"Hardcore games? What, just because a game's not super hard and rated M it's not hardcore? You're just saying you're a hardcore gamer because you're elitist! Casual and hardcore gamers don't exist! There are just gamers."

Just like tiers, right? Ever since the emergence of the next-gen consoles, as most of you know, rise has been given to the war between hardcore and casual gamers. Between people who view gaming as a lifestyle and people who view gaming in the same way they do pinball machines and lighting their farts on fire. With such a vast distinction apparently inconsequential to some, I suppose Vincent Van Gogh and the 3rd grade art class I attended in the mid 90's are on an equal plane. Thusly with this distinction were hardcore gamers branded as nothing more than elitists. Well, I'm going to tell my side of the story and why I believe, nay, know the distinction between the two is. What separates the hardcores from the casuals.

First off, let me say that, I do indeed label myself as a hardcore gamer; I'm not going to be coy or ambivalent. As such, and an avid participant in the debate of hardcore versus casual, I can safely say that I strongly dislike casual gaming. I do not dislike casual gamers, no. I have no problem with them. But I dislike casual gaming. The reason as to why is a bit in-depth, so brace yourself for a bit of a read.

Ever since I was of age to manipulate my fingers at will, I had a controller in my hands. From the very second I picked up a video game I was hopelessly enamored. My first games of Megaman X, Contra III, Final Fantasy II (IV), Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest and Mortal Kombat were only the beautiful beginning of a lifelong relationship with the miraculous form of art. As the years went on, I began to play more and more games and expand my horizon and consequently, my fledgling appreciation for games. I gamed instead of reading. I gamed instead of a lot of things. I'd often get in trouble at school for not paying attention and drawing video game characters, or playing my Gameboy. But, ironically enough, despite my lack of reading and cirricular exercises, I was light years beyond my classmates in every class I ever stepped in.

Why? Where shall I start? If you can't think of a few, you're obviously caught up in the paradigm that reading and scholastic pursuits in the conventional sense are the only ways to exercise your mind. Would you believe me if I told you I learned to read and write primarily from video games (of course in conjunction with the fundamental teachings my parents taught me) and could read/write before I ever set foot in an academic setting? I learned a good deal of people skills from the games I played, such as RPGs (and Contra). Playing RPGs, I always got to see myriads of different characters and personalities interacting, so I got an early start. I listened intently to all of the magnificent sounds the game offered, and appreciated music. I adored the fantastical stories, and assimilated them to my imagination, so I was never bored, even when I couldn't play the games; I carried them with me through any and all mediums.

As you can see, video games were always a lot more to me than just video games. They taught me more than I could ever hope to recount. I ascribe my vast love for music, art, language and sense of wonder in general to video games. So many different worlds to experience in them; so many things to learn. They've also always been very therapeutic for me. I won't sugar coat it, I had a worse middle/high school experience than any person I've ever met. For reasons I'll leave unannounced, both combined culminated to a living hell for 6 straight years. I carried whatever handheld I had with me at all times, as if it were my Bible. The music would inspire me, the characters would motivate me to better myself. They never failed me.

This all being said, you can see just how much I adore and value video games. They're more than games to me; they're art in a profound form. Now, with that little bit of history, let me now explain why I proudly promulgate myself as a hardcore gamer (and encourage others like me to do so without hesitation), and why I am so averse to the idea of casual gaming in general.

Casual gaming, in a nutshell, is playing a game strictly for the entertainment value. Much akin to an aforementioned analogy, the pinball machine. While there is nothing wrong with this, let me explain why it gave rise to the distinction between hardcore and casual. For one, you probably noticed the astronomical discrepancies between the mentality of a hardcore gamer above, and that of a casual gamer. One holds the culture of video games, and video games holistically dear, and treasures them for the endless wealth of mind they impart. They have become a lifestyle and identity for these people. The other pays little or no heed to these things and just plays to play. It's a lot like the difference between people who read the entire novel, or just look at the pictures.

Now, can you start to understand why a hardcore gamer would get a little frustrated by this? Another analogy would be like you listening to a band you love that has, let's say, an attractive male singer, to have that band become trendy and receive none of the respect it deserves, and have focus only on the singer. When you treasure something, it's a little unsettling anf frustrating to see it appreciated for superficial and ultimately meaningless reasons. So, when I, and many others are labeled as elitists for defending something we value and love, it's disconcerting to be sure.

Unfortunately, that's what gaming's looking like it's becoming, though. An industry once replete with inspiration, soul and imagination, now operating behind a facade of superficial novelty. Look at companies like Namco. They don't make as much as say, Nintendo, but they make a shitload and do it by making solid, quality games that act as a testament to the notion that games are an art form. Don't get me wrong though. I'm all for the game here and there that's just for **** around purposes. I have plenty. I played Modern Warfare 2 with my friend Kyle and it was excellent and fun as hell. But that's not the kind of game I want to see monopolizing the industry, but it is. In light of this movement, hardcores needed a way to distinguish themselves amongst the deluge of novelty-goers who congested the arteries of gaming. As said before, if you were a fan of a band, wouldn't you want to distinguish yourself from the pseudo-fans (for lack of a better term)?

Gaming has always been a passion to me. For as long as I can remember, I've played them, analyzed them, wrote about them, was inspired by them; motivated even. They've taught me a lot and have seen me through much. This passion and respect for an art form is rapidly declining it would seem, and evolving into a similar mentality to that of Pong or air-hockey: novel; just for the **** of it.

Video games offer so much more than what people seem to realize nowadays. I look back at games from the SNES, and I don't view them as superior because I'm a nostalgia*** (which I am, but I don't let that skew my objectification), but because I see games that had to compete with creativity, and were created because the minds behind it wanted to create something amazing. I don't see that in newer games. I really don't. Not to say I don't like them, but I don't appreciate them in the same way. Some say it's better business sense to make simplistic, insta-entertain games, but by that logic, Carl Sagan should've just written about his masturbatory habits rather than about science. No-brainers making more money is a poor excuse to let the industry stagnate, and is a weak argument. Revoltingly horrible books like Twilight outsell books like 1984, but should this stop the author from crafting art within his words because it won't sell as well?

Ultimately though, it's not about what games you play. It's about your mentality and how you view games; your passion for them, that makes you a hardcore gamer. The only distinction between casual and hardcore games are ones that are inspired and tell a story, and ones that do not. Cooking Mama vs. Tales of Vesperia. Casual gaming, while there is nothing inherently wrong with it, is a rather insipid poison on the integrity of the industry. And unfortunately, the gap between hardcores and casuals become so vast, and discrepancies so profound, that the distinction had to be made. I'm terribly sorry if it's viewed as elitism, but, with a hardcore's passion for video games being as strong as it is, they just don't want to be identified with people who view video games as nothing more than playtime. It's just very frustrating to see our passion bastardized into a simplistic fragment of modern culture that receives almost none of the appreciation it deserves, and if it does receive appreciation, it's in all the wrong areas.

I'm proud as hell to say I'm a hardcore gamer. Are you?