The iPhone vs. The PSP
The term “mobile gaming” has developed over previous decades. The term used to refer to object based games like board games, marbles, or cards. Today, mobile gaming means something entirely different. Ever since the late 80‘s, when Nintendo bought us their Gameboy, mobile gaming has referred to the ever changing electronic hand-held devices that we see on our streets. In the 00’s mobile gaming took a clear turn. Paving the way for the casual gamer was the ability to play games on our mobile phones. The biggest example of today’s major technological mash-up would be the Apple iPhone. The iPhone allows users to surf the web, make phone calls, check emails, play games and much more. George Maestri of Computer Graphics World Magazine tells us that as of July 2010 Apple’s Application Store included well over 150,000 programs for the iPhone; a third of which were games (Maestri, pp.55, 2010). In the public arena, everyone is carrying around the potential to play games in their pockets. Whether it be their mobile phone or a dedicated console like Sony’s PSP we are carrying around an electronic device that could be used for gaming. This feature article reflects on an experiment in which I took a Sony PSP and an iPhone out on to public media space.
When I first planned out this experiment I assumed that all of my findings would be about the social implications of my gaming practices on others in the public space; this was very wrong. My first and probably most important experiment was in Crown Street Mall, Wollongong. As I strolled through the urban environment and killed creatures from the underworld on my PSP. I started to think more about the geographical space I was in rather than the people watching around me. I had subconsciously started synchronising the game world with the real one. As I navigated through both worlds, the urban environment of the Mall became part of the game. Objects and people were being treated as obstacles there to prevent me from getting to my destination. My objective was to get from point A to point B avoiding as many obstacles as I could; much like a linear video game. To help me on my journey, I was using my PSP to create a forcefield around myself that made me almost immune to human interaction. Coupling my ear-buds with my PSP granted me even more plus immunity. My device was creating my own private space that was respected by others. Generally people wouldn’t dare attempt an interaction and moved aside accordingly.
One problem that I encountered during my experiment would be my lack of energy management. Once the battery life of your device reaches 0 it severs your connection with the virtual world. Ergo severing your connection to the physical world as media space because you can no longer game. This was especially noticeable when I switched to the iPhone. iPhone games are notorious for using massive chunks of your battery life. I seemed to be more aware of battery levels when playing games on the iPhone just because of its multi-funcionality and primary purpose (a phone). Not only was I processing everything going on around me and in the game, I was managing my battery consumption because I didn’t want to lose the use of my phone.
Another thing that had to be managed on both gaming devices was the use of sound. The sound acted as a catalyst for immersion with the game but not in the way I first thought it would. One would assume that the louder the device was the more immersive the experience would be; this was not the case. In fact the opposite was occurring, the louder the game was, the less I felt immersed in its environment. This was because I was constantly aware of the sound I was making. I was on a bus playing with my PSP and I must have changed the volume 7-8 times in 5 minutes. This was because something was telling me that the noise I was making was unacceptable for that environment. When I turned the volume all the way down, I was still being noticed but I felt I could game freely. Having the sound projected to the public felt as if I was arrogantly broadcasting to everyone what I was doing. When the sound was all the way down, or when I swapped to the ear-buds I fell straight back into a private space.
The social acceptance of the devices was very different. In most cases the iPhone was socially acceptable. People have come to accept the casual gamer slicing up fruit or managing their farm while waiting for a bus. Larissa Hjorth and Ingrid Richardson interviewed a group of female casual gamers who collectively referred to the mobile phone “as a device for managing situations of both collective co-presence and solitary or ‘waiting’. For the women in the study, when the mobile phone was used as a game device, it was frequently purposed for offline or casual gaming in particular circumstances and periods of fixed duration: waiting for friends, during journeys on public transport, to fill in time at home, to alleviate boredom, or as a break from other less desirable activities (such as study)” (Hjorth & Richardson, pp. 31, 2010). So when the mobile phone is used for gaming by this sample it is for filling in time between real life events rather than the urge to play the game itself. The PSP represents something a bit more hardcore. The hand-held console is devoted to playing games. It represents that you are willing to carry an extra device around with you so that you can play specific video games. Rather than not caring what it is you are playing because you are just filling in time on your phone.
Gaming in the public media space can change your perspective on reality. It can turn the physical world into a linear experience in which you must avoid all obstacles in your way while you game. Where you tune the physical world with the virtual world as you progress your way from A to B. The practice is a multi-layered experience in which you must devote parts of your brain to manage things like time, space, and congestion. There are also clear rules in the public media space like managing sound and your proximity to others. Over 30 years the public media space has changed alongside the rotation of new mobile gaming devices. Now that anyone has the potential to game at any time the experience is starting to soak deeper into our culture.
Maestri, G 2010, “Let’s Talk Business”, in Computer Graphics World Magazine, July 2010, pp. 54-56
Hjoth, Richardson 2010, “The waiting game: Complicating notions of (tele)presence and gendered distraction in casual mobile gaming”, in Australian Journal of Communication, 36:1, pp. 23-35