The Freedom to Play

doodle jump(Doodle Jump by Johan Larsson (CC BY 2.0))

Mobile gaming applications (MGA’s) have no purpose other than to be mindless time fillers; existing in a world where time is multitudinous. Maybe not time itself, it has no tangibility, how about ‘time-packets’? Little portions of time that slip by during the day wasted. Yep, that sums it up perfectly. MGA’s fill in these time-packets with their unobtrusive and mindless ways. Next time you’re stuck at the doctor for the bus, look at the people in the waiting room; that guy’s shedding some Angry Birds; that woman has dropped a slice of Zombie Highway; that kid… OMG he’s got a book!! Look away! Look away!!!


MGA’s don’t seem to offer anything or take anything, they just exist. But do they? Realistically they are money making machines, aimed to target us when we are at our most vulnerable; like punching a guy while he’s squatting behind the bushes. When boredom takes over, the eyes roll back and maybe we’ll by some ‘Gems’ just to skip this annoying level. Ninety-nine cents a ‘Gem’ isn’t all that much; this is how they generate revenue.

Aha, but I’m too smart for all that jazz! Oh really… well there are other ways, more nefarious ways, that MGA’s make you pay for their brightly colored delights. After all it didn’t get to be ‘a ten-billion-dollar industry’ just by selling fictional trinkets (Biscotti et. al. cited in Zhang et. al. 2013, p.1487).

Some games have the ability to read data from your phone while you play it, and in turn be able to translate this data into a sellable commodity. One perfect example of this is Ingress.


(Screenshot by R. Williams 2016 –

Ingress is explicitly geared towards solving complex computational issues while also bolstering marketing apparatuses through the collection and processing of players’ behavioral data. Because surveillance is embedded into its game mechanics, Ingress produces a community where everyday surveillant labor is normalized as a valid system of exchange. It is, in fact, the gift that players continuously give in return for the privilege of play. (Hulsay and Reeves 2014, p.392)

Just like that, you’re turned into a mindless slave working for the numbers crunching machine. Although isn’t it better to have targeted advertising?

Not only that but you got to have fun doing it? So much better than having your Saturday morning ruined with some guy and a clipboard.

‘Just a quick survey sir?’

‘No dammit, I have dragons to slay!!’


Most people are probably intrinsically aware that games are doing something. We all get to see what the game wants access to and usually have ticked yes or accepted the fact that our data will be looked at. There have been reports of MGA’s doing things like this for years, but we still keep playing them.

Is it possible that we actually do need MGA’s for what they provide? A slight distraction from the monotony of a life pause? Sure there are other ways of entertaining those minute packets of time, but what else fits into such a small space and is so endearingly convenient?

being watched

(Playing games by Nellies (CC BY-NC 2.0))

It’s all a part of living in the consumer society. We ourselves drive the advertising and if deep down we didn’t want it we would just stop. Back to work everyone, lunchtimes over.


Zhang, Z, Chu, D, Chen, X, & Moscibroda, T 2013, ‘Mobile Motion Gaming: Enabling a New Class of Phone-to-Phone Action Games on Commodity Phones’, IEEE Transactions on Mobile Computing, vol. 12, no. 8, pp. 1487-1501.

Hulsey, N, & Reeves, J 2014, ‘The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Google, Ingress, and the Gift of Surveillance’, Surveillance & Society, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 389-400.

4 Replies to “The Freedom to Play”

  1. Hey Rob,

    Your writing style and voice provided an excellent mix of both formal and informal speech.

    When referencing Biscotti et al/Zhang et al, you could have read more into the original Biscotti research, so that information the reader is receiving comes directly from the source.

    I would also like to see you expand on mobile gaming being used for learning and educational purposes (such as gamification), and not just being ‘mindless time fillers’. The ‘Visualisation and Gamification of e-Learning and Programming Education, 2015’ could provide information about these benefits.

    I highly enjoyed your take on the topic however, and encourage you to keep a similar structure and tone for further blogs.

    1. Hey Ben,

      Yeah, I’ve tried that in the past, but sometimes the other research is incredibly technical or difficult to find – maybe I should have tried harder though. Even in gamification apps the developers still need to get paid, is it possible that they take your notes about daily routines and sell it to other companies? How do these other companies use the information? Cheers for the comments.

  2. Hi Rob,

    Great and quite the amusing blog post! You explored the topic well, although I feel you could have gone deeper into the topic. I know we only have 500 words to work with, but perhaps structure your sentences with a little more clarity it can be achieved. overall I liked the tone of your writing, it was engaging and made me laugh out loud.

    Finally, I like the way your blog page is structured, how you integrated your Twitter feed and the overall layout – it’s easy to navigate for viewers.

    Keep up the good work!
    Emily 🙂

    1. Thanks for the feed back Emily. Sometimes I feel like I suffer from over editing and take all the good stuff out! ATM, I’m reading other posts and trying to deploy different writing strategies; trying to find what works best for me.


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