Mobiles research @ UCT: The pick of 2011 CFMS student projects

This year for the first time I taught an MA level Mobile Media and Communication course to University of Cape Town postgraduates. It was a great privilege to work with such an bright group of students and spend a semester discussing the relationship between mobile technology and society, and exploring methodologies and theories for studying networked individualism, mobile social networks, mobile media and games. We also considered the place of gender, class and consumer culture in adoption, appropriation and domestication of mobile technologies in South Africa.

Gary Marsden from UCT’s Centre for ICT4D also made a guest appearance. I’m hoping that next year we will find a way for Gary’s mobile interaction design students to work together with us to think through some of the implications of our research for local phone, app and website designers. Here are some of the highlights of the excellent research the CFMS students produced this year.

Desperately seeking multiplayer bluetooth games

By Anja Venter, MA student, Centre for Film and Media Studies.

Ocean View, Cape Town, 24 October 2011 -Young mobile gamers in South Africa have little local content to choose from – and they badly need games which are designed for them to play together, and which they can access without needing to find a computer. A recent study conducted by University of Cape Town student Anja Venter revealed valuable insights into the cellphone use and gaming preferences of eight kids (11 and 12 year olds) in Ocean View, Cape Town. The study is important reading for mobile game developers, and particularly for developers seeking to use mobile games in ICT4D (Information and communications technologies for development).
Venter found that mobile gaming is still very much an individual activity for this group of kids, although they really want to be playing together. Gaming is fundamentally social and kids miss not being able to challenge other players on their cellphones. Modes of collaborative play such as online games are too expensive for local contexts. Enter the accessible nature of the mobile Java gaming platform in combination with Bluetooth technology that has proven to be inexpensive and sustainable: a potential avenue for ad hoc gaming with the people in your immediate surroundings. A trial of such a game proved to be very successful.

Multiplayer Bluetooth Mobile Games
Multiplayer Bluetooth Mobile Games

Although this study is limited in scope and is the result of a pilot Masters student study, it offers insights for potential game developers. Currently we see an explosion of mobile phone games, which were developed by international companies, available for free download directly from ones’ mobile phone. Competition in this arena is fierce and avenues for procurement are already in place, perpetuated through word-of-mouth testimonies amongst peers. There is a massive gap in the market when it
comes to Bluetooth multiplayer games that can be downloaded directly to ones’ phone without access to a desktop PC.

This research found that, in order to be successful, these games should be free and cheap to download (hence small in size), easy to find and access solely from a phone. They should work on a diverse range of mobile phones and cater to the intended audience’s interests. For further information, or a copy of the report, contact Anja Venter.

Men, Mobile Users Dominate Miyeni Facebook Debate

By Marise Haumann, Honours student, Centre for Film and Media Studies.

Cape Town, October 24, 2011 – When controversy erupted in the South African media around columnist Eric Miyeni and City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, many people continued debating the issues with friends on their public Facebook profiles.  Most of them seem to have been using their cell phones while they listened to the debate raging on local radio stations.

A study by University of Cape Town student, Marise Haumann, titled “Gender and the Public Sphere on Mobile-based Facebook”, looked at 203 public Facebook status updates posted on 2 August to investigate the role of gender in the debate that erupted around Eric Miyeni’s controversial column, “Haffajee does it for white masters”. Several public figures and gender rights organisations accused Miyeni of misogyny and hate speech and he was subsequently sacked from the Sowetan.

Facebook seemed swayed by arguments in favour of Miyeni – 22% of the mobile contributors supported Miyeni, and only 10% disagreed with his statements. But that may have been because fewer women were participating. Unsurprisingly, positions in the debate were influenced by the poster’s gender – with men more likely to express support for Miyeni –   27% of all men using mobile devices supported Miyeni while only 6% of women did so. In contrast, only 9% of men using mobile devices disagreed with Miyeni,  while somewhat more female mobile users (13%) disagreed with him.

Support and opposition for Miyeni in Facebook status updates, by Gender
Support and opposition for Miyeni in Facebook status updates, by Gender

Haumann’s study reveals that while 69% of all the contributors to the debate used mobile devices to access the debate, 30% contributed their opinions through fixed-line internet. A large majority  (79%) of all contributors to the debate were men, while only 21% were women.  English was the most frequently used language in the debate, but mobile phone users seem to be relatively multilingual. Of the mobile contributors, 6% used English in conjunction with other languages, while only 1% of the fixed-line contributors used other languages in conjunction with English.

The study reveals that although more men than women took part in the debate on Facebook, both men and women received similar numbers of replies to their status updates. Haumann argues that this indicates that while fewer women may have been involved in the debate on both the mobile internet and fixed-line internet, they did not ‘receive a cold shoulder’ in the Facebook debate. She also argues that the fact that men and women exhibited such differences in their opinions on Miyeni indicates that the debate was free and unobstructed by sexism or discrimination. She warns, however, that if more women do not make the effort to enter into such debates, they may see that their opinions will become relegated to the side-lines.

The “Gender and the Public Sphere on Mobile-based Facebook” study was conducted through the  postgraduate course in Mobile Media and Communication (FAM5038S) at the Centre for Film and Media Studies at the University of Cape Town. The study used quantitative content analysis to analyse a sample of 203 individual Facebook status updates, which were collected during the span of one day in August 2011. For further information, contact Marise Haumann.

Talking about Sex and Health on MXit.

By Mareike Kramper

Cape Town, November 1, 2011 – The mobile social site MXit signed a contract with The African Pulse a non-profit organisation with worldwide partners and associates. The company launched the health and sexual awareness portal H360º on the social site MXit.

The H360º forum allows young people from all over the world to participate in discussions around HIV/AIDS and sexuality. Teenagers can ask questions that are of burning importance to them, without the embarrassment of having to ask judgemental adults, or revealing secrets to their peers or ignorance to medical professionals. The online platform provides information on health and sexuality and allows users to connect to other H360º members worldwide. University of Cape Town MA student Mareike Kramper studied the requests posted on the site in order to find out more about what questions young people are asking about HIV/AIDS and sexuality. By studying the language used to express questions or to confess fears, Kramper found that H360º should be enagaging with young people’s everyday understanding of sex, health, love, shame and relationships. She said: “H360º needs to be able to answer questions such as, “I wnt 2 knw y ppls hate gays?” or “If u have love and u use a condom can u get it?”. The battle against social injustice and accurate health behaviour options needs to become part of daily conversations in South Africa.”

For further information, contact Mareike Kramper.

South African political activists mobilising Facebook

By Pierrinne Leukes

24 October 2011, Cape Town

South Africans are using mobile phones for political activism on Facebook, says Pierrinne Leukes, a University of Cape Town (UCT) Masters student majoring in Political Communication.

Some studies have been done about mobiles being used in South Africa for political campaigning and engagement during election times, but so far no studies show us how South Africans are talking politics on their phones a daily basis.  South African political parties such as the ANC, DA, COPE and IFP do have Facebook pages but Leukes found that hardly any of the activity on these pages come from mobile phones. Then Leukes found a Facebook group called ‘New Political Forum’, which was started in August 2010 by four South Africans who felt that they could not debate freely on the official Facebook pages belonging to political parties such as the African National Congress and Democratic Alliance. The ‘New Political Forum’ group grew rapidly and now boasts just under 8000 members.

Leukes studied posts and comments over  two days. “The level of engagement is impressive” , said Leukes. “On these two days, 49 messages were posted, and they initiated debates which totalled a whopping 1013 comments, again over just two days”. While the pages belonging to the political parties are dominated by computer users, the New Political Forum users are using phones to have their say and engage with fellow citizens. Approximately 60% of all these debates were initiated, and sustained by people using their mobile phones to access Facebook’s mobile site”.

The BB revolution

By Aziza Banderker

Cape Town, October 27, 2011 – South Africans love BlackBerries, but what in particular influences young middle class students to choose to jump on the bandwagon and adopt the popular smartphone? University of Cape Town Honours student, Aziza Banderker, interviewed a group of her BB-using peers to identifywhat factors had persuaded them adopt a Blackberry. And she decided to do so by chatting to them on BBM, the famous BlackBerry messaging service.

Banderker explained her interviewing strategy as follows: “BlackBerries are relatively expensive, and so I tried to find out when the cost of exclusion from BB starts to exceed the cost of adoption, and when that happens, what is actually the deciding factor which helps students justify the cost of the service?”. She considered individual demographics, socio-economic status, personal factors, social influence, perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, facilitating conditions, attitude and behavioural intentions. The interviews were constructed in a way in order to discover which of these factors are the most salient for this group of friends.

She found that the majority of the individuals in her social circle had waited till they felt there was a growing trend to adopt this mobile phone before they bought one themselves. Social influence was the greatest determining factor influencing adoption in this particular group. All had learned about BlackBerry via word of mouth. As a cost-saving feature, BlackBerry’s ‘free’ Internet service was one of the most important determining factors.

Gender played an important role. Banderker’s male contacts claimed that their decision process was based on whether the BlackBerry had the integrated features that they required. Female contacts emphasized that features which enhanced their social life were a deciding factor. Personal factors, such as preference and device capabilities, seemed to be the most important mediating factor.

Gaming women on Gameloft

By Jade van Blerk

24 October 2011, Cape Town

Mobile phones are the most popular gaming platform in South Africa, where downloaded and built-in games played on mobile phones are widely available and appeal to a large target market, including many women and girls. Developers such as top mobile developer Gameloft have realised the potential of the female market. UCT student Jade van Blerk asked what images of women these mobile games are using to sell their products, and whether marketing materials for mobile games are reproducing the adolescent stereotypes  associated with the traditionally  male-dominated world of ‘hard-core’ gaming.

Van Blerk wondered how images of women in cellphone games might compare to the stereotypes that are commonly encountered in other popular media directed at women such as magazine advertisements, where research shows that women are often stereotyped as homemakers or sex objects. Van  Blerk explained ‘I was interested in how mobile games might be establishing new images of femininity’. Van Blerk investigated the promotional imagery for a range of 45 mobile phone games selected from the Gameloft website.

Mobile ads from Gameloft

Van Blerk found that traditional gaming stereotypes seemed to have been imported wholesale into mobile games. In the first place, women were underrepresented in comparison to men. If they were depicted they were in the company of men, as sidekicks or symbols used to communicate information about the men in the image. Many images told stories with men carrying out the action, and women being represented in a passive way as the goal,object, or reward of the action. Male game characters confronted the viewer directly, more commonly demanding an emotional response, while women were offered as undemanding eye-candy for the viewer.

In contrast, women were largely depicted as subordinated to men and were often depicted performing what Goffman refers to as ‘appeasement gestures’ such as ‘body canting’ or the ‘bashful knee bend’  In the only case where a woman was the game’s protagonist she still performed appeasement gestures and was posed with a male.

Generalisations about mobile games cannot be made from this small sample of 45 advertisements, but Van Blerk’s research certainly suggests that there would be many opportunities for game developers who make the effort to understand which images  appeal to female players.

This research paper is available for download from www.JadeVanBlerk.blogspot.com or contact the researcher for further information.

 

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