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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

Ill-Tempered Birds, Zombie-Defending Plants... and a Candy-Loving Monster: How a Cast of Characters Saved Us From Boredom

Boaventura DaCosta (Solers Research Group, USA)
Additional Authors
Soonhwa Seok (Korea University, Korea)
Session Information
October 14, 2015 - 1:45pm
Technology and Emerging Learning Environments
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Discovery Session
Atlantic Hall
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Discovery Session 1

A study (N = 1,950) is presented that quantitatively examined characteristics of the “casual” mobile game player.

Extended Abstract

Despite a worldwide recession, the sales of video games have been prolific, with these games becoming one of the fastest growing forms of entertainment (Chatfield, 2010). Titles such as Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, and Cut the Rope have witnessed overwhelming success, resulting in cross-platform releases. This unparalleled growth has opened new opportunities for research, to include the role mobile games may play in learning (Rogers & Price, 2006). Given the nonentertainment potential of mobile games, it is important to determine why and how people become deeply involved in this type of play.

Games played on mobile devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets) are often portrayed as a different category of video game than those played on traditional gaming platforms (e.g., game console, handheld game device, personal computer). For instance, mobile games are typically viewed as falling into the genre of problem-solving or puzzle. The reasons why people play mobile games have also been argued to be different from those of traditional video games, with mobile game players commonly depicted as “casual” participants, playing games in order to kill brief periods of time (Bouça, 2012; Kallio, Mäyrä, & Kaipainen, 2011; Moore & Rutter, 2004); to fill time while waiting (Kallio et al., 2011); as a way to relax (Kallio et al., 2011); or simply as a result of boredom (Kirriemuir & McFarlane, 2004; Moore & Rutter, 2004). Furthermore, a departure from what has been primarily seen as a male-dominated activity, females are now thought to play mobile games as much as males (Information Solutions Group, 2011, 2013).

Findings such as these are important in shaping our understanding of the mobile game player. However, as mobile developers continue to innovate, and devices continue to grow in sophistication, the mobile gaming landscape continues to significantly transform. Research into the characteristics of mobile game play must, therefore, be ongoing, and findings must be updated and published regularly. In addition, findings must be empirically based, mitigating what may be an abundance of anecdotal information.

Toward the goal of further quantitatively defining mobile game play, we present the findings of a study (N = 1,950) that took place across four vocational-track high schools and six colleges near Seoul, South Korea. The study examined characteristics of the casual game player — (a) technology ownership; (b) preference for game genre and titles; (c) where and (d) how often these games are played; (e) what factors influence the selection of games to play, what game features are the most desirable, the rationale behind playing these games, and psychophysical changes experienced as a result of playing; and finally, (f) spending habits with regard to the purchase of mobile games.

Although exceptions were noted, the findings supported many of the claims made about the mobile gamer. Among the findings to be discussed are those revealing that mobile games were predominantly played for short periods of time, in between activities, and as a means to combat boredom or a way to pass the time. Adding credence to the idea that mobile game play is a casual activity opposed to a social replacement or alternative. We also present unexpected findings, such as those revealing potentially positive benefits stemming from mobile gaming, to include improved mood and feelings of well-being and better mental attention and focus.

While there is plenty of information describing the mobile game player, this study is one of few empirically supported investigations specifically looking at characteristics that quantify these individuals. Thus, the results of this investigation are anticipated to provide researchers, educators, and practitioners with pragmatic data that may be helpful in driving policy on mobile games as well as the application of these games to other contexts, to include those outside of entertainment.


Bouça, M. (2012). Angry Birds, uncommitted players. In Proceedings of DiGRA Nordic 2012 Conference: Local and global — Games in culture and society (pp. 1-13). Tampere, Finland: Digital Games Research Association.

Chatfield, T. (2010). Fun Inc: Why games are the 21st century’s most serious business. London, UK: Virgin Books.
Information Solutions Group. (2011). PopCap games mobile phone gaming research. Retrieved from http://www.infosolutionsgroup.com/popcapmobile2012.pdf

Information Solutions Group. (2013). PopCap games mobile phone gaming research. Retrieved from http://www.infosolutionsgroup.com/popcapmobile2013.pdf

Kallio, K. P., Mäyrä, F., & Kaipainen, K. (2011). At least nine ways to play: Approaching gamer mentalities. Games & Culture, 6(4), 327-353.

Kirriemuir, J., & McFarlane, A. (2004). Report 8: Literature review in gaming and learning. FutureLab. Retrieved from http://telearn.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/19/04/53/PDF/kirriemuir-j-2004-r8.pdf

Moore, K., & Rutter, J. (2004). Understanding consumers’ understanding of mobile entertainment. In K. Moore & J. Rutter (Eds.), Proceedings of 2004 mobile entertainment: User-centered perspectives (pp. 49-65). Manchester, UK: Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester.

Rogers, Y., & Price, S. (2006). Using ubiquitous computing to extend and enhance learning experiences. In M. van ¨et Hooft & K. Swan (Eds). Ubiquitous computing in education: Invisible technology, visible impact (pp. 329-347). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.