Concordia researchers explore how Montreal Casino’s “Vegas Nights” target our senses

Researchers describe the impact of experiential design by experiencing it themselves

Concordia researchers delved into the Montreal Casino’s Vegas Nights to study how the casino experience affects and caters to our senses.

From the neon glow, to the aroma of perfume at the slot machines and the collective experience of playing at a blackjack table, the researchers describe and examine how these different elements played with their senses.

Interdisciplinary scholar and lead author of the study Erin Lynch told The Concordian the study was about “how a sensory ethnographic approach could shed some light on that kind of experiential marketing within the casino space.”

Different from a traditional observatory study, a “sensory ethnography” approach involves researchers putting themselves in the space to better understand the environment.

“Instead of just observing, we want to experience the site along with other people to sort of really attune our senses and help us understand the way various sensory elements within the casino space are interacting, how they’re kind of mixing and mingling, and how that impacts the general experience at the casino,” said Lynch.

Experiential design isn’t new; it can dictate decisions such as how much resistance to put on a video game controller button, or how soft, plush, or smooth a fabric should be for use on chairs at a restaurant.

In a casino environment, almost every element involves experiential design. Lynch said, “That’s been a real push on the design side of it and we noticed that there hadn’t been that much research delved into the experiential part of it.”

Lynch describes the casino experience as an “emergence into another world.”

“We found that there’s a lot of this overwhelming quality, particularly if you look at sights and sounds in the casino, but we also wanted to pay attention to some sort of under-observed, or …  overlooked aspects of the sensory qualities of the casino,” said Lynch.

One example of this was a gaming machine that vibrates when a person wins.

“The casino touches back, which is a really interesting aspect that we were looking at.”

For taste, Lynch tried a signature cotton candy cocktail.

“I knew I was in trouble when they slid a couple of wet wipes over to me as they were handing me the drink,” said Lynch, who described the drink as stinky, overly sweet, and “pink” tasting.

The question begs: is it work when you’re having this much fun?

Lynch said they wanted to embrace the experience, not only talk about the risks and problems associated with gambling, but to really understand how the different aspects of a casino work to intrigue clients by going to the source themselves.

Going forward, the researchers will look at applying this methodology to other spaces, and see how the pandemic has changed the sensory experience in the casino space as well.

Concordia professors David Howes, a professor of Anthropology, and Martin French, an associate professor of Sociology, co-authored the study along with Lynch.

Howes will explore sensory design in places like hospitals, parks, and spas, “to examine the way sensory design is marketing to all the senses.”

For many, a hospital environment isn’t exactly a calming place.

“Think about fluorescent lighting, and smells, and the extent to which that could be stress-inducing. So [it’s] thinking about the way our environments and the design of our environments impacts us, in an embodied sort of sensory fashion,” said Lynch.

Ultimately, looking at these spaces through a sensory approach will help better understand how they impact us.

“The casino was a really fun area to explore that in, but I think what we’re hoping it has demonstrated is the value of that sensory ethnographic approach, and looking at these spaces more broadly,” said Lynch.


Graphic courtesy of @the.beta.lab

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