Casual Games: Shaping What a Gamer Looks Like

There is no questioning that the modern “gamer” is often misrepresented and misunderstood.  The gaming industry has dramatically changed in the last 20 years and with the rise of console games and the increasingly large number of “free to play” games that are available in app stores, the “casual” gaming experience is on the rise too: reflecting an entirely new demographic of players. In Shira Chess and Nathaniel Evans’ paper “What Does a Gamer Look Like,” they emphasize a shift away from the stereotypical image of a heterosexual male that many people imagine when they think gamer, citing statistical evidence that almost half of individuals playing video games today are women.  Is this shift a result of changing perceptions of the video game industry or are there other factors at play, such as the type of games that are being made?

While hardcore games such as first person shooters may be still dominated by men, games like Words with Friends 2 attract an entirely different audience- outside of the image of a gamer that we traditionally subscribe to.  This isn’t to say that females don’t play MMO’s and first person shooters but, as Chess points out, that the number of females playing these games are far fewer than their male counterparts.  Even more surprisingly, Chess and Evans suggest that the females that do play these games, are less likely to use voice chat and similar features, possibly pointing out that the misperception of what a “gamer” looks like, puts pressure on females, forcing them to play other, “more casual” games.

As an experiment, I queued up 20 random matches in Words With Friends 2 in order to get a sense of the demographic that’s playing the game.  Of the 20 matches that I started, 14 of them were women and I assume that this trend would continue even if I had a larger sample size.  As Chess and Evans posit in their paper, it is clear that there are plenty of women playing video games, but I would suggest that this statistic  has more to do with a change in the gaming industry than it has to do with the actual “gamer.”

 Endless Number of Casual Games Available in the App Store

With the increasingly large number of casual games on the market that you can play at the click of a button, such as Words with Friends or Candy Crush, video games are reaching larger and larger numbers of people, with only a small percentage of games falling under the “hardcore” category that is largely dominated by males.  As a result the demographic of people that play video games is becoming more and more balanced among all types of people, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality.  In the end, it isn’t exactly clear what accounts for this shift in “what a gamer looks like”, but with the increasing number of games on the market that are being marketed to individuals outside of the “traditional” straight white male version of a gamer,  it is no surprise that more people want to play.

 

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1527476416643765

Source: Casual Games: Shaping What a Gamer Looks Like

I Literally Have No Vowels

Words With Friends 2

 

Words With Friends 2 is basically your epitome of a casual game. No gore, no element of fear, and certainly no punishment, this game combines the classic elements and mechanics of scrabble with the ability to connect online with other individuals, hinting the “with friends” portion of Words With Friends.  The game even offers a chat box to communicate with your opponents.

Another element that makes this game fall into the casual game category is the fact that this game is about as juicy as it gets. There are bright colors, inviting sounds, and prizes to be won with the completion of weekly challenges.  All of these elements combined with extreme playability makes this game one that is accessible to almost anyone. Take a look at the trailer below to get a feel for the game and the casual atmosphere that the developers at Zynga intended with its design.

Is there anything interesting that can be said about a game like this? The academic intrigue that can be found in this game partially lies within the juxtaposition of the seemingly friendly, low risk vibe with the high stakes competitive atmosphere. You might be asking, how is this game high risk? You can’t die, there are no punishments for a loss, and, most importantly, there are no zombies trying to eat you.  Well, the punishment in this game is one that isn’t quantified within the game.  What you’re risking with this game is your pride. A win cements your superior intellect to your friends while a loss leaves you embarrassed and desperate for a rematch.

This game centers around agon competition that involves strategy, skill, and intelligence while mixing in alea factors of tile selection and opponent word placement.  This combination of agon and alea components offers another interesting component of Words with Friends: how players respond to the game. With a game that can be tied to intellect, a loss can feel like a real blow. I am interested to know if players view losses and victories differently.  What I mean is, are losses written off as unlucky results of chance while victories pinned to a players superior skill? There may be an element of this in all games that combine aspects of agon and alea, but is it more apparent in a game like Words With Friends that centers around the players intellectual ability.

A look into the tile bag

These questions will be analyzed further in upcoming blogs along with other aspects of Words With Friends. At surface level this game may not seem like much but, like any successful game, an incredible amount of thought and creativity has gone into its design and therefore this game has a lot to offer upon further inspection.

Source: I Literally Have No Vowels