A history of mobile games 1998-2008

Personal devices before the app store: a decade of tiny games that followed us everywhere.
Zoya Street
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United Kingdom
1 Team Member
What do you think of when you remember your first mobile phone? Mine was a Nokia 5110, and my most vivid memories of using it have nothing to do with making phone calls. I spent far more time playing Snake. For much of my teen life, my mind was in two places at once: part of me was stood in the rain waiting for a bus home from school, and part of me was in a confined space with a restless serpent. It kept on growing, and kept on moving, all the while threatening to consume itself if it didn’t find some free space to roam.

This book is about the historical meaning of those moments. It is a history of games as personal unfolding labyrinths, co-created in the relationship between humans and technology.

Short Summary

Update: essays and oral history interviews are linked from the activity page!

I'm a historian of games. For the past couple of years I've been working independently, outside of the academy on self-published projects and on pieces commissioned by gaming magazines, as well as organising and speaking at games-related conferences. I'm proud of the work I do, and I've been thinking about how to get closer to being the kind of historian that I'd like to see in the world.

I've realised that I would benefit a lot from the supervision of specialists in science and technology studies. Navigating complex stories about people and computers isn't easy, so I'm seeking guidance from people who have spent their careers theorising the complex relationships between humans and non-humans in different times and places.

To get that supervision, and to help put my work in a larger context, I'm about to start a part-time, distance-learning PhD at the University of Lancaster (UK) in the Sociology department. There isn't much funding available for this kind of PhD, but blessedly, the tuition fees are just £1998/year. That gives me enough room to be a little bit creative.

This crowdfunding campaign is to cover at least one year's tuition fees. Ultimately, I want my PhD to be about mobile, social and indie games from the late nineties to the late noughties. This book is part one. For more information about the academic side of things, you can check out the documents below:

Personal Statement
Research proposal

What I Need & What You Get

  • I'm going to write my first two years' part-time research into a book. By backing this project, you are pre-ordering a copy of the book, and helping me to pay my tuition fees.
  • As a part-time student, the first year's tuition fees are £1998. I need to raise enough money to pay for at least this first year.
  • Print on demand comes at a bit of a premium. I'm anticipating printing and service costs to take up an average of 48p for every £1 that you spend. This is based on the figures for my existing book, Dreamcast Worlds
  • That means I need to raise at least £3400.
  • The book will take around two years to complete, but in the meantime you'll get regular updates and extracts.

Risks & Challenges

I've crowdfunded and completed a book based on my academic research before. Dreamcast Worlds took about two years to complete; the initial master's thesis took one year, and then after crowdfunding I spent a year expanding and rewriting it.

I'm expecting this project to have a similar scope to Dreamcast Worlds, and therefore my hope is that it will be finished by Autumn 2016. In the meantime, you'll get regular updates from me, with extracts from the work in progress.

Having said that, there are risks associated with this project. It's not at all normal to fund a PhD this way, and my hope to break the PhD into three parts doesn't align perfectly with the normal timeline that PhD students follow at Lancaster. It's possible that the timeline will have to change, either because of advice from the university or because of my own sense of how the research is going. I'll keep you informed about how this is going.


    Author or editor:

    Freelance writer:

    • Contributor at magazines Hyper (Australia) and Comics and Gaming (Canada)
    • Deputy Editor at Gamesbrief
    • I've also written for The Borderhouse, Pocketgamer and others.


    Can't give money?

    One of the best things about crowdfunding Dreamcast Worlds was having access to a small group of readers who were passionate about the subject I was researching. I was able to reach out and ask for perspectives and advice, and people taught me things that I still think about to this day. Even if you can't afford the lowest tier of this crowdfund, I'd really love to add you to my mailing list. Either donate £1, or just get in touch and I'll add you manually when the campaign is over.

    (The project image is a cropped and recoloured version of a creative commons image by Arvid Rudling)

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