Words have power. Even in an age increasingly moving towards video words still have power. Particularly naming. Perhaps tautologically, naming something gives that thing definition. Once something is named the way it grows and evolves seems almost informed. It’s why we say that people or pets look like their names. We make assumptions and draw conclusions. It’s powerful, like a kind of magic.
It’s why the recent trend to enforce the artificial barrier between “mobile” and “handheld” is so tenuous and dangerous. The reason for this is simple. Mobile games are bad. They’re designed to weasel as much money out of you as possible while providing as little game as possible. Mobile games are often cheap rip offs of other games or use licensing to entice buyers. They use timers to slow progression unless you again, pay.
Except they don’t. Mobile games have come to mean the above pejorative but they’re really not like that at all. The first mobile games were actually pretty competent versions of games like Tetris and Snake. When you bring calculators into the mix you even get fan-makes of Doom. Fast forward to today and some of my favorite games are on phones and tablets. It’s hard to not need one more race in Motorsport Manager or to appreciate the aesthetic of Monument Valley. Pokémon Go is one of the most profitable and downloaded games on any phone. It’s even difficult for me to denounce games I didn’t personally enjoy like Fallout Shelter which is an amazing encapsulation of a human ant farm.
And these are all on devices that you hold in your hand, devices that you take with you. They’re mobile but why aren’t they handheld? Gatekeeping is why. Without a line between handheld games and mobile games how else would could we keep the Pokémon Go’s separated from the Link Between World’s and the Animal Crossing’s? But wait…isn’t Animal Crossing a mobile game now?
The barrier exists to insulate the “hardcore” from the “casual” because if you don’t own a console you’re not hardcore. But Fortnite has been on iOS for months before it was on Switch, so is it a mobile game? It even has cross-platform play so is it a mobile game or handheld game?
It doesn’t matter.
It never mattered. Yes, there is a difference between games like that are designed to inflict the maximum cost with the least amount of “game” but they aren’t particular to mobile and they didn’t start there. Random rolls, pay to win, and microtransactions existed elsewhere long before a phone was able to handle those things.
The longer pretend that the line between “handheld” and “mobile” exists in a meaningful way the longer we go without discussing the way that pay structures all over gaming have increasingly been geared against people who play games. The longer we keep these barriers up the longer it takes for us to bring more people into games. For every person who owns a handheld console there’s another who owns at least a few games on their phone. Using “mobile” as a dirty word unnecessarily stigmatizes the people who work on them, play them, and questions their legitimacy. Mobile doesn’t mean aggressively pay-centric, it just means mobile. Mobile games are all “real” games, phone, tablet, or otherwise and it’s time we recognized that.