Mobile Gaming in a Smartphone Society

The advancements in mobile technologies have plated a huge role in the developments of many facets of modern society, but one of the most interesting is that of the gaming world. Mobile devices have afforded the popularization and normalization of gameplay among the general public in ways that used to be reserved for more intense “gamers”, though this broader audience consumes mobile games differently than people consume console and desktop games.

Mia Consalvo discusses this trend in a piece she wrote titled “Slingshot to Victory”, using the example of Angry Birds to show how iPhones have redefined the gaming audience. Consalvo writes that, “with the opening of the App Store in 2008, the iPhone began transforming smartphones into agents of play, reconfiguring how its users relate to mobile tech” (2012).  Phones had come with simple games on them for many years, but Apple’s App Store and its contemporaries marked a shift in which games could be developed and downloaded easily. Furthermore, the touch screens that were becoming more commonplace allowed for easier gameplay that could be integrated into people’s normal day-to-day lives (Consalvo, 2012).

Consalvo’s choice of Angry Birds as her guiding example is useful because it was arguably the first time that a mobile game had gained such widespread popularity and cultural acceptance. She argues that much of this has to do with the way the game is played. “The title has minimal story and basic graphics … [it] is accomplishable in short bursts, has multiple paths to success … [and is] basic enough for almost any user to pick it up and play successfully” (Consalvo, 2012).

Angry Birds’s design is both simple and sleek.

I agree with this argument because I have never considered myself a typical “gamer”. But when Angry Birds was released and gaining popularity, I found myself playing it all the time. Whenever I had more than 30 seconds to myself, I could easily pull out my phone and attempt to beat a level. The short structure and simplistic gameplay allowed me to do so without the people around necessarily knowing what I was even doing. Playing a game like Angry Birds looks, and more importantly, feels, very similar to using one’s phone in any other way. The phenomenon is difficult to put into words, but playing a mobile game and playing a video game feel like two very different things, and playing a mobile game has come to be accepted in mainstream culture.

I think a big part of it is those short bursts that Consalvo describes. Playing a mobile game can be integrated more easily into one’s daily activities. Instead of setting up a console to play games that require sitting in front of a television, mobile games an be played while standing in line at the grocery store or while riding public transit. However, she also notes that the majority of mobile gameplay is done in the bedroom (Consalvo, 2012). This may be true, but the popular conception is that mobile games are played on the go, and it is that belief that perpetuates that mainstream acceptance.

However, I think it can also be said that certain games are more likely to fit into this acceptance than others. In his article “Convergence, Connectivity, and the case of Japanese Mobile Gaming”, Dean Chan argues that increased mobile gameplay adds to the complexity of the blurred lines between physical and virtual presence (2008). In doing so, he makes several attempts at answering the question of which games are more likely to be played by a widespread audience. First of all, he notes that free games, especially now that data rates are not as high, have a significantly better chance of gaining popularity (Chan, 2008). I agree with this because people generally put a different value on mobile games than they do other games. A console video game can cost upwards of $60, but it is expected to be a full gaming experience. Because many mobile players think of their games as ‘something to do’ in order to pass shorter periods of time, they are not willing to pay for them. There is this idea that they could just as easily check social media or use their phones in some other way. Therefore, it should be free or at least comparable to any other app they would regularly download.

However, Chan also states that branded games have a better chance of being downloaded because general users will recognize the name and use that as a reason to play the game, citing examples such as Pac-Man (2008). I don’t agree that this is always the case. Angry Birds did an excellent job of branding itself, merchandising itself through clothing and toys, but it still started as a mobile game. And many of the most popular games, such as Temple Run or the recent 2048, do not have big brands as a draw. But they are also not advertised through the same means as traditional games; they rely mostly on word-of-mouth.

That word-of-mouth is something particular about mobile games. I think that they allow for a special kind of interaction and conversation among users. Most of the games that become popular are played by a individual people, with no virtual interplay. The interaction takes the form of more traditional conversation: sharing high scores, levels reached, and goals to be accomplished. In my personal experience, it is not uncommon for people to play these games while sitting next to one another, allowing for real-time updates. I think that social aspect also adds to the mainstream acceptance of mobiles games. The research might say that games are more likely to be played alone in the bedroom, but the popular understanding is that they are played on the go and can offer a form of connection among players. And with that understanding in place, I think it is safe to say that mobile games will continue to be played, though maybe without much change, for years to come.


Works Cited

Apple. (2014). App Store. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from App Store Games:

Best Andriod Apps Review. (2010, October 17). Angry Birds Android Game Flies into Top Spot. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from

Chan, Dean. (2008). “Convergence, Connectivity, and the Case of Japanese Mobile Gaming.” Games and Culture. 3(1): P. 13-25.

Consalvo, Mia. (2012). “Slingshot to Victory: Games, Play and the iPhone.” In Snickars, P. and Vonderau, P. (Eds). Moving Data: The iPhone and the future of media. New York: Columbia University Press. P. 184-194.

Farcas, D. (2013, November 10). Super funny!!! Asian guy playing video games in nyc subway. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from YouTube:


2 thoughts on “Mobile Gaming in a Smartphone Society”

  1. Your idea that mobile games become popular mainly through word of mouth is an interesting thought and something I had never really considered before. Most of the games that I have downloaded on my phone (QuizUp, Unblock Me, and Fairway Solitaire, for example) have come at the suggestion of friends. I probably would not go out of my way to seek out games if they were not suggested to me, so it seems like mobile game developers are doing something right if the consumer is doing all the advertising for them — successfully, at that.

  2. It is interesting that people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for gaming systems and games, but not 99 cents or a few dollars for mobile games. There are some games that are full story lines and ones that used to be computer games like the Sim’s and Lego Harry Potter. Those cost money to buy and can be played on the go whenever. I find that some of these “free” games though make you pay for upgrades, specialty items, or more levels. In my opinion this is how they trick you, you get to play the short, free version then have to buy the full one after a while. Or sometimes you have to post about the game on social media to get these new features which means that these games do become more popular through word of mouth.

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