Juul, J. (2010). A casual revolution: Reinventing video games and their players. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
A Casual Revolution (ACR) is an insightful exploration into the developing history of casual games, a critique of the assumptions and realities surrounding video games and their players, and an examination of the design elements of casual games. It was authored by video game researcher and author Jesper Juul.
Juul (p. 152) himself aptly describes the book’s purpose, which I feel was indeed fulfilled:
My goal in this book has been to talk about a specific time in video game history…that cultural moment when video games became normal; when it is no longer exceptional to play games using computers and televisions; when the emphasis has shifted from “video games” to “video games”: as I write, video games are becoming but one type of games among all the others in our culture.
ACR is appropriate for a wide reading audience. Certainly, anyone interested in better understanding the casual games movement from a critical, theoretical, research, or design perspective would be well suited for this book. Additionally, I believe that it is suitable for more general audiences, such as game players.
ACR is a rather short book of 152 pages, with many illustrations. It is also written in a very approachable manner. Combined, these factors make it a fast and enjoyable read. The book is composed of eight primary chapters.
- Chapter 1, A Casual Revolution, broadly introduces the topics of the book that are detailed in subsequent chapters, such as games coming into general cultural acceptance, perspectives on players as being casual versus hardcore, industry trends, and casual game design.
- Chapter 2, What Is Casual?, takes an in-depth look at the stereotypes and realities of players and games being classified as casual or hardcore.
- Chapter 3, All The Games You Played Before, describes the history and development of Solitaire as a synthesis between game design and players that can inform the history and development of casual games.
- Chapter 4, Innovations and Clones: The Gradual Evolution of Downloadable Casual Games, discusses the notions of innovation and cloning in casual games by providing a design timeline and developer and player perspectives on the industry.
- Chapter 5, Return to Player Space: The Success of Mimetic Interface Games, analyzes the appeal of mimetic interface games, such as Guitar Hero and Wii Sports.
- Chapter 6, Social Meaning and Social Goals, addresses the complex, and often contradictory, goals of games as they simultaneously exist as social, experiential, and competitive entities.
- Chapter 7, Casual Play in a Hardcore Game, uses specific, widely-recognizable examples to point out how casual game design goal orientations have been employed in major commercial successes, such as Sims 2 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
- Chapter 8, Players, Developers, and the Future of Video Games, completes the book by summarizing its main points and estimating why the revolution occurred at present and not other points in time.
Juul’s willingness to explore a poorly understood and highly contentious topic in ACR is admirable. He does an excellent job of objectively describing his findings, which were arrived at through surveys and interviews of casual game players, designers, and professionals. At every opportunity, Juul presents both the resistances to and momentums behind casual games, while consistently concluding upon a harmony that demonstrates understanding the balance between professional and consumer, game and player.
Although I think there is much latent value in ACR, particularly in terms of the research and designs that it will inspire and the reflections that it will enable as it is revisited at different periods in time, the following list encompasses the most salient and concrete contributions that Juul offers today.
- clear definitions of casual and hardcore games and players, both from the cultural stereotype and de-facto perspectives
- five components to describe casual game design: fiction, usability, interruptability, difficulty and punishment, and juiciness
- four elements for describing game players: fiction preference, game knowledge, time investment, and attitude toward difficulty
- three game spaces to describe design: 3D space, screen space, and player space
- analyses of mimetic interface and downloadable casual games, with specific examples
- analysis of the social situations external to games themselves and the conflicting player goals that arise as a result
- historical perspectives on casual gaming, which enhance the understanding of where they are today and where they are headed
If I have one concern about ACR, it is that its material is susceptible to becoming dated extremely fast. Juul appeared to begin writing the text at the advent of the Wii, whereas I read it today as that generation of consoles is in its waning days. Further, he speaks much of downloadable casual games, which seem to be a dated format compared to today’s prevalent web-based games (Juul mentions, but does not discuss these) and mobile apps (not at all covered). However, even though the specific examples and technologies may quickly become outdated, the design implications, historical understandings, and theoretical contributions of ACR are likely to make it a foundational text on the topic casual games for some time to come.
- Title: A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games and Their Players
- Author: Jesper Juul
- Audience: anyone interested in better understanding the rise of casual games, but especially designers, academics, critics, and theorists.
- Content: the history, stereotypes and realities, living examples, design aspects, and debates surrounding casual games
- Analysis: insightful and informative perspectives on the growing field of casual games that are sure to contribute to the historical understanding of and design and research in the field
- Arbitrary Rating: 9.5/10
- Recommendation: a must have for anyone interested in casual games
- Disclaimer: none, I read this book on my own and wrote this review because it needed to be shared