If you’re someone who plays simulator games, sandbox titles, and anything ending in the word tycoon, you get used to being called “a casual,” especially on social media. However, anyone throwing this phrase around in relation to people who love these genres has clearly never actually played a simulator or sandbox game before. Many of these titles, especially huge franchises like The Sims and Minecraft, are in no way casual. They are actually some of the most hardcore games around and yes this is a hill I will die on.
Gaming To Relax
Casual means “relaxed and unconcerned” and “not regular or permanent” so playing something calming to fill in odd bits of downtime occasionally seems to fit the description perfectly. However, when it comes to sim games the meaning of casual rarely applies.
There’s no denying that sandbox games, or simulation games with sandbox modes, can be particularly relaxing. Just chilling out, building something random in a game where you can push the limits and explore new ideas can be very calming. It can also be enjoyable to feel the freedom of a title such as a farming and life sim that has some goals and quests but lets you find your own ways there, such as Stardew Valley or Ooblets. There are rarely time limits involved and mostly you can take everything at your own pace.
However, many other genres of games are also relaxing and different genres are enjoyable for different people. Some gamers find exploring the vast open-worlds of RPGs to be calming, while others seek an escape in venting their frustrations in shooter looters, dungeon crawlers, or fighting games in order to restore calm to their minds and wind down. Players who just want to escape and relax may often be unconcerned if they win or lose but instead take joy in a perfectly executed finisher, a neat headshot, or finding a new secret in a huge expansive world.
If you take casual to purely mean “relaxed and unconcerned” then you’re often talking more about the person than the game, and genres are irrelevant. Therefore, why are certain genres seemingly associated with being casual?
Oftentimes, when asked what makes a game hardcore, reasons like spending hours beating a boss or completing a quest are cited. While putting hours of time into a game on a regular basis definitely takes it out of the casual definition, these reasons can arguably apply even more so to simulation and sandbox games.
If you’re playing a simulation or sandbox game then unless you’ve got a string of scenarios or a career mode to follow then you’re on your own. Playing a game like The Sims 4 requires imagination that just isn’t required in other genres. When you complete Geralt’s quests you know his motivations and reasons as the game guides you along his journey as a Witcher. If you play as Bella Goth in The Sims then all you have is a basic backstory. For those creating their own sims, there isn’t even that. Everything you do is decided by and created by you as the player. There are careers, aspirations, and similar things to explore but the vast majority of your gameplay is limited by your imagination. It doesn’t get any more hardcore than that.
To illustrate the point think of games as being like a book for a moment. Something like an RPG, visual novel, or action-adventure game will often have a plot that you follow. You play the game while following the story laid out for you as if you were reading a book. There may be choices to make but the overarching story is still there as a firm structure for you to follow and enjoy and the ending is set, even if it’s a choice of more than one, there are still hard limits within the game and a set endpoint.
Playing a sandbox game is more like writing a book. There are rules about what makes a good novel, things like grammar rules as well as narrative theories, but mostly you’re on your own and you have to put the extra effort in to create something enjoyable. That takes a lot more time and effort and it’s this aspect of gaming that really sets these genres apart. You have to add something extra to these games that you don’t usually have to worry about.
Games In Games
Some players even take gaming to the next level. In The Sims community, there are huge numbers of people who have made up their own challenges and tasks for players to undertake, helping guide their gameplay. However, in some games, this can go even further.
Minecraft is one of the greatest examples of a mainstream game that lets you build games within the game. Taking a look at a Minecraft community like the Hermitcraft community shows you just how far this can be taken. Not only are there many videos showing mini-games inside Minecraft but YouTuber and Twitch streamer TangoTek recently took this to an entirely new level with Decked Out.
Tango describes his game in a game as a “Deck Building, Dungeon Crawling, Treasure Hunting, Collect-em-all, Trading Game!” It’s a huge dungeon that players can explore filled with treasure, secrets, angry mobs, and much more. It’s basically a complete game that’s so engrossing that pretty much everyone on the server has played or is about to play. Don’t try and tell me that isn’t hardcore.
Many simulation and sandbox franchises have fans who have been playing the game for literally years. There’s nothing casual about a title that people can and do sink thousands of hours into and still enjoy in some cases decades later. While some other games do hold long-lasting appeal, many of those that do have sandbox modes of some type, or at least vast open worlds, and there’s a reason for that.
When it comes to my preferred genres the only thing I’m “unconcerned” about is your opinion that they’re casual. Sim and sandbox gamers are hardcore, there’s nothing casual about games that consume more of your time than a Game of Thrones binge.
NEXT: Confession: I’m A Girl Gamer Stereotype, But That’s OK
- TheGamer Originals
- The Sims
Helen began playing games at an early age with her first computer being a hand-me-down Sinclair ZX Spectrum. It didn’t put her off… She is all grown up now but is still a gamer at heart, especially when it comes to The Sims and other strategy and simulation games.
She juggles the daily demands of life with a family and somehow still finds the time to indulge her two passions in life, writing and gaming; sometimes both at the same time.
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