This article is written as a reflection on the introductory chapter of Jesper Juul’s ‘A Casual Revolution. Reinventing Video Games and Their Players’:
Juul’s introduction begins anecdotally with his experience of the Wii’s zeitgeist and its surprising ease in engaging his family of erstwhile non-gamers, as an example of the growing cultural normalisation of games. He then establishes specific contentions: that many self-conscious ‘non-gamers’ in fact play comparatively simplistic games or in limited amounts and that many of these players are in fact ‘lapsed’ gamers having played in an era of greater simplicity e.g. the 1980s arcade era.
Juul moves into design philosophy with his concept of the ‘pull’ of games presenting as few ludic abstractions as possible making the interactive promise universally and instantly comprehensible. He associates games with ‘mimetic interfaces’ where mimicking the ‘real-life’ physical actions with peripherals, such as the Wii mote or Rock Band (MTV Games, 2007), or seemingly simplistic two-dimensional downloadable casual games, such as Bejewelled (PopCap Games, 2001) or Diner Dash (Playfirst, 2004) as indicative of these more approachable models of design. He also attempts to break down the binary understanding between casual and hardcore, complicating the binaries between the two. E.g. The flexibility of casual games allows for play that may be ‘hardcore’ i.e. for long periods of time with high complexity.
In addition to design methodology, Juul’s wider aims with the book are to place the rise of casual game into a context of a generation shift of normalisation toward playing video games (65% of U.S. households play games Vs. 97% of those aged 12-17). Juul’s historical contexts and analysis remain fruitful a decade later. In terms of scholarly research, the era the book was written offers an insight to an era of pre-App/mass mobile casual gaming. The book was published in the year after the opening of the iPhone App store, yet before its full fruition increased the ubiquity of casual games. The App Store and iPhone’s normalisation of gaming culture to new audiences cannot be underestimated, empowering Juul’s timely predictions.
Juul’s work remains surprisingly prescient in other area as more recently gaming academia have further complicated the concepts around casual gaming (Leaver & Willson, 2017). More significantly the wider (misleadingly gendered) hierarchy of casual games have become increasingly calcified and these battles are still being fought, as aptly summarised by Leaver & Willson:
“‘feminization’ of casual games … stems from an attempt by previously dominant gamer groups (predominantly male) to retain control and claims of expertise over game culture, … practices and understandings.”
Juul, J. (2009) A Casual Revolution. Reinventing Video Games and Their Players, The MIT Press, Cambridge MA & London (https://www.jesperjuul.net/casualrevolution/casual_revolution_chapter1.pdf
Leaver, T. and Willson, M. (2017). Social, casual and mobile games. New York: Bloomsbury, pp.2, 4.
Pop cap Games (2001), Bejewelled, Video Game, PC
PlayFirst (2004), Diner Dash, Video Game, PC
MTV Games (2007), Rock Band, Video Game, Xbox 360