The Cruel Optimism of Casual Games: Neocolonialism, Neoliberalism, and the Valorization of Play

Mejia, Robert; Bulut, Ergin
Critical Studies in Media Communication

Casual games disrupted the games industry, but not in ways commonly believed. What if we left behind the hardcore vs. casual games dichotomy to reveal that casual gameplay and casual game development have extended the neoliberal and neocolonial logic of the industry? Casual games, in terms of design and industry practices, remind us that there is nothing inherently liberating about play. Rather, the design and development practices of casual games should be understood as an extension and acceleration of neoliberal and neocolonial logics. Casual gameplay and casual game development pull us within processes of cruel optimism. These deeply political economic processes endanger free play and creativity and therefore are obstacles to the flourishing of gamers and game developers as free subjects. In this neoliberal and neocolonial game market, cruel optimism is enticing because casual gameplay and game development emerge as powerful actors and practices in a context where the state has globally failed in the distribution of hope.