Are casual games getting better, or am I just getting older?

Casual Games

A worrisome thought struck me the other day as I lay in bed playing Cut the Rope on my Droid:  are these casual games getting better or am I just getting older?

Why is it that I’m sitting here playing a casual game when I still haven’t finished Skyrim, or even unwrapped my copy of Skyward Sword yet? Or that lately my favorite game platform happens to be DS/3DS? Meanwhile I’ve been lusting after these casual iOS-exclusive games while resenting the fact that I know inevitably I’ll have to break down and get a damn iDevice of  some sort just so I’ll be able to play them (a purchase I’m trying to put off for as long as I can).

My point is, these days casual games like Plants vs. Zombies, Professor Layton, Phoenix Wright, and Drawn are sucking up more and more of my attention while games like Skyrim wither on my shelf. Why is that? What is it about these “fun size” games that make it so Id rather spend my very limited free time with them?

I can’t help but notice that these thoughts seemed to have materialized shortly after turning 30. Had you asked me a few years ago what I thought of casual games, I might have chalked them up as not being for “real gamers” and went on about my business with the belief that casual games are for kids and old people.

100 Year Old Lady Playing DS

But the rise of in popularity of casual games has ushered in a new era where suddenly everyone seems to be a gamer, no matter what types of games they play. According to one recent study, 44% of people living in the US are gamers, or consider themselves to be gamers, thanks to social gaming companies like Zynga churning out FarmVille and its ilk.  We have G4 calling 2011 “The Year of Casual Games” and Escapist Magazine hailing iPhone as The New NES, drawing comparisons to the original Nintendo’s role as the platform that inaugurated a whole new generation of gamers in the early 80′s.

Today we have an almost overwhelming amount of choices when it comes to casual gaming. Smartphones, 3DS, iPads, even e-readers like Kindle are getting in on the action (and I can’t help but wonder if Sony has the right strategy with Vita’s launch, which is emerging as the anti-casual handheld gaming device).

The explosion of both casual games and casual gaming devices are forcing us to re-define what it means to be a gamer.  What was once a niche market that catered to a very specific demographic (primarily 18 – 35 year old males, and girls like me were in the minority) has become a massive industry that is, in many ways, besting the film and music industries.

That kind of growth has also led to an evolution in the games themselves. The games are getting better in terms of graphics and everything else, to the point where even casual games look amazing. But now we have games like Kingdoms of Amalur and Dark Souls that are arguably over-delivering on content. GamerSushi recently asked: Are 100 hour games necessary?

Sidebar:  About a year ago I quit World of Warcraft for good, having sworn off MMORPGs that offer no end in sight to all your hard work and dedication while happily draining your time, energy and bank account. I’ll always have fond memories of my adventures in Azeroth and the people I’ve met there, but since quitting the game I’ve gone on to do so many other more important and worthwhile things with my time. I can now say with certainty that the “hamster wheel” approach to gaming isn’t for me.

Are we as busy working adults—who juggle full time jobs (and in many cases kids)—simply too stressed out to commit ourselves so completely to massive games like Skyrim?  Nobody seems to be able to define exactly what the ideal length of a game should be, but it seems fair to say that casual games are on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from games like Skyrim.  In my case, the short length and low level of commitment are exactly what make casual games so appealing.

Or it could just be that I’m officially getting Too Old For This Shit™.

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