This trend for a more social gaming scene has also led to a totally unprecedented number of online gamers who go to internet cafes to access their MMOGs. Just as with mobile gaming, this practice, perhaps, isn't as socially interactive as playing sports, for instance, or ballroom dancing, but there has to be some benefit from at least playing in public with other dedicated participants. I must confess to finding a particular attraction to this side of communal game-related gatherings, as they garner a reputation for being seedy, back alley, digital dens of iniquity; harboring an intensely addicted gaming fraternity similar in nature to the sordid, grief-hole town center arcades of my own misspent youth.
These MMOG access cafes are so popular, the Chinese government has felt it necessary to curb online playing time with a virtual curfew of around five hours, though it doesn't stop the players switching to a different roleplaying game once their time is up. Reports of people lining up for hours on end to get online, while others remain at their screens for 24 hours and more, are not in the least bit uncommon. In one particularly unpleasant case, a severely addicted roleplayer murdered a fellow gamer for selling a valuable weapon lent to him, after the police said it was not within the law to protect a person's virtual property.
Mobile phone technology in China is still a ways behind the U.S. and Europe, who have been making considerable investment into the wireless communication infrastructure for a lot longer, and even the West has yet to establish decent mobile access to the virtual world of the MMOG. The potential for crossover between the two technologies holds a monumental appeal, however, and has already begun in some small way for the more adventurous Chinese gamer.
Companies are appearing that provide information and statistics about various persistent worlds, quests or messages to players via their mobile phones, allowing them to keep a watchful eye on their alternate realities while away from the internet cafes. This first step in linking China's two major gaming avenues is an important one, and is key to the consumer-driven-investment communication revolution that is sweeping through the country.
If only they'd start charging the kind of extortionate prices I'm used to seeing for PSP and DS games, maybe it would curb my new addiction and let me get back to work, but in the meantime, I'm just going to have to get used to squinting at my fantastic new game platform for 18 hours a day. I don't remember the last phone call I made, but for the first time since I owned a ZX Spectrum in the mid- '80s, I can at least say that I have an abundance of choice when it comes to deciding which game I'll play next.
But this wonderful gaming platform offers more than just choice; it finally allows players to enjoy a liberty that handheld systems have been striving to realize since electronic games were first conceived. My very introduction to the world of mobile games demonstrates the potential for communal gaming anywhere there is a surplus of mobile phone users, not just in China. We've had worldwide gaming communities for some time now, and mobile phones are offering us the chance to rediscover a wealth of local game playing unity; the chance to once again come face to face with other players.
Spanner has written articles for several publications, including Retro Gamer. He is a self-proclaimed horror junkie, with a deep appreciation for all things Romero.