The Impact and Potential of Smartphone Games that Generate Social Phenomena

Public Relations Office        May 30, 2017

Kazutoshi Sumiya Professor, School of Policy Studie (Social information design, cross-media design theory), Director, Research Center for Social Informatics

Kazutoshi Sumiya Professor, School of Policy Studie

Smartphones have now become an indispensable communication tool in our daily lives, and they also offer us entertainment, such as videos, photos, and games. In particular, the sight of people of all ages, from children to adults, engrossed in smartphone games has become a common sight. Currently, “location-based games,” which use location information to allow players to capture and exchange their own anime characters at specific locations, are enjoying an explosion in popularity. With these games, virtual characters are synthesized on the camera screen, and use augmented reality (AR) to make it look as if the character actually exists in that location. Other location-based commercial services, games and other apps have existed before now, but they had not achieved wider general penetration. One likely reason for the sharp rise in registered users of these new location-based games, in addition to accurate location data and the authentic sense of augmented reality, is that users are impressed with the novelty and fun factor of the contents of the games, which offer substantial plots, which are combined with push-based information dissemination, in which the system automatically sends data and information to users.

On the other hand, these games are causing social problems such as traffic accidents, due to players being overly absorbed in them. This is likely due to the way in which the virtual space and the actual space are so seamlessly integrated, causing the virtual and the actual become confused, and for cognitive abilities in the actual space to decline. These games are not all bad, however; they also possess a number of potentially positive attributes. One of these is their potential for application in guiding evacuations at times of disaster or accident. Until now, the emergency evacuation information managed by local governments and other relevant organizations has used systems that have been specially designed for disasters. Because such systems are not used on a daily basis, more often than not the people managing them and the residents are not used to handling them, which has led to cases in which they have not been as effective as anticipated. One conceivable cause of this is that the gap between systems that people use regularly and those used in emergencies meant that operators were unable to use the emergency systems properly. If, in the future, location-based games become even more popular, emergency evacuation information could be used as an extension of the systems and contents that people are accustomed to using on a daily basis. Of course, certain minimum conditions would need to be cleared before this could be achieved, such as ensuring clear distinctions between the virtual space and the actual space, and ensuring that they can be operated easily by users of all ages.

Naomi Hiura Professor, School of Education (Early childhood care and education), Dean, School of Education

Naomi Hiura Professor, School of Education

One look at the smartphone in your hand and you lose yourself completely in the game. People who have never played computer games would see this and wonder what could possibly be so fun about it. However, once you have experienced it, that “fun” can cause you to forget about the time. Because “fun” is said to be connected to the manipulation of our emotions, which is probably what game designers are aiming for. Certainly, these games are “fun” to be had in these games. And yet, are computer games play ?

There are many definitions of play. One of those came from the Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga (1872 - 1945), who defined play as a free and voluntary activity, an activity for its own sake, accompanied by joy (1938). Any activity is play if the person engaged in it considers it to be play, no matter what anyone else might say, but from what “play” is for children, if we look at game apps, I do not think we can describe them as “play.”

Back in the times when the lives of children and the lives of adults were not so separate, adult play was also children’s play in other words. In modern times, however, children are considered as living in a different life space from that of adults, and, accordingly, what “play” is for children is now said to differ from what play is for adults. How are they different? For an adult, play is positioned as the opposite of work, whereas for a child, “play,” by its very nature is thought to be learning; it is child’s work and at the same time is his or her life itself. We all learn through our interactions with the people, things, and total environment around us. Small children, in particular, learn through their five senses, and that in itself is what constitutes the life of a child. Because “play” is subjective, it inherently involves some kind of conflict with other children and over sharing physical objects and space, and it is through that conflict that children acquire social skills such as self-assertion and self-restraint. With game apps on smartphones, there would be almost none of those kinds of experiences. Children themselves are “being played with” passively in worlds that have been programmed by adults and are controlled by adults. I do not mean to reject these kinds of game apps out of hand, but I am concerned about children’s time being spent doing nothing else. I want to see children spending their childhood experiencing the type of “play” that can only be experienced during childhood. That thought is impressed on me anew as I look back with nostalgia at my own childhood that has already passed.