I found this book to be interesting from a video game history standpoint. Casual games and casual gameplay is talked about in a way that makes the subject understandable. This was written before smartphones and tablets. This makes it a little dated, but the book has a lot of great information.
The book was published in 2010, and the research for it was done from 2006 to 2008, from what I can tell. There are a lot of great points made in the book, and I wish there was an updated version of it.
The book’s subjects are the Wii, puzzle games, and games like Guitar Hero. This made a lot of sense back then. Some of what is said could translate to today, especially with the Nintendo Switch filling in the void left by the Wii.
Wii and Guitar Hero
We spend a lot of time going over the Wii and games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Dance Revolution. This has a lot to do with the time the book was written. It also has to do with the ease of play, low barrier for entry, and something strange that feels like a stretch for me.
Jesper talks about how the controllers for games like these mimic the actions you would need to do in real life. Sometimes this is true. Many of the controllers were just a gimmick, and they didn’t last long. Especially the Wii controllers.
When it came to the Wii, you had a bunch of hunks of plastic that you just stuffed the controller into. They didn’t do anything and weren’t necessary to play any of the games. Let’s take the controller for House of the Dead, for example.
This is a light gun game. The Wii controller needs to be pointed at the screen. The gun is just a hunk of plastic that controller mounts in. The gun’s trigger pushes the trigger on the controller. It isn’t needed to play the game, but it makes it a little bit closer to the arcade game. There is also a bowling ball controller. I’m not sure why.
What Jesper says about the controllers needs a bit of explanation. He says that these controllers were more accessible than the Xbox and PlayStation controllers. This is aimed at the non-gamers or those who had stopped playing games in the 90s.
I understand what he is saying to some extent, but I think it’s mostly an exaggeration. People see the controllers as being complicated when they aren’t. You can figure out how to use an Xbox and PlayStation controller if you want to. They also haven’t changed much from console to console. This might be me thinking like a gamer and someone who has been playing games for a long time.
Puzzle and Match 3 games
Jesper brings up some stull that I think fits into what is considered a casual game. The games he talks about are those in the Puzzle genre. Games like Bejeweled, Tetris, Puyo Puyo, and Columns are what I think about when I hear casual games, and some of them are talked about.
He gives a little history about the puzzle game genre and talks about other types of games. He brings up a few board games and talks about their origins. The point I got from this was how people have always found ways to spend their time.
I do have a few issues with his history of casual video games. Most of them aren’t important when I talk about the book. They also wouldn’t invalidate what Jesper is saying. It would just be a difference of opinion.
Some of my issues with this come up when he talks about the origins of puzzle games. Specifically when he leaves Columns out of the conversation. I think this was probably done because of space and because people view it as a Tetris clone. It doesn’t help that Sega presented it in that way.
He does talk about clones, especially when talking about Bejeweled. If this book was written now, I’m guessing there would be a section on Candy Crush. The Match Three style of casual games has exploded since mobile phones became more accessible. You’ll see many of them if you look through the app store.
This leads me to one game that Jesper brings up. Puzzle Quest, an RPG-Puzzle game, is talked about and how people didn’t understand it at first. At least the casual players who were used to playing Bejeweled didn’t understand it. This is based on the reviews that Jesper goes over.
I can see what the problem was back then. People weren’t familiar with the type of game. Now, you see all kinds of hybrids between Match Three and RPGs. I see ads for them all the time when I’m scrolling through Twitter or when I’m playing other games on my phone.
One question I have from reading Jesper’s book is how he views the growth of mobile games. They usually are kept on phones, and how casual gamers seem to have their own platform. I’ll think of some other questions as I think more about this.
Hardcore play of a Casual game
This was an interesting topic that Jesper explored. This touches on some of the games we create around the games we play. Things like speedrunning, no-hit deaths, only use this type of weapon and many more.
I like this thing because you usually hear about some weird stuff. Things like beating Ninja Gaiden with the Power Glove or beating Dark Souls with a Guitar Hero controller. Things like this are always cool to hear about. These are things that feel like a drunk dare or something like that.
Here, Jesper talks about Rock Band and Guitar Hero. This could also be expanded to DDR, but I don’t remember him saying anything about it in the book. He calls this playing a casual game in a hardcore way and uses it to talk about casual players playing hardcore games. This would probably be where I fall.
He uses turning down the difficulty settings. This would probably include using one of the cheat devices from back in the 90s—something like the Game Genie or the Game Shark. I think a few others did the same or similar things.
While reading about this, I thought about how people tend to want to try out a popular game. When FromSoftware and other companies put out a game, this seems to come up. The games made by FromSoftware have a steep learning curve for people trying to get into them. There are no difficulty settings, and some people find them too hard.
It is always interesting to see the way people talk about these games. You have the fanbase and those who just wanted to try it out based on the game’s popularity. I’ve never been good at games like this, but I enjoy playing them. They look exciting and let the player develop their own, and often better story than what the game presents. At least that is what I do!
This book gave me a lot to think about. Jesper gives an interesting insight into how and why people play games. Since the book was written, things have changed to benefit casual players and hardcore players. I also think those labels are stupid.
People have more access to games than ever. Games are more straightforward than they have been, and you can find something that you would like with ease. If you like card games, you can find them. If you want to play with people online, you can do so easily. Most of the time, that is.
I keep thinking about a news story that I’ve been following. I won’t get into it too much because the topic is a bit of a hornet’s nest. I very stupid hornet’s nest, but one all the same. It was an attempt by an ill-fated company to exploit the nostalgia for an essentially dead brand from the late 70s and early 80s. It’s kind of a mess.
Now, let’s segue into some of my thoughts about video games and how this book made me feel.
Personally, I kind of play around in a video game bubble. I don’t always find modern games that interesting. I like weird and retro games often made by indie developers or were made 20 to 40 years ago.
Many of the games I play are usually in a casual way. I don’t take many of them too seriously unless I’m talking about a game that I really got into. When I started reviewing games, I let people pick them. This made me feel like I was obligated to beat them, and this made me feel like I was working a second job. Once I started picking the games I found interesting; things became more fun.
These are just some of the things I thought about while reading Jesper’s book. I like it a lot but haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact reason why. I think it was an excellent subject back in the late 2000s. However, the book feels a little dated because of the pace of technology.
A lot of the things Jesper brings up have turned into games. Some of the gimmicks he brings up have faded into obscurity. It would be interesting to see what a book written about casual games would look like today and think about what one would look like 10 years in the future.