Larissa Hjorth and Ingrid Richardson
Funded by the Australian Research Council (DP140104295), 2014-2016
A Singapore teenage girl waiting for friends in a café, takes a picture with her Samsung Galaxy and uploads to her location-based service (LBS) mobile game, Foursquare, to show her late friends she has arrived. In Tokyo a young male plays Angry Birds on his iPad, intermittently checking emails and following Twitter feeds as he commutes to and from work. In Seoul, a group of friends play World of Warcraft (WoW) in a PC bang (internet room) while surfing on their phones and checking social media. In Melbourne, while waiting in line at the supermarket, a mother distracts her toddler with Playtime, a customised Dora the Explorer game made for the iPhone. Over in Shanghai, a father maintains regular online contact with his university student daughter by playing the social network game Happy Farm on Facebook, along with over 20 million active users across mainland China and Taiwan. This opening vignette paints a picture of how both mobile devices and games have become an integral part of everyday life across the globe. By 2013, Price Waterhouse Coopers estimates that the game industry will grow to $70 billion globally. In 2011, mobile gaming generated $12 billion; today, Zynga’s mobile gaming division alone brings in annual revenues of over $10 billion. In Australia, the relatively rapid uptake of smartphones and mobile gaming (ABS 2011) has impacted across various demographics. With the demise of local key game companies like Blue Tongue, Australia has given way to the rise of small, independent companies specialising in mobile games. Companies such as Robot Circus, Firemonkeys and Tin Man Games are typical of this new type of independent game developer who specialises in the production of mobile games. Given 75% of all mobile phone downloads are games, the mobile gaming industry is predicted to reach $54 billion by 2015. While not every independent company will be like Rovio and make the next Angry Birds (which achieved 1 billion downloads as of mid 2012 and has expanded into toy, movie and merchandise franchises), mobile gaming has provided many designers and programmers—and consequently, players—with more flexibility and innovation around game genres, gameplay, and the aesthetics and affordances of game environments. As the first national study of mobile gaming, Games of Being Social will contextualise the phenomenon of mobile, social and locative gaming within new cultural models of play and the changing games industry; Identify and categorise the range of mobile games and interfaces, both existing and emergent, and their specific effects in terms of player personae and the typical social and environmental scenarios of play; Use mobile gaming as a lens for understanding how play, mobility, embodiment and place are becoming entwined in complex new ways. In order to be the first national study of mobile gaming, this project will deploy a range of innovative ethnographic methods the specific modalities and contexts of mobile game practices.