The Coming Augmented Reality: Smart Touch Screens Rid Gala Bingo Halls of Paper Cards
Instead of a trend in digital bingo leading to more fragmentation of players who are solitary online gamers, actually technologies are driving a resurgence of attention upon traditional bingo hall settings.
Britain’s largest bingo venue organizer and online bingo provider, Gala Bingo, is reversing the flow of high-technology in the direction of enhancing the localized, physical, personal milieux of its bingo halls. Gala has commissioned the engineering firm X2 to build thousands of digital touch screen interfaces designed to replace paper bingo cards, while keeping all the ‘real world’ nuances of live bingo.
Going to rugged and rechargeable touch-screen consoles has the attractive boon of reducing tree deforestation and thus allows Gala to begin claiming a ‘greener’ image. While this environmental concern may be at the forefront of the minds of a small percentage of players, the physical benefits of using X2’s custom terminals will probably win admiration from nearly all players. For example, it displays the six most filled-in cards in real time ¾ a much happier situation than players fumbling with many paper bingo cards. Marking is also greatly simplified into a one-touch operation that automatically updates several cards at once. Yet all the familiar social aspects of bingo, like yelling ‘House!’, are preserved by Gala’s design.
This is an intriguing case-in-point of online or ‘virtual’ bingo affecting and improving the development of off-line or ‘real’ bingo. Amidst all the hype and frenzy over new mobile technologies and the increasing power of smart phones, a player can slowly lose touch with the fun intensity of playing cards in a physical bingo hall. This in-person excitement is sacrificed for the staggering convenience of playing mobile bingo on iPhones and Android phones. Although their convenience may seem great, it amounts to privileging a virtual experience over our human bodily existence whereupon we are ‘breathing the same air’ with other humans.
If one’s mobile bingo habits, we should point out, were to merely supplement devoting certain evenings sitting at lively tables of bingo players, then there doesn’t seem to be a problem.
But people can grow more accustomed to ‘life on the screen’ than their social life. That temptation, toward fragmentation, is understandable given all the creature comforts and advanced powers of very intimate mobile devises (such as Apple’s clever and very sensual touch screen).
The trends surrounding technologies that include radio, television, the Internet and now the mobile Web (smart phones) tend to go back and forth, somewhat like weather patterns. Technologies are far more knitted together with social and physical reality than how we casually envision them. It is just a matter of time before the demand for humanistic or situational forms of entertainment rises, while interest in one-way ‘push’ media (TV) decreases.
As soon as these cycles that are bound to the public’s perceptual economy are comprehended, then business quickly responds. Gala Bingo’s collaboration with X2 represents just this sort of realignment of human needs, by promoting the physical world while nonetheless embracing the salient aspects of advanced digital hardware and software. And indeed there is an ‘expanding market for hand-held bingo terminals, which in the UK alone is expected to reach up to 100,000 units over the next few years’ (X2). 
Technologists and scholars of Digital Media Studies are well aware that the emerging urban landscape ¾ or perhaps better called technoscape ¾ involves increasing ‘smart’ enhancements. We are heading toward a public environment in which our experience of space and our access to knowledge become ‘augmented’ by networked electronic devises. Simultaneously there will be an increase in the number of screens surrounding us during daily life (especially in the early stages of ‘augmented reality’ without the systemic integration of many kinds of devises sharing screens).
Of course, this digital revolution in the way we manipulate and learn about the immediate physical spaces in which we live will also transform what we consider standard household amenities.
Finally, in fact, there is wide-spread recognition that networked electronics can and should be allowed to control various tedious aspects of our lives, in the interest of environmental conservation at the very least. The elimination of bingo cards is just one example of how technology is improving entertainment, whereas improvements to normal domestic life by smart equipment will indeed cause more and more excitement. One area of immediate need is in controlling home heating and cooling, which helps at saving money and resources simultaneously.
The automation of mundane tasks is only one benefit of networked electronic devises. Far more important for bingo players, and anyone piqued by the current explosion of digital home and mobile entertainment, are the benefits that new technologies can deliver to fun social rituals like live bingo. They also improve many kinds of exhibition event requiring group intelligence.
In a wide range of human situations, smart screens like the one developed by X2 as an augmented bingo interface can give people more power to fully interact the with people standing right next to them. On the other hand, people carrying smart phones acquire more independence at any given moment because these smart screen devises provide a virtual library, or, even a virtual escape. (On the X2 units this capability is used to offer skill games in-between virtual cards.)
We wonder how long it will be before we see one of the extant iPhone or Android-oriented bingo sites like Mecca Bingo develop a way for players to spontaneously gather, such as at a coffee house, and use their smart phones to generate a virtual bingo hall. In this fanciful bingo utopia, the smart phone has become a lite version of X2’s terminals, which although lightweight themselves will remain the property of Gala Bingo for use at its well-established bingo venues.
Ideally, in the future, people shall not be bound to specific locations and time-frames (which are two old-fashioned aspects of Gala’s bingo halls); instead we will be able to create events on-the-fly, without the need of overarching authorities.
Most of us will enjoy improvements to everyday life that are far more mundane than how technology is improving the perennial bingo hobby.
Imagine smart screens like Gala/X2’s new bingo terminal installed in your kitchen to control appliances. And in the public sphere, where we must stand in queues, order products from retail stores, ask for customer assistance, or learn about the cultural significance of a historical landmark, one can easily imagine how smart screens will have an astonishing (as yet unfathomable) effect on how we interact with the physical world.
In the case of bingo, as in many others, the entertainment sector leads innovation for integrating the on- and off-line environments. Many believe that this spatial integration is the main trend now, in the early days of augmented reality.