Wednesday, 2 October 2013

WK 4 - Mobile Gaming

Einat Cohen - Portable Gaming in Japan: Redefining Urban Play Space and Changing Gameplay

This paper brings to light the interplay between rapidly developing mobile technology platforms and an emerging mobile culture that is becoming fully equipped to utilize these technologies in their gaming. Japan has been a leader in mobile console adoption and penetration, and especially in the mobile phone gaming market. Hybrid, pervasive, location-based, wirelessly connected, camera capabile games are having an effect on the social patterns, urban ecology, fashion styles and even cultural values of the population.

It has led to a blurring of what is considered ‘game space’ or the ‘magic circle’, by overlaying game play over top the real world, where people perform their daily tasks or what some call their ‘serious life’. There is an emerging tension in the evolution of using a mobile phone in a private, personal sphere to escape a crowded city scape, to the use of a portable console in a public space, and with it a loss of privacy and anonymity, and possibly even personal danger. Game developers have had to address these issues of ‘social adaptability’.

Japan is a texting culture- taking a voice call is not allowed on public transportation, and frowned upon in most other public places. ‘Nagara mobilism’ means ‘while doing something else’ or mobile use while multi-tasking. The public sphere has been besieged by hybrid games where the real world is the game board. The continued success of mobile platforms is driven by the availability of a rich development community scene, fostered by software giants Apple and Android. Yet, the majority of people report that they still play games at home, in a private space.

Mizuko Ito - Mobilizing the Imagination in Everyday Play: The Case of Japanese Media Mixes

Ito’s paper is concerned with ‘convergence culture’ and its effect on minds of young people. It refers to “participatory media ecology where Internet communication ties together both old and new media forms” and how youth are mobilizing media and the collective imagination to create a ‘knowledge industry’. Ito identifies three characteristics that define this new media ecology: Convergence, Authoring and Hypersociality. Kids access old and new media via technological advances, and using those advances (hardware and software), personalize and remix that media. They then share their creations with the world using the tools of social media. Ito ignores the debate surrounding the effect of media content (ie sex and violence in games) on children’s imaginations, instead exploring the form, structure and practice of imagination itself, and how it can be shaped by your media environment.

The ‘consumption’ of professionally, mass-produced media in a visual form such as movies and television is considered to be ‘low culture’, passive, and even, abhorrently, ‘working class’. The reasoning is that oral and print media require at least some degree of creativity (the audience’s imagination) to enjoy. Arguments against this idea say that children don’t just imitate what they see, but practice a new literacy by engaging in alternate, perhaps deeper forms of creativity: parody, pastiche and ‘reenvoicement’ using the commercial product as ‘common story material’. This evolving notion erases old distinctions and disregards “societal divisions of gender and of socioeconomic class.”

Ito uses Pokemon and Yugioh as game examples to study this new media mix. Card trading games by necessity require audience participation to play, although there are differing opinions about what constitutes participation. In effect, by consuming and re-interpreting content initially creating by large corporations, the individual child has begun to level the playing field of content creation, especially in the their ability to disseminate their own content themselves, eschewing the distribution networks that the big business model built itself on. This new-found power has led to waves of hype and mistrust (‘moral panics) regarding what new technology can do for us, and is doing to us. But these fears ignore that fact that technology advance is only a reactive by-product of current societal values and trends.

Ito utilizes Hamtaro to discuss how gender differences are embodied in media for children. Hamtaro is long-form soap opera involving hamsters as avatars for girls personalities, and focusses on their interactions with each other. Girls often draw their favourite cute characters and share them with each other. While there are aspects of trading and skills like in the boys trading card games, with Hamtaro there is a rich social scene with less emphasis on competition. When viewed in a traditional lens, these creative responses to media would be considered derivative and appropriative, but this ignores the social aspects of network bonding, self-actualization, connoisseurship and the furthering of the collective imagination. For adults to look down on these positives will only lead to an “unfortunate generation gap.”

Works Cited
Cohen, "Portable Gaming in Japan",

Mizuko Ito, "Mobilizing the Imagination in Everyday Play",

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