Games of being mobile

Australian Research Council Discovery Project report

2 Nov 2019

In 2018 worldwide game revenue reached $138 billion, and mobile game revenue now accounts for nearly $70 billion of this—that is, over half—and this market share is predicted to grow. The bulk of this mobile game revenue—80% or $55 billion—comes from smartphone related apps. Today, almost 2.4 billion people play mobile games, with the Asia-Pacific region making up over half of the Global Games Market. Some studies suggest that mobile gamers are most often the primary decision makers in the home. The mobile augmented reality (AR) game Pokémon GO highlights the increasing popularity of mobile games; the game’s total revenue is over $1 billion, and it generates around $4 million daily. While the popularity of Pokémon GO might be in decline, the game has now taken on new uses—like being played by elderly people to ameliorate against social isolation and a sedentary lifestyle. The power of mobile games as not just billion dollar economic drivers, but as vehicles for intergenerational connection, enhanced literacies and digital health cannot be underestimated, as evidenced by our study. 

The Games of Being Mobile project followed nearly sixty households over three years (2013–2016) in five of Australia’s capital cities: Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane. It is the first national survey of mobile games. Our ethnographic project sought to put mobile games in context: socially, intergenerationally and culturally. Using ethnography allowed us deep insights into motivations, practices and perceptions. 

Our study aimed to contextualize mobile games as part of broader practices of play, both in the home and extending out into neighborhoods, urban public spaces and online networks. We explored domestic and public contexts over time. We observed play in and around platforms and devices. We listened to stories across the generations to understand multiple forms of literacy and social connection. 

This study sought to take mobile games seriously as they expand across different public and private settings in ways that are social, ecological and even political. As mobile games move across different genres, platforms, practices and contexts, they become ever-present in our everyday lives, and for many of us, an important means of experiencing and navigating a digitally saturated world. They are also, significantly, conduits of what we call ambient play—a term that conveys how games and playful media practices have come to pervade much of our social and communicative terrain, both domestic and urban.

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