Casual gaming has long been a great way to relax, unwind, and have fun. Its history begins in the ‘90s with the rise of the personal computer and it has gone through many iterations. If you’ve ever sat at the DMV playing Bubble Shooter on your computer, or laid in bed at night tapping on a web-based solitaire game, you have participated in casual gaming.
Web-based, console, and mobile gaming all weave together to create a rich history of casual gaming.
What is Casual Gaming?
Gaming, in general, refers to digital games generated for public consumption with the purpose of entertainment. These can include huge time investments like HALO, Call of Duty, or even games like Super Smash Bros or Mario Kart.
Casual gaming is a word used to describe games that don’t require immense focus and attention. They can be picked up and put down without consequence, and are often used for stress relief, or just to keep your mind busy while you wait for something else. You don’t sit down for several hours with the intention of casual gaming.
To be a casual game, a game must be simple to learn and easy to get good at. They usually have short, easily paused sessions involving fast levels or gameplay that doesn’t use a timer element. They’re less hardcore and you don’t have to be a serious video game expert to learn the ins and outs of the game fast. Examples of famous casual games include Solitaire, Tetris, Bubble Shooter, and Minesweeper.
Photo by Maik Jonietz on Unsplash
The 1990s: The Computer Boom
With the first computers, came the first computer games. The 1990s saw a massive boom in casual gaming with the first-ever big popular “casual game,” Microsoft Solitaire. It is so popular that people are still playing it today.
Computer software providers used casual gaming to give personal computers mass appeal. They worried that their devices would only be bought up by businesses and large corporate offices. Adding casual games was a last-ditch attempt to make the PC seem like an at-home device for everyone.
For this reason, Microsoft initially distributed free versions of the first-ever casual games. PC companies have continued to offer free games with their devices throughout history. Nowadays it differs from device to device, but at first, this free game was solitaire.
In the early 1990s, Microsoft began to release versions of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows. This included popular games created for computer-based play and jump-started the popularity of casual gaming. Games present on these entertainment packs included:
- Pipe Dream
- Tut’s Tomb
Microsoft had a relatively tiny budget for the development of these games and did not hire video game companies to create them. Writers were therefore paid in stock for Microsoft.
With the World Wide Web becoming more widespread as the ‘90s progressed, there was a steep rise in online casual gaming. Rather than purchase and download from a disc, users could simply log on to the website and begin playing. Many modern versions of these games exist as a sentimental blast from the past for anyone who can’t get enough of retro casual gaming.
The 2000s: New Ways to Play
In addition to the Windows versions of these entertainment packs, Microsoft also released a version for GameBoy Color in 2000. It included many of the same games including FreeCell, Minesweeper, and Tut’s Tomb.
Casual games weren’t just download-only games for PC in the 2000s. They quickly became available online, on consoles or hand-held gaming devices, and even on mobile devices. Web-based casual games make it easy to quickly log on and off without feeling hesitant due to the need for a purchase. It also means you can compare scores online with strangers and friends. The popularity of these features has carried to today, as web-based casual games are still popular despite the rise of apps and downloads.
Social media brought about the inception of “casual social network games” on sites like Facebook. In 2009, FarmVille took Facebook by storm with its simple gameplay and connectivity with other players online. Facebook became the major online platform to introduce casual gaming. These games were often multiplayer and involved collaborative play, the use of “invites” to pull other social media friends into the game, and drop-in/drop-out play.
The 2010s: Mobile Gaming
When mobile smartphones rose in popularity, this became a new platform to deliver casual gaming options. The beauty of mobile devices is that just about everyone has one. Video game designers don’t need to close off their target audience to hardcore gamers, they can truly market to everyone. Popular mobile casual games include Bubble Shooter, Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, and Fruit Ninja.
Where old mobile games had to function with an inefficient keyboard feature, smartphones made casual gaming easy with touch screens and motion detection. This changed the way we game. It changed the types of casual games being created to a more aesthetic- and sense-based design. Users can shake their phones to affect gameplay or tap quickly to win prizes.
Casual Gaming: The Evolution
From the arcade to the PC to the web, there is a rich history for casual gaming that stretches back several decades. Web-based and downloadable gaming is certainly the genre that has the furthest reach. It is zero commitment and allows users the freedom to play any game they want without risk of running out of space or funds.
The beauty of casual gaming is that it’s so universal. We all love to turn our brains off for a minute or two and focus on something outside of ourselves. These casual games offer easy and frequent positive reinforcement, repetitive, predictable gameplay for stress relief, and low prices for guilt-free enjoyment. You can choose your difficulty level to fit your skills and your need for engagement.
Many of them hearken back to old fashioned casual games for a fun and nostalgic trip back to childhood. With familiar graphics and theme music, it’s hard not to love these new versions of the classic games we all grew up playing.
About the author:
Aaron Smith is an LA-based content strategist and consultant in support of STEM firms and medical practices. He covers new industry developments and helps companies connect with clients. In his free time, Aaron enjoys swimming, swing dancing, and sci-fi novels.