It took me a while to realise it, but even though I’m a newbie to WoW, I’m definitely not new to the ‘hardcore or not’ conversation. In my particular line of (real life) work, the conversation usually centers around hours, just as it often seems to in WoW. How many hours do you work? How many weekends? How much on call?

As it so happens, I currently don’t work weekends…at least, not all the time. I work five days a week and a weeknight on call, which sadly doesn’t allow for the following day off, so there’s nothing easy about it if you get to spend 30 hours straight on the job! Nevertheless, in the inevitable comparisons of jobs and hours that arise whenever a group of us from different fields meet up, anyone who dares to admit that they don’t work weekends will notice the raised eyebrows and glances being exchanged. This is usually followed in short order by some comment about how lucky this person is to have it so easy, which may or may not elicit a defensive response about how it’s not all that easy, really, and they should just try it and see.

Now where have I heard that before?!

Due to the abovementioned constraints of work, I am not what anyone would usually call hardcore about WoW. Although I do spend hours every week in Azeroth, the game does – oddly enough – have to play second fiddle to little things like on-call shifts and family commitments. Since I’ve never been in a guild that raids four nights a week (and probably never will be), and never had an arena rating over 1800 or indeed an arena rating at all, that apparently makes me a ‘casual’ player, with all that that entails. The word ‘casual’ usually comes with a whole lot of overtones thrown in when used in that sense – things like ‘doesn’t do their homework’ and ‘can’t play their class’ and ‘no idea what commitment even means’.

Personally, I beg to differ.

It’s been stated elsewhere, many times, that dividing the entire playerbase into either the ‘hardcore’ or the ‘casual’ category is too simplistic. I would agree – if we’re differentiating ‘hardcore’ from ‘casual’ based on time spent ingame and the ability to do things like rearrange one’s real life because a computer game has just released a new expansion. However, if the definitions are drawn along other lines – for instance, a player’s attitude to playing the game as well as he/she can – I can find a much stronger case for using the same terms.

Are you hardcore? Do you try to play your character(s) the best you possibly can, even if you can only log in for an hour or two in an average week? Do you listen to your raid leader and try to make your 5-mans run as smoothly as possible? Do you worry about whether you’re making the same mistake multiple times, or tanking at too slow a pace, or stealing aggro too often? All those things, in my book, are signs of being hardcore in the way that really counts. By ‘hardcore’ I don’t mean ‘perfect’ – it’s not the lack of mistakes but the presence of effort and paying attention that marks out a player who’s really serious about the game.

We’ve all met the casuals, under this definition. They’re the hunter who won’t turn growl off  in instances, the death grip-happy death knight, the tank who apparently can’t see his healer’s mana bar, the warlock trying to tank without a demon out, the healer who really wants to dps and forgets to actually heal…and the list goes on. The fact of making a mistake here and there isn’t what puts someone squarely in this category; rather, it’s the mindset – the ‘doesn’t matter as long as I have fun’, ‘what? this is a low level instance’, ‘so? we killed it anyway’ attitude. Even if this person is doing three times the dps of anyone else in the group and has played four times the number of hours this week, they are still ‘casual’, because – in a nutshell – they don’t care whether or not they’re playing to the best of their ability.

I’m not unaware that this is an idealistic view of playing WoW. After all, it is a game and not a job, at least for most of us. Am I hardcore by my own standard? Well, I’d like to think so, but in truth – like everyone else – I have more than enough days where I’m careless or thoughtless or just a bit behind the fair, and the tally of my stupid mistakes would fill a book without any difficulty at all. That said though, I can say with confidence that I try – and that I care when I do it wrong, and try to fix it. And that, I think, is my point, and much more important than how many hours you’ve played or how many boss kills you’ve logged.

Incidentally, I think this definition of hardcore vs casual also translates to my real job. Regardless of how many hours you work or don’t work, commitment is how much you care about doing it the best way you possibly can, and how much effort you put in to make sure it happens that way. I find it fascinating that basically the same discussions go on there as in WoW – fascinating, but not really surprising.

Art imitates life, apparently. Who knew?