’ in the first place. Successful casual games usually have enough depth for hardcore activity, and hardcore games are flexible enough to encourage casual players.
An interesting paradox emerges at the beginning of the book, one which Juul never really satisfies, nor seems to want to. To discuss casual videogames and casual players, Juul quite rightly cannot choose one over the other. Casual games certainly emerge from the changing desires of gamers in the industry, but then, it would be incorrect to rule out how those games have some effect over players in their ‘capturing’ structure (or as Juul terms it rather succinctly, ‘Juiciness’). Juul decides that a suitable starting point would be the “way games and players interact with, define, and presuppose each other” (Juul, 2010, p.9). This simple but necessary paragraph determines how Juul can expertly interweave player ethnography, game developer interviews, console platform design, and game design in order to suggest multiple reasons for casual videogame’s wider influence.
Anyone wishing for a systematic critique will be severely disappointed. Juul presents a straightforward, lightweight, practical exercise in compartmentalizing the reasons as to why the casual market has emerged at this time: Reasons such as the increased popularity of downloading videogames from social networking websites or ‘retro-videogame-based’ commercial enterprises, the markets desire to broaden gender appeal and the simple realisation that hardcore gamers are unable to invest their time in playing hardcore games as they have aged.
Juul also analyses how the impenetrable level of gamer language, evident in hardcore games has been gradually eroded away by simple ‘Mimetic’ interface functionality. This has, in part contributed to the success of the Nintendo Wii, and ‘magic crayon’ games such as Guitar Hero, Buzz! and Singstar. Across all ages, players with little to no previous knowledge of videogame history can intuitively play these games using practical knowledge outside of the medium, not through dedicated hours learning the syntax of an insular gaming genre. The interviews with elderly gamers located in the book’s appendices provide suitable evidence that accessibility is fundamental in this casual resurgence.
But perhaps the startling areas of A Casual Revolution are when Juul shows how casual games have always been with us. No one can deny the complex history between casual videogames and it’s socially oriented cousin ‘Board games’. Nor can the hardcore rhetoric be traced to early popular videogames such as Pong and Space Invaders, as Juul shows these were primarily marketed as intergenerational. Also Juul highlights a Finnish study (Kallio, Kaipainen and Mäyrä, Gaming Nation? 2007, p79) showing that Solitaire, originally included for Windows 3.0 in 1990, is the most popular digital game amongst men and women, and with good reason; it contains most of the elements which are needed to capture casual players mild attention.
A Casual Revolution is indispensable for summarising the current videogame industry, removing casual prejudices at every page. Considering the ever broadening appeal of casual games, the publication also gives scope for how videogames as a medium can increase its legitimacy for cultural expression. Furthermore, any videogame scholar, designer or player wishing to critique ‘casualness’ as a lesser videogame art-form may need go back and revisit their headsets.