Community in Mobile Gaming

By Ben Kieffer

In the early 90’s when I was but a lad, my mom had one of the early versions of a Nokia cell phone (the kind with an all green background and black ink block letters).  I was too young to have friends to call, but it didn’t take long before I found on her phone a game called “Snake”. It was a simple concept where you direct a line using the 2, 8, 6, and 4 buttons to move your line up, down, left, and right; the goal is to drive the snake around “eating” blocks that appeared on the screen and the snake grew with each one collected.

Snake Nokia phone.jpg

The game that went unnoticed by my mom was one of the early versions of mobile gaming, an enterprise which today shows up on smartphones, kindles, and tablets in the form of apps and is worth legitimate money. As an adult I do not have a smart phone, but I do enjoy mobile gaming on a Kindle. Far from the days of Snake on a solid green background, I have recently been playing Madden Mobile. The console sports game which has been a staple of EA Sports for many years now has a handheld version.

Madden Mobile cover art.jpg

I quickly found myself filling the little gaps of time with a season game here or a live event there. Smart phones and tablets are a bastion of individualism, each one fitted with all the apps and setting of the owner. Mobile gaming, therefore, can be a completely solitary experience. However, in many mobile games there is a social component. From my experience with Madden Mobile, I got involved in a league; leagues give the player an opportunity to compete against other members and compete in league vs. league tournaments.

In Madden Mobile leagues there are rankings, the ability to send gifts, and a chat box which also automatically updates you on the accomplishments of your members. For the first few weeks I didn’t see anything in the chat box, but then out of nowhere I saw people asking to be made an admin and bemoaning losses. I found a great opportunity in the chat box to get to know people, as well as congratulate and encourage them in their victories. Some would not respond at all, most were polite. Once in a blue moon, someone would give a detailed summary of his entire day. These league members made for the easiest conversation.

One negative aspect of mobile gaming is the chat in league vs. league tournament. People have two levels of anonymity in knowing that they will share the chat space only for 24 hours, and they will be hard to find afterward. I have had people say offensive things that are completely unfounded in reality. I had one opponent mock my ability to play the game and my physical appearance (of which he or she could not have been aware) so I decided to politely agree and say that I probably was bad at the game and would never find love with a pig face like mine. Generally, I don’t engage with the trash talkers, but in this particular experience it was fun to see the person be disarmed and confused when I agreed with their claims.

Madden Mobile leagues.jpg

Mobile gaming is a paradox. It is alone and it is together. It is disconnected and it is entirely connected. It is achievement based and it is a waste of time. So, the question is, are you willing to spend your spare ten minutes growing fake crops, playing in a 3-minute super bowl, or developing a civilization? Because with today’s technology you can do all of that and more, and be as alone or in community as you want in the process.