Gaming in the Wild

After I defend my dissertation proposal, I have all kinds of grand plans, including revising and (re)submitting more papers to journals, conducting a slew of interviews for the dissertation and other projects, and getting reacquainted with sunlight. One project I think I can safely keep running in the background of my mind for awhile, however, is my observational study of handheld gaming in public spaces. Basically, every time I see someone playing a handheld gaming system or a game on a cell phone, I make a note of the scene.

In the year or so that it first occurred to me to do this study, I must admit that I have seen very few people in public on gaming-specific handhelds, and it’s tough to tell what people are doing on a cell phone (texting or Breakout?). I know one good place to look for people is a the airport, and I’m surprised to say that the examples I noted are more social than I expected. I saw one woman on a PSP leaning on (who I assume was) her boyfriend, who had his arm around her. I also met someone at South by Southwest who said he pulled out his DS on the plane and ended up playing with the stranger next to him (whom he called his “nerd buddy”). It’s easy enough to see people on handhelds at Comic Con and PAX, of course, but these are a bit outside what I’m looking for.

Eventually, I’ll do some interviews to find out where people use their handhelds and play cell games, I’ll check out the Nintendo-sponsored WiFi hot spots at McDonald’s, and I’ll take my own Nintendo DS outside and see if I happen to run into anybody who wants to play with a stranger. Apparently, it does happen (even if most of the comments in that thread are from people exclaiming that card-carrying nerds must be banished for venturing under the sun’s fiery gaze). Any thoughts on where else one might find handheld gamers in the wild?

5 thoughts on “Gaming in the Wild

  1. I’ve run into the same sorts of problems since I started doing work with mobile phones; mobile devices are just a bear to do any sort of observational studies on. I basically don’t do the usability work I used to, just because finding people and then getting useful data out of them is so hard (at least around the Northeast US). Leave it to someone who has more of an enthusiasm for it. Anyway…

    Airports are not a bad place, and in general public/shared transit is a good place to do indirect observations. Subways and buses are the sort of downtime that make for mobile gaming; I’ve found subway riders a good population, and seating arrangements often make for a good observation setup. Airports involve the most actual waiting around, and are probably your best bet if you want to do any non-trivial questionnaires.

    I don’t know actually what usage among young people is like for these sorts of handhelds, but I bet high schools would be full of kids noodling on their DSs. Being in forced captivity for most of the day means great opportunities for WiFi fun too, unlike most anywhere else you see gaming handhelds used.

    Also, at least over here in the mobile phone industry, Jan Chipchase is the shit w/r/t mobile device ethnography. Probably might he have some insight into how to find the gamers you seek.

    Probably might he have, eh? I guess I’m pretty worn out from selling off all my books and CDs today. BTW, if you want my copies of McSweeney’s 5, 6, and 8 (7 and 9 are around here somewhere) I might be interesting in giving them to you next time we’re both in the same city. I’m looking to travel light soon, and I can’t bear to sell them to the internet…

  2. Jacob: Thanks for the tips, I’ll have to look into that. And if we do find ourselves in the same city soon, I’ll happily take books off your hands. I’ll probably be back in early to mid September. Drop me an email to remind me when your moving adventure begins anew.

    Sarah: Thank you too for the tip, and also for the link to the “nerdiest apartment ad ever.” I have to admit that I laughed at the “subscription fee.” I suspect that appropriately geeky would-be renters wouldn’t even be daunted by the implication that roaches might be in residence, so long as they get to live with the kind of folks who’d put together that ad.

  3. Amusingly enough, I just went down to my office’s break room and there was someone using a DS. The place was empty (other than me making a cell phone call and the guy playing/doing something with a DS). It made me wonder if he would have done this sort of thing at the height of the lunch hour…anyhow, government break rooms.

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