Friday, 15 April 2011

Semester 2: Assignment 3 The Big Bingo Adventure

Servie Design Tools

This semester we have been introduced to service design tools. These tools are useful as it can help you gather more specific information about a subject you are looking at or how well you design will be received by others. One tool which I felt would have been useful in my first project is the Wizard of Oz Mythology tool. Its name derives from the great Wizard himself but as he was hiding behind his curtain. The Wizard of Oz would have allowed people to get up close and personal with my piece whilst I was watching them without them knowing. I would hear and see everything that they said or did to my piece. Our first project was a vessel project in which we simply had to create a vessel of some kind. Like many of my pieces I invited people to pick it up and explore it. I like to create little rewards for the viewer that only by picking it up and becoming almost child like curiosity will they find. Using this service tool would therefore allow me to see if my piece had the desired effect.

Vessel Project

The Big Bingo Adventure

For our third assignment this semester we were asked to go someplace we had never been before such as the bingo, football match or casino. We then were asked to go along one week and observe what was going on, paying particular attention to how people acted within this environment. An environment in which they should be right at home in.

Being an avid supporter of Dundee Football Club and enjoy the occasional roll of the dice the bingo hall was my only option. This assignment was intended to make us feel a little lost and uncomfortable and I have to admit I was feeling a tad bit anxious before I went anywhere near the bingo. My earliest experience with the game was way back when I was a wee lad in primary school. Every week my mum, gran and auntie would go along to the game with the hope of winning the big money. Tucked up in bed pretending to sleep my mum would come in and check in on us and regale both me and my brother with stories of how our granny was awaiting on that elusive last number or how the three of them would split the winnings, even if it was just a tenner ha ha! Not to sure if everybody does this but it seems to be an unwritten rule of the game.

One of my mothers tales was when one week they sat at a random table and some ting bruiser of an auld Dundee woman come tottering up and shouted at them for sitting at her lucky table. For some strange reason this story has always stayed with me. I really do not like any form of confrontation and I was for this reason I was feeling a tad apprehensive about going!

Unfortunately you don’t get anywhere in life if once in a while you don’t stick your neck out and go for it (bit dramatic for the bingo I will agree but being a Dundee lad I know how competitive the local women can be about their game…no offence mum ha ha!) So go for it I did! A few days before the class had intended to go I decided to register in case it would take time for my membership to go through.

My bingo hall of choice was the Mecca hall situated on the Nethergate. First thing I noticed was their enormous sign sat atop the roof like a spire competing with the church’s next door. (This building is on the site of the old Green’s playhouse cinema which the bingo did occupy before it burnt down in the mid-90s. The building that we see today is a rebuild and they have given a nod to the original by keeping the cinema style sign.) It is constantly lit with the giant letters flashing in different sequences. You can see it from far away and is a constant reminder that it is there.

The Nethergate Mecca Bingo

Entering the main lobby I was surprised how dull it was. As there is no natural light coming in from the entrance the light doesn’t really change during the day but stays constant. You could easily spend hours in this space and loose track of time. Could this be planned or an accident? I will come back to this later.

The golden staircase and reddish carpet may possibly make the players feel almost important and celebrity like in status. The walls are adorned with framed posters advertising the massive cash prises you could win and cheap nights that are coming up soon. There is also fancy wooden side table with leaflets that advertise special offers and booklets on how to play the game. Two tings that I took from was firstly that framing the posters and using fancy tables reinforced the “faux classiness” of the bingo however small a detail they may be. Secondly before I had even reached the desk to join up I already knew what I could win and I would have a rough idea of how to play. Having paint stained clothes on, a bushy ginger beard and my trademark coloured tammy on I decided to not bring anymore attention to myself and sneak up the stairs and avoid what has to be the worlds smallest escalator. Making that transition from the entrance up to the desk you have already made a physical and psychological decision that you are going in to play.

As I approached the desk I was greeted by a semi smart suited gentleman which I presumed was the deputy manager. I made this assumption as he was spending what I thought was a lot of time behind the desk operating the till even though there was plenty of staff. I do not think the general manager would have the time spend there going by what I have witnessed with my own store managers I have worked with in the supermarket where I work. He was also the only one at the time wearing a suit as everyone wore a pink Mecca polo shirt, which are very recognisable which will be so people can identify them quickly if they need help or information. All the staff wore name badges with their first names on it. This gives the place a certain characteristic, almost like and extended family. It would make people feel more at ease when asking them a question. The situation is therefore less formal and more relaxing.

The smart dressed man then smoothly handed me over to a colleague in pink after a rather brash conversation in which I explained that I would like to join. Perhaps because of my appearance or that I was on my own and did not fit the usual profile of a bingo player but I felt the smart man dismissed me quite quickly. Level of comfort falling very quickly, the urge to run out of there rising ha ha!
The pink shirted colleague presented me with a form to fill my personal details out before entering them into his computer. Having a boy of similar age to myself help me join the bingo added to my uneasiness and to be honest made me feel like a right idiot. This is down to me being silly and caring about what people think but so far my experience at the bingo was not enjoyable. A couple of standard questions and clicks on the keyboard later and voila I was a fully fledged member of the Mecca bingo. A welcome pack full of information about special games nights and the rules was handed over to me with my own personalised membership card. These alone can have a big impact on someone. The membership card is yours and yours only confirming that you are apart of something special- the Mecca family! It also reminds you of what you could miss out on if you do not go. This makes you want to go and gamble whilst being apart of something. Getting the card and packs quickly meant you could play straight away and part with your money quicker.

As I hurriedly left through the main entrance I was almost blinded by the sunshine outside. I had only been in there for about 15 minutes but my eyes reacted like I had been in a dark box for days. The lighting inside would appear to be rigged so that people could not easily tell what time of day it. The whole experience is similar to what I have seen in photographs of the interiors of Las Vegas casinos. People have a tendency to start heading home when it starts to get dark or venture out if they see the sun shining. This building does not allow for this and so people stay to play making the hall more money.

Whilst I had been signing up the staff member had mentioned that the Thursday night was free night and that I had a token in my pack that would allow another member a free evening of play. Simple but effective salesmanship as I went along that Thursday and brought my best friend Natalie along as she was desperate to play as she was getting it free. Everyone likes anything that free ha ha! Just to prove how effective that information was, that Thursday saw the majority of the jewellery class attend the evening session!

My bingo pack and game cards

Natalie let me take lead as I had to learn and experience this for myself. Following the old ladies to the desk I saw that they were handing over their membership cards to the smart dressed man who would scan the card and greet them as they entered. Handing over my card I get the same personalised greeting as the ladies before me, “Good evening Grant, have a great evening.” Hold the boat. I have mixed feeling about this. Okay this makes you feel special that they go that extra inch and welcome you with your name. Nice for older people who are perhaps playing on their own and it makes them feel welcome and it seems the staff glad you came. However, I felt uncomfortable by this. This gentleman has only saw me twice, if he remembers the previous encounter before this, and anyone can read a name of a screen. The biggest issue I had with it was the he used my Christian name and not Mr Herron. Firstly he isn’t a friend and I haven’t invited him to refer to me as Grant. Secondly my parents call me Grant, and my friends call me Granty both of which he is not. Although I can understand why they use this type of friendly informal language as it keeps the place relaxed and welcoming. I am perhaps being just picky and possibly slightly biased towards him for I don’t know him myself and he may be a nice guy ha ha!

We are then herded between two desks, one offering electronic game pads the other selling the old paper style books. I decide to go old skool and get the books. The pink polo shirt wearing ladies behind the desk ask us if we want extra books for extra games and a chance to win the big national game all for a few pound each. Again the bingo is constantly trying to get you to play more and spend more. We cave and buy extra books and a pen for Natalie ( I was conveniently supplied with one in my pack so I was ready to play.) Already I have spent a tenner on free night!!! A well why not, this is my first time and it’s turning into a proper wee night out. My nervousness clearly getting taken over by excitement. Still worried I will sit in a luck seat though. As we pass these desks we enter the next section which is full of puggy machines. Not even heard the call of the numbers yet and again I have the opportunity to gamble and win big prizes. This room is mirrored and is duller than the lobby. The lights and sounds from the machines fill the room and are a feast for the sense. The atmosphere could be described as exciting and it is easy to see how people can get wrapped up in it all. The players in this room vary from mid-20s to old age pensioners with the majority of them being working class. This is due to their dress sense of white trainers, tracksuits and cheap looking chunky gold jewellery all of which is common in the working class.

After leaving the small amusement room the building opens into a brighter hall, which I had expected to be much larger. The hall consisted if three main areas; firstly a slightly raised level with calling desk, big screen and tables and chairs, secondly a balcony level that wraps around the whole room with tables and chairs and lastly the lower area that contained most tables and chairs, along with snack shop, a bar and another small amusement area.

The first game of the evening session had begun as we came into the all so we just grabbed a table in the lower area beside a group of my fellow jewellers. Luckily the place was quieter than I had thought it would was relieved to have not sat in anybody’s lucky seat ha ha! Instead of jumping straight into the game I decided to take the opportunity to do what I was hear to do and observe. The majority of people within the hall were old age pensioners with many sitting on their own. Everyone was spread out evenly through the hall on all levels. Apart from the caller shouting out numbers and the random scream of “HOUSE” the hall was deadly silent. The players gaze firmly fixed to their books, pens furiously marking numbers off. The atmosphere is quite intense. A bellow of “LINE” cries out interrupting the silence. Everyone sighs and carries on their conversations where they had left off and I hear the famous “I was just waiting on one number,” line coming from a few sitting close to me. In between games you have the opportunity to play the table game for a pound a turn. A section of your table has a smaller fixed game card on it which you place counters on top when your numbers are called. You put your pound in the slot next to you and the prize fund increases on the screen. Another example of how the bingo can easily make money from people. For a cheeky pound you could make £70, surely worth the risk and a small thrill while you wait for the big game to return. This can be quite dangerous as you could do this all day, the player may miss it by a number and tries again because they were so close last time. People hold up ten and twenty pound notes in the air. This attracts the attention of the Mecca staff who happily change their notes for pound coins so they can play the table games. Makes playing even easier that not even having the correct change can stop you as they have it all covered. The staff were super friendly and would come over to my group of friends and make sure they were doing okay and knew what they were doing. It may have been because it was a table of attractive females that caused so much attention but they appeared to be like that with everyone there to a certain degree. Good service like this makes for a more enjoyable experience and makes you happy to return.

Some of the Dundee faithful

The snack shop at the end of the hall was offering snacks and full meals for a very cheap price and the bar next to it was selling some of the cheapest pints I have seen in Dundee. This encourages people to have their meals there in between sessions without having to move and get unsettled. Everything is under one roof. I spot and old couple reading a broadsheet and knitting, with the lady wearing her slippers. They are clearly comfortable in this environment that it has become an extension of their home. I know that I part with money easier if I am in an enjoyable and comfortable situation. For example in a restaurant, if the meal was amazing and the service impeccable you are more than likely to leave a good tip and perhaps have a coffee to extend your enjoyable experience rather than try to escape pronto because it was awful.

The blue rinse brigade is the main bingo player but as I look around I spot more younger people with what could be their mum or aunts. There is also a neighbour of my parents with his wife who are middle aged and both professionals so I guess they are their to let the hair down and have some fun without the children there to annoy them.

The bingo is not just someplace to win money, although many go purely for the money, whilst others go to have fun and meet up with friends. During the break I notice an old man and woman sharing a laugh and having a good wee chat. The man then leaves and sits on his own in time for the next game leaving the lady on her own. Are they old friends? Ex-lovers? Start of a new relationship? Or simply lonely polite people sharing a conversation with bingo as their common interest? Who knows but ihabve found interesting that when people get old and grey they seem to get a pas that allows them to talk to anyone who is old and grey despite the fact there could still be a 20 year age gap ha ha! Perhaps it is a generation thing when people were polite and had manners and it has stuck with them. There is something oddly quite romantic about it all. Just waiting for Clark Gable to burst through the doors and start calling the numbers!!!

On the slightly raised area I noticed two white haired ladies staring down at us with a look of utter distain strewn across their faces. It felt as if we had entered into their hall without prior permission from them. For the majority of the evening their icy stares would continue…between games of course. I wondered if we had upset them by being there. Perhaps they did not like a group of youngsters taking part in an old persons scene. It is maybe the only place they don’t have to put up with us young whipper snappers and now we were taking this from them. Or maybe they were just curios to see a large amount of try to play bingo with no one having a clue what was going on! Not everyone was that icy mind you, as we had to older women who were both sitting on their own more than happy to share their knowledge of the game. They had obviously sensed the panic and confusion from our table and cheerily shout across with advice.

My first experience of the bingo will stay with me for a while. It’s a strange place, almost a little world of its own. Its sole purpose is to make as much money as it can from people, like any business does. And at the end of the day it is a business, but you can be forgiven for thinking differently as you are treated as a good friend, a part of the family as soon as you walk through the door.

After all that observing I was keen to get involved and see what all the fuss is about. Between you and me dear readers, I maybe converted ha ha! It sure is addictive and the adrenaline rush…I was shocked! Will I go back? Perhaps one day. After all I was only waiting for one damn number for the national prize!!!

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