Much talk can be found on the blogosphere about the meaning (and lack thereof) of the words casual and hardcore. Euripedes of Critical QQ wants to abolish these terms altogether while Arioch over on Clearcasting proposes a scale of seriousness instead. There used to be a discussion over at WoWRadio that casual and hardcore don't exist anymore because guilds like Ensidia often spend less time playing than your average raiding guild - just because they are so good.
Do you see the issue here?
There are at least two different scales on which casual vs hardcore is commonly measured, time and seriousness. I've seen players called hardcore because they raid five nights a week and raid leaders being called too hardcore because they don't take mediocre players to their raids. Now, one might think that there is a connection between time spent playing and the seriousness during that time, but we all know the guy who is on 24/7 but still has no ambitions whatsoever and is a proud member of the Zero-Thousand Club. I myself used to be in a guild that described itself as casual hardcore - meaning casual raiding times but a hardcore approach to those raids. There were only two raids a week, but you were expected to play well, be on time, be flasked, have your gear maxed out etc.
Clearly, a one-dimensional casual-hardocre scale can't work if one can be both at the same time. Seriousness is not a good replacement either, since I would say that we had a very serious approach to raiding back then - but our 2 raids a week clearly shouldn't put us at the top end of any scale that tries to define hardcore. Instead it seems as if the whole thing is at least two-dimensional in nature. We have a time dimension and a seriousness dimension of the casual-hardcore scale. The image below (click for full size) shows a mock-up this scale with a few examples thrown in to clarify the meaning.
The x-Axis represents the seriousness scale, ranging from a high focus on fun (no seriousness whatsoever) to a high focus on success (extremely serious). I'm aware that "fun" is highly ambiguous and that many achievers actually have fun achieving things. The fun I refer to here is the "Oh look isn't Mr Bigglesworth cute" type of fun, as opposed to the "Do we get a buff from killing Mr Bigglesworth? If not, why are you still here?" type of seriousness.
The y-axis on the other hands represents the time scale mentioned above. A high focus on game activities means that you spent a lot of your time in the game, as opposed to spending a lot of your time outside it. "A lot" isn't a very scientific definition, which is why I haven't added any numbers to the scale. For the purpose of demonstration it should suffice to say that being higher on the y-scale means spending more time in the game.
The placement of the examples is also not very scientific and in some cases definitely inaccurate. A pure RP player for example could spend a lot or just very little time in the game and a spouse could obviously be a hardcore raider. These are simply placed where I expect the average of those stereotypes to be. The "Spouse" dot represents a spouse that got into the game because of his or her significant other but has no own interest in playing it, for example. Likewise, the "Ensidia" dot could arguably be lower on the y-axis since they don't actually need to spend a lot of time focused on the game once the race for world-firsts is over.
The colored gradient in the background is an attempt to combine the two dimensions to a single casual-hardcore scale again. The violet/blue part of the spectrum denotes the casual players while the red parts show hardcore ones. This visualizes the problem of using just that one scale very well in my opinion - there are many people with the same level of hardcore-ness that still have very different approaches to the game. Of my examples, the RP event leader is at the same spot of the one-dimensional scale as the time-challenged raiders while being on the opposite end of the two-dimensional scale.
I am not going to try and introduce new terms instead of casual and hardcore. I think it would be pretty cumbersome to talk about people as being -5/-5 on the scrusi-scale1 instead of just calling them casuals. What I'm hoping to achieve here is a better understanding of why the words casual and hardcore are problematic as one-dimensional descriptions of players. We can also see that some people can rightly be called casual or hardcore because they score high (or low) on both scales. The problems in the definition arise with the players in between. We can easily call a guild like Ensidia hardcore, and we can just as easily call the spouse (as defined above) casual. The terminology breaks down when we are talking about the time-challenged raider or the RP event leader. Maybe this scale can help disambiguating the two.
1 Alright, nobody would call it the scrusi-scale. That just sounds stupid. How about the Tam-Reynolds-Scale? That has a nice ring to it, if no reasoning whatsoever.