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The Free Zone: What's So Good About Hardcore?

Columns By Richard Aihoshi on July 26, 2010

What's So Good About Hardcore?

What’s so good about hardcore?

The question above is one that I've asked multiple times over the years, both of myself, and more often, in the course of conversations with others, usually game developers. On pretty much all of the latter occasions, the initial responses haven't been fully satisfactory. The most frequent reason has been because they haven't provided sufficiently defined frames of reference.

For instance, people have often said things in the general vein of "It's not watered down" or "It isn't dumbed down." While this is simplified in that no one has ever been close to so succinct, the immediate problem with such answers is that these terms aren't universally defined. As a result, while I can assume some degree of commonality, I have no immediate way of knowing how well or poorly my personal interpretations match.


There's also a strong component of subjectivity. If this doesn't seem readily apparent, it may be easier to see if you consider how different people view World of Warcraft. Some believe it's pretty hardcore, while others feel it's moderately so at most. Neither position is wrong in the absolute sense; they can't be since it's essentially a matter of personal opinion.

Fortunately, it's easy enough in face to face conversations to improve my understanding by following up with more questions that help narrow down what the other person actually thinks hardcore is, which is far more helpful than getting only a vague sense of what it's not. In the course of touching on the current casual trend in the past couple of columns, this topic came to mind again, and since I don't recall requesting input on it from readers before, I thought it could be interesting to do so.

As noted, asking what's good about hardcore doesn't work very well as a standalone question. So, I'll try to be more precise:

What **IS** hardcore to you, **AND** why is it good? In terms of the first part, what components and characteristics define this term for you? I'm not asking what it isn't (e.g. "not watered down"), but rather the complementary question of what you believe it actually is. And please keep in mind that vague positive answers may not help much. For instance, something like "hardcore means deep" immediately begs the question as to what you feel determines degree of depth.

As for the latter portion, why do you consider hardcore better than non-? Again, I'd like to see answers that are as specific as possible. Something like "hardcore is deeper" may seem straightforward and easy to understand to some, but when I see or hear such words without knowing the frame of reference in which they're presented, I still have to guess, at least partially, what the other person means. For instance, what if one of us places far more importance on a very detailed character advancement system with myriad choices, while the priorities are reversed for a highly interactive world?

I think anyone who actually tries this little exercise will find it's not so easy to communicate exactly what you mean when you set aside the assumption that "everyone" shares a common understanding of exactly what hardcore is and isn't. In reality, there can be quite significant differences among personal definitions, and unless given information to do otherwise, people tend to default to their own, which can result in less than complete communication.

As for me, my personal frame of reference has evolved over the years. I still play anywhere from 20 to 30 hours per week, sometimes more, but my time is decidedly more split up, both into shorter sessions and across more games. Probably related to this, my self-perception has evolved in that I no longer place any real importance on seeing myself as a hardcore.

Maybe that's why I find it harder and harder to appreciate what other people still consider so good about hardcore. But I'd like to think I'm willing to be enlightened.

This week's MMOG trivia

It's another name the game. Part of a franchise that dates back to the early 1990s, this free to play MMORPG takes place in a post-apocalyptic version of Earth. Demons threaten the world, and the players' goal is to protect the remnants of humanity. In doing so, they can use COMPs, small computers worn on their arms, and also a variety of summoned demons.


The Free Zone The Free Zone Editorials
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on every Monday.
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