ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Ari Shapiro. Now a cultural divide here in the U.S. that keeps getting wider. It's not about education or class differences, it's about video games. On one side are the hardcore gamers who devote hours at a time to not just playing a game but mastering it. On the other side, a growing class of casual, often cell phone gamers. Noah Nelson of Turnstile News explores gaming's great schism.

NOAH NELSON: Dive into the wide world of video game culture on YouTube and you'll hear this term being thrown about.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hardcore gamer.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hardcore gamers.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hardcore gamer.

NELSON: So what exactly is a hard-core gamer?

KELLY KELLEY: Well, a hardcore video gamer would be somebody that, you know, is there at every single midnight release.

NELSON: That's Kelly Kelley, known in competitive e-sports circles as MrsViolence.

KELLEY: Playing the game for at least five to six hours, beating it maybe within 48 hours of release. Like that is a hardcore gamer right there.

NELSON: Kelley qualifies. She makes a living as a gaming personality. You can find her online most nights, streaming matches of "Call of Duty" to her many fans.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "CALL OF DUTY")

KELLEY: Oh, OK, OK that makes no sense.

NELSON: That's right, gamers stay up at night and watch other people play video games, the way sports fans watch football. It's about the most hardcore thing a gamer can do. More than 32 million people worldwide watched the world championships of the strategy game "League of Legends" this month, according to the makers of the game.

At the other end of the spectrum are the people playing cell phone games like "Words with Friends."

KELLEY: I have parents, and they love those games, and they ask me all the time: Does this make me a gamer? Yes. So I think it - yeah, absolutely it makes them a casual gamer.

NELSON: Inside gaming culture, hardcore and casual are tribal divisions. For the hard core, gaming is the passion. Casual players enjoy games; they don't steep themselves in gamer culture rites like midnight openings. But as the gaming population grows, and gets older, exactly where those two tribes begin and end gets a little blurry. Case in point.

BEN HILL: Ben Hill, attempted casual gamer.

NELSON: Hill is 38 and, as of a few weeks ago, a first-time father. Once upon a time, he was hardcore.

HILL: I remember beating my brother up because he made the wrong type of noise when I was fighting the fifth boss in "Kung Fu." I'm like, you ruined this game for me.

NELSON: Hill has chilled out a lot since then, but he says that when he plays anything , even just a puzzle game on his cell phone, he still feels the pressure to excel.

HILL: So I can somehow feel that I've been productive in my entertainment today, which in of itself is ridiculous because one of the reasons we adopt entertainment as part of our lifestyle is to avoid that constant American rat race of being X-percentage productive and efficient in a given day.

NELSON: Analysts at the research firm NPD Group say that core gamers still spend more than others buying games. They note that those who play casual games like "Candy Crush Saga" are the fastest growing segment of the market. Jeff Cannata reviews video games as the host of the Web series "Newest Latest Best."

JEFF CANNATA: I think there is an antagonism from the hard core towards the casual. I think there's this perceived threat of the hobby, which the hard core appreciate at a deeper level, being dumbed down, being simplified to bring in a wider audience.

NELSON: The industry has begun to split development along the cultural divide, churning out less challenging mobile games and speeding up production of large blockbusters. This means more games for everyone. But the monolithic gaming culture that Hill and Cannata grew up with may become a thing of the nostalgic past. For NPR News, I'm Noah Nelson.

SHAPIRO: That story was produced by Turnstile News, a project of Youth Radio.

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