Come all Ye Pilgrims – Come to Mecca


A Muslim pilgrim looks at Mecca

A Muslim pilgrim looks at Mecca from the top of Noor mountain.

Metaphors are a very convenient way to express ideas that are not always easy to express, but when put in terms of something we do, know or understand it all become clear – or so is the intent.  Sometimes, however, we get one thing mixed up with its metaphorical namesake.  Take the case of two pilgrimages, both taking place this week and both to a place called Mecca or a mecca.

Mecca as a term usually implies a place that by some inherent magnetism or critical mass of a particular substance draws believing pilgrims from around the world; and here pilgrim, too, becomes a two-fold thing, a devoted believer traveling to a holy site or any devotee traveling to the “mecca” of his/her favorite activity.  In that sense New York is sometimes called the mecca of live-theater, Hollywood the mecca of film, Paris the mecca of lovers, the Mall of the Americas the mecca of shoppers and Las Vegas the mecca of gambling.

This week upwards of 25,000 gaming industry professionals and pilgrims have traveled from all over the world to industry’s leading bazaar – G2E 2010.  Bazaar, another metaphor, from the Persian a market place, a place of prices, but today in common usage just a place that sells stuff.  In Vegas that means slot machines, table games and such are on display – not necessarily for sale, but that is a separate and licensing issue – to the leading gaming executives from around the world.  The industry’s leading game makers save this time to introduce their latest ideas, technologies and gimmicks – much like American car makers used to do in Detroit in by-gone automotive times.  For the rest of the week, the industry will be swollen with pride over the size and importance of the event – the local media, reporters from other gaming jurisdictions and the trade publications will focus their respective spotlights on the event and that usually makes the participants feel as if the whole world was watching with great interest.

And therein lies the trap of metaphors – these two metaphors, pilgrimage and mecca can lead one down a very misleading path.  As illustrated by the other pilgrimage to a mecca that is talking place in another desert state across the globe in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.  In the city of Mecca, pilgrims are gathered to perform the annual Haj – a once in a lifetime obligatory (to those that are able) pilgrimage to the birth place of Mohamed and the center of the Muslim world. It is toward Mecca that all Muslims turn to pray. Nearly 3 million have gathered in Mecca this year to perform the ritual. As a comparison there are about 220,000 hotels rooms in both Vegas and Mecca; Vegas hosts in excess of 35 million people a year, most arrive by air; Saudi Arabia is expanding both the airports serving Mecca and the capital Jeddah to accommodate 80 million people in 10 years, another 100,000 hotel rooms is also being added.  They’re also building a 440 kilometer rail link between the two holy cities, Mecca and Medina. Now, currently, that journey takes four or five hours. They want to reduce it to 30 minutes. And the just finished a 485 meter clock – intended to represent the time for all Muslims.

That Mecca and that pilgrim are the ones whose image we frequently borrow to make our ideas clearer to the uniformed, but we are too often stretch our metaphor too far and thereby steal its value.  Mecca is a city with thousands of years of history – Las Vegas is a 20th construct, the Las Vegas gambling phenomenon is really a product of the second half of the 20th century, although the 21st century is certainly making some significant alterations to that 20th century place.  Muslims have been making the pilgrimage for over a thousand years, but before Islam religious pilgrims had been coming to Mecca for a very, very long time.

The point? None, just a note to myself to beware of my use of metaphors and to remind my fellow gaming industry professionals that our industry in its current state is very new, not terribly stable and in no way comparable to any human activity that is thousands of years old.  So, while we might enjoy our annual, dare I say pilgrimage, time in Las Vegas it is just that,  a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, fun, interesting, informative, may even profitable, but not life changing.

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