In the Digital Age, What Does Bingo Mean to Cinema?


Throughout the history of cinema, one can find a number of iconic films and TV shows which feature the classic game of bingo in an important scene. The likes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Better Call Saul, The Babadook, Rampage, and Bad Grandpa are just a few examples of movies where bingo plays a prominent role.

Oftentimes, bingo is used to signal a wholesome or even a retro setting, with quiet games of bingo often being disrupted by a particularly loud personality or an unexpected event. However, in the digital age, this use of bingo may no longer hold up. Let’s take a closer look at how the digital age changed bingo, and what this could mean for cinematic representations.

The new bingo

No discussion of bingo in contemporary culture can exclude the importance of digital-only bingo platforms, which also allow people to play bingo from their smartphone via an app. Countless players now choose to play free bingo games like Paddy’s Pad or Paddy’s Pennies. In addition, sites like Paddy Power run virtual online bingo events where anyone can enter from home for the chance to win real cash prizes.

This is all part of a wider shift represented by the rise of online bingo. While brick-and-mortar bingo is still popular, there is no denying that digital bingo has changed how people play, and where bingo sits in modern culture today.

A shifting image

The bingo scenes in films that we know and love might be cinematic gold, but they no longer square up with the contemporary image of bingo. As mentioned, more people than ever are playing online. What’s more, a significant portion of bingo players now play bingo on their smartphones via dedicated apps, meaning that they can play on the go, wherever they happen to be.

On top of this, we have seen a huge shift in the demography of bingo. That’s to the sudden rise of hipster bingo venues and bingo “rave” events by the likes of Bongo’s Bingo, this centuries-old game now has a new cachet as something hip, urbane, and distinctly millennial, as this report from The Guardian concludes.

In all of the popular representations of bingo on the silver screen, this new image has yet to make an appearance. If you try to find an example of a film depicting the modern millennial playing bingo on their phone or heading with their friends to a city center bingo rave, you will struggle to find anything.

An updated representation?

All of this begs the question as to whether cinema’s take on bingo will be updated to reflect shifting cultural realities. We have already seen other entertainment pastimes receive a 21st-century cinematic update, with the likes of online gaming, online shopping, social media, and virtual reality (as this GameSpot roundup nicely demonstrates) now being ubiquitous in contemporary cinema and television.

As this new form of digital bingo becomes more and more prominent, it is entirely possible that we will soon start seeing rom-coms featuring meetups in online bingo rooms, or buddy comedies where the action takes them to an underground bingo party. Of course, only time will tell.

Cinematic representations of mass culture and popular entertainment are important barometers of both social and technological trends. In the digital age, the game of bingo intersects both of these.



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