Currently, my phone has about 12 game apps on it. Of course I have the standard “Candy Crush Saga” and the age-old “Clash of Clans,” as well as some more obscure ones such as “Puzzles and Dragons.” I have fond memories of each game on my phone, yet lately, I rarely touch them.
I have a passion for gaming and the culture surrounding it, but mobile games are in a weird situation for me. There’s not a lack of good games on mobile; there are quite a few I really enjoy, especially “Monument Valley.” There has also been a recent boom in subscription services such as Apple Arcade, which allows players to try out several games for a monthly rate. However, most mobile games are a huge time and money sink, and they usually don’t add anything productive to your life. Even though I still think that traditional mobile games are not worth my while, there is a new generation that is changing my viewpoint.
Mobile games are designed to take time out of your life. Many of them reward players for playing every day, as well as waiting for long periods of time. For example, in “Clash of Clans,” upgrading certain buildings can take weeks at a time. Not only is this a huge time drain, it is kind of an insult to the player. Of course, I understand patience is vital, in life and in games, but forcing players to wait multiple days to be able to advance is degrading. In a standard game, you might have to wait a couple of hours in game time: something that can be waited for while playing through the game. However, in “Clash of Clans,” you are pretty much locked out of taking any meaningful action while waiting for two weeks to upgrade something. But if you’re willing, you can just pay to skip it.
This practice leads to my next issue with mobile games, which is that they encourage users to spend money in order to make meaningful progressions through a process otherwise known as a microtransaction. As stated before, “Clash of Clans” requires weeks at a time before making upgrades, and people don’t like to wait. You can play the game for free, or you can pass on the waiting if you spend real money. Spending $100 or more will get you in-game resources and allow you to skip wait times. Another example of this is found in “Candy Crush Saga,” where you can purchase lives needed to retry levels after losing them instead of waiting 30 minutes for the lives to regenerate.
Gaming has always been sort of an even ground, as everyone has the same console and gets a similar experience. However, in-game purchases give people who are willing to spend money an advantage over the people looking to gain skill. The further you progress in the game, the longer you have to wait, but spending money gets you much further ahead, no matter how skilled you are.
Furthermore, these in-game purchases or microtransactions are primarily marketed toward children. Marketing such expenses to children seems unethical, and there are many horror stories of kids spending thousands of dollars on games, putting their parents in a tough spot financially.
As I’ve said, I’ve found that mobile games don’t really enrich my life. I have played many non-mobile games that have taught me empathy and compassion, while others have helped me enhance my communication skills or train hand-eye coordination. With the pay-to-win nature of most mobile games, I have a hard time finding this kind of content enjoyable or educational. It doesn’t help that the only ads I see for mobile games are basically “Candy Crush” rip-offs or “RAID: Shadow Legends,” which has more or less become a meme.
Nevertheless, while this previous, negative opinion on mobile games still rings true in some cases, I have had a change of heart in the past year. It started off with the huge explosion of “Among Us,” where I found myself playing the “Mafia” inspired game with friends thousands of miles away. It was mobile, it was free and I quickly found myself having fun.
By nature, mobile games can be extremely inclusive; with many people now having access to a smartphone or tablet, gaming has now become extremely mainstream. This new breed of social gaming has created an opportunity for everyone to connect. I found myself playing “Among Us” with friends from high school I hadn’t talked to in years, or using it as an icebreaker for classes or other social activities. Mobile games have cultivated their own subculture that I expect to grow even more in the coming years.
Mobile games also lower the barrier for entering the gaming community. With the widespread ownership of smartphones and the introduction of streaming services such as Stadia, games are more available than ever before. I still find myself doubtful I will be as immersed in or enjoy mobile games as much as on a console or my PC, but it opens the door for people with less access and people who are not willing to invest lots of money in games and gaming consoles. With mobile games, all you need is a strong internet connection and some willingness to work with the ups and downs of streaming technology.
Though I’ve had a change of heart in the face of mobile gaming, I still hold some of my old opinions. I find the way mobile games are designed to be non-productive and unenjoyable, as well as the way they manipulate their target market, to be unacceptable. However, with the explosion of “Among Us,” I now see the value in the subculture of mobile gaming. In the future, I don’t expect to ever see masterpiece games like “Fallout: New Vegas” or “Super Mario Odyssey” created for the smartphone, but I do expect to see a thriving community of social games. Mobile games have brought people together in a way that nothing else could have, and I plan to have fun with them with friends and family for years to come.
Daily Arts Writer Maxwell Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.