Believe it or not, there's a whole generation of us waking up to the reality that chasing hardware and existing entirely in the nether of cyberspace doesn't always jive with paying rent or leading a fulfilling life. No offense to my brethren who prefer the Hardcore Life, but your numbers are one fewer. Let's be fair: You guys lead an expensive, time consuming life. You're frontiersmen, living on the edge of cyber-civilization, battling the savage hordes of overclocking-related heat issues, 64-bit processor bugs, deadbeats on BitTorrent who throttle their uploads. It's a tough life, and many of us can't live it, no matter how much we wish we could. So, we back off, and the delay between the front and us gives us enough time to get a better idea of what it is we may be buying.
You dictate worthiness, but we're the bridge between you and everyone else. We come down from the mountain with a slightly edited stone tablet, and spread a less processor-intensive version of your word. Yeah, I've played F.E.A.R. - on my hardcore buddy's machine. Same with Half-Life 2. I even subscribed to World of Warcraft for a bit. But my gaming is more of the Royal Sampler variety than the main course. If a game doesn't grab me nigh-instantly, I move on. My filtering gives up after an hour or so. The next Final Fantasy game might be great, but if I'm not in love after 60 minutes, I'm returning the rental.
Does this preclude me from great games? Sure, but so does spending a week reading a book, or working late, or going out to dinner. I'm willing to forsake my hobby for other things, and my "hardcore casual" filter lets me do that. But my filter isn't all bad; it opens doors, too. Beyond the time limit, it also blurs together graphics, gameplay and story into an overarching experience, rather than focusing on just one element of a game. People in my old circles have scoffed at Kingdom of Loathing and Stubbs the Zombie for any number of very specific reasons. I took them both at face value, and had a blast.
Look out, this newfound demographic is quickly becoming comfortable. While I miss my days of hardcore gaming, the opportunity to withdraw for a good book or movie or TV show is just too much to pass up. I might head back to the digital frontier someday, but as the age to start a family is rapidly approaching, the chances of me making a second journey dwindle. How many of the Rough Riders brought their family of four in a wagon behind them?
Tastes across the board are changing; the rumbling can be heard in people a few years older than me, who just can't be gamers anymore. As the first generation of children brought up on video games reaches the point where they have to choose between the frontier and the family room, the industry is going to have to react, and react quickly, before our choice closes the door on our high-speed career forever.
Joe Blancato is a Contributing Editor for The Escapist Magazine, in addition to being the Founder of waterthread.org.