It's old news now but one of the team behind Call of Duty stated that most Call of Duty fans are casual gamers. I agree with this and it's had me thinking quite a bit about how people define hardcore gamers and casual gamers and whether or not the typical view is the right one. I'll use last generation consoles as my case studies because although the new three are out not many people have them yet.
Stereotypically those who owned a PS3 or Xbox 360 were deemed hardcore gamers and those who owned a Wii were deemed to be casual gamers. In fact this is largely true of all the generations from PS1 onwards. The normal argument is that Sony and MS get your Call of Dutys, Assassin's Creeds, Battlefields and Grand Theft Autos whilst Nintendo generally doesn't, or at least gets them with less support for DLC and what not. The argument is Wii owners don't play hyper violent games and PS3/360 owners do and that these hyper violent games are more adult and more hardcore than your bright and cheery Marios, Zeldas and Donkey Kongs.
This is wrong for two reasons, the first reason is a lack of understanding of the gamers and the second reason is a lack of understanding of the games. What I'm about to argue isn't based on some highly scientific survey of all gamers but is based off my countless encounters with gamers among my friends, family and list of acquaintances.
Most people I know who play Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed, play and buy less than half a dozen games per year. Not because they can't afford many games but because that's where their interest ends. This includes my brother, some friends and some friends of friends. These games are typified as hardcore games but the people who play then are certainly only casual gamers. Then you take someone like me or Alan who buy every major game we can get out hands on, own multiple consoles and are fans of Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and beyond, we play countless games and play for hours a day whenever we can. We are certainly hardcore gamers. My point here is that casual or hardcore should not relate to the game but more to the gamer and should be based on how many games they play and for how long they play them. This isn't to say a game can't be defined as casual or hardcore in and of itself however as there's the fact that often the games defined as casual or hardcore are done so mistakenly. Call of Duty is incredibly simple and holds your hand, whereas The Legend of Zelda features often confounding puzzles and only gives hints when you are desperate. Likewise the platforming elements in Uncharted are very straightforward whilst the special levels and their platforming in Mario are insanely punishing and recquire an immense amount of skill and patience. I would argue the only major AAA game to come out on both 360 and PS3 that could match the secret levels of Mario or most of Donkey Kong Country Returns is Dark Souls (and Demon Souls on PS3).
Ultimately I think the perception of what is hardcore and what is casual has become skewed. There is too much if a focus in violence and not enough focus in challenge just as there isn't enough focus in the gamer. If casual gamers make up the majority of a game's audience then chances are it's a casual game. I'd also like to stress that there shouldn't be any negative connotations attached to either label. There is nothing wrong with casual games/gamers and there is nothing wrong with hardcore games/gamers.