Response: Mobile gaming and convergent mobile media

September 28, 2012

Distractedly engaged: Mobile gaming and convergent mobile media by Wilson, Chesher, Hjorth and Richardson is a brief commentary on the current state of mobile gaming, its roots, and the potential for future interactivity in the space. As a contemporary case study, the group looks at Angry Birds (the popular game franchise on iOS and Android) and how, while it is the device’s interface that regulates how the game is designed and played, often times the game itself teaches players the nuances of the interface and how it can be used.

The authors first look at mobile gaming through a historical perspective, noting examples of the close relationship games have had with the platforms they were designed for, and how these games were made as simply as possible for the player to understand the interface. Tetris made the original Nintendo GameBoy a smashing success, while Angry Birds demonstrated to the game industry that not only was iOS a legitimate gaming platform, but also that there was a market for small, cheap games.

While console games offer more in-depth, rich experiences for players, there seems to be inherent qualities of mobility in the concept of play itself, which are lent to the types of experiences offered in Angry Birds, and even in less conventional “games” like FourSquare. Once we begin to see gaming as more than an act of isolation and escapism, we can develop new relationships with the world, places, and people around us.

Yes, there is a greater push for mobile gaming (currently seen as one way for indie developers to ‘get rich quick’), though most of these experiences offer little in the way of brand new modes of interaction. In fact, many continue to make use of on-screen controls in place of physical buttons, demonstrating that we still have trouble distinguishing the way we play games today from play styles of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Furthermore, the console market offerings from Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft (both in the home and handheld spaces) continue to see game infrastructure similar to the way it was when these companies first found success in the gaming market. I’m interested in the emergence of future game play experiences that will not only teach us the limits of our device’s interface, but help us to form new ideas about physical space, our bodily capacity to interact, and social relationships.