We Look Down On Mobile, But There’s No Denying What It’s Done For Gaming
Allow me to raise your eyebrows with the following statement: I dislike mobile gaming. I’ve long stopped dabbling with them, partly because they drained my phone battery, partly because they made me stop concentrating in lectures and partly because I just dislike the market and what goes on there, with reference to mass cloning, intrusive advertising and microtransactions being a core aspect of the experience. However, the fact that I personally dislike it does not mean that I’m blinded to its merits, or what it has actually been able to achieve for the gaming industry as a whole.
Now, it’s no secret that many gamers look down on the mobile market and its gamers. I can’t count the number of times I’ve witnessed gamers insulting or expressing disdain towards the fans of games such as Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Temple Run and so on and so forth. Sure with two of the games I’ve mentioned there are more than a fair share of dislikeable business practices behind them which leads to some animosity, but that’s not what I’m focusing on. Point is, I wouldn’t be surprised if mobile gamers are still not considered ‘real gamers’ among the more elite of us. They are subject to ridicule and annoyance.
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Yet, this is something that I truly believe is unwarranted and frankly lame. In order to explain why, I’d like to revisit a time some years ago, before or at the birth of the previous generation of consoles, when gaming was not as developed as it is now. Of course it’s still a growing industry with plenty more of said growth to do, but it’s making strides. Now the problem is that many people like to use rose-tinted spectacles when looking at the past, and often speak of how much better gaming was in those days. But here’s the thing. There’s one aspect of gaming I do not miss from the past. The fact that gaming was by large looked down upon and misunderstood, and we were considered ‘nerds’ in high school if we loved gaming. I certainly don’t miss the puzzled expressions I got from adults in my family whenever I spoke of gaming. In fact even five years ago at the beginning of this website, I had a tough time explaining what it was I actually was doing. The entire attitude towards gaming was frustrating.
Then came the Nintendo Wii. And suddenly gaming found itself truly open to everyone. The Wii was a true marvel, proudly able to call itself the family console and broaden the appeal of gaming to a massive degree. I don’t think it can ever be understated what the Wii did for the industry, and it started a huge movement in expanding the gaming industry towards people who were not actually gamers. It created a bridge between non-gamers and gamers, allowing them to play together with little to no learning curve or understanding. You don’t have to like the Wii or its games, but there’s no denying that.
Then over and above that came the rise of mobile gaming. There is indie too of course, but that deserves its own discussion. Mobile gaming was a way for anyone, anywhere, regardless of interest in gaming or not, to pick up a game and just play. The games may be primitive, or little more than addictive, or whatever the case may be, but mobile gaming compounded the movement that the Wii started. Just look around your campus or office. If you don’t see someone playing a mobile game at least once in your day, I’d be surprised. Nearly everyone you know will have a phone. There is no expensive gaming console required, or tech savvy knowledge of PC components. Anyone with a phone can become a gamer in seconds. It is the pinnacle of removing barriers to entry, and dropping all exclusion from our hobby.
Make no mistake. Hardcore gamers like us are the backbone of the industry, but where does the growth come from? The expansion of the audience of course. Passion can be developed, but initial interest and exposure – the gateway if you will – has to come from somewhere. Mobile gaming in many ways is that gateway to gaming for the non-gamer. Maybe most of them will never venture off into gaming past that few minutes of indulgence at a time. Maybe some of them still don’t care for gaming. But the reality is that ‘gamer’ is barely even a useful term anymore. It’s a meaningless classification, much like a ‘TV series watcher’ would be. The reason is partly because the barriers to entry for gaming have become near non-existent with mobile gaming. You had to physically go to the arcades once upon a time, but now it’s as easy as it could possibly be. There’s no need to label. You just have to play.
However, it must also be established that with any development there are trade-offs. For example, it’s rather annoying when mobile practices like microtransactions make their way into our big AAA games, and when that happens we try to fight it off where necessary. But in this case, handheld gaming has diminished severely with the rise of mobile. I’m sure you can remember how big and successful devices like the GameBoy, PSP and original DS were. Sure, Nintendo can still rock it with its 3DS and Sony can use Vita’s Remote Play to turn the system into a PS4 companion device, and both of those are fantastic. But they are still expensive pieces of hardware and more focused towards dedicated gamers, so they won’t expand our audience. I’m certainly not saying handheld is dead, as the Vita is slowly but surely proving that a companion device to a gaming console is something with bags of potential. But I am saying that mobile has largely taken over traditional handheld gaming devices.
My main point is that, we look down on mobile gamers or even Wii gamers – casual gamers essentially – yet I can’t understand why. Personally, I do not want to revisit those days where gaming was a thing the previous generation did not understand. I love the fact that when I play FIFA with my cousins, the adults know exactly what’s going on and will even come to watch. I love when I’m playing games with my small cousin, it’s considered completely normal. I love that my non-gamer family members can join the fun when Singstar or FIFA or any such casual game enters the picture. Similarly, I love that you don’t need to own a console or a high-spec PC to be a ‘gamer’, and I can feel that the label has largely been eliminated. I look around my campus, and there are a ton of people playing games.
Today, gaming is bigger than it has ever been before. If you need further convincing, the global lifetime sales figures for the last generation of consoles and those for the new generation of consoles within months should be telling enough of how large our beloved industry has become. And we do have casual gamers and mobile gamers to thank for that too. After all, why wouldn’t you want gaming to become a massive industry that has something in it for everyone? Why would you want to have barriers to entry or exclusionary elements? Gaming is not some cult or group for the elite. It ideally is for everyone. That can only be a great thing for the growth of the industry, and for our social experience out there in the world. Mobile gaming has been a huge part of that. It really has.
I’d like to stress that today, almost nobody I know looks down on my love for gaming or gives me a blank stare when I speak about what I love. That just wasn’t the case many years ago, and I can admit that. That is what we all wanted years ago, so why would we look down on the casual gamers who continue to help grow our industry? It’s somewhat counter-productive, wouldn’t you say?
Suffice to say, we look down on mobile gaming, but there’s no denying what it has done for our industry.