Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas

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Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas

by Natasha Dow Schüll

Princeton University Press | May 11, 2014 | Trade Paperback

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Recent decades have seen a dramatic shift away from social forms of gambling played around roulette wheels and card tables to solitary gambling at electronic terminals. Slot machines, revamped by ever more compelling digital and video technology, have unseated traditional casino games as the gambling industry''s revenue mainstay. Addiction by Design takes readers into the intriguing world of machine gambling, an increasingly popular and absorbing form of play that blurs the line between human and machine, compulsion and control, risk and reward.

Drawing on fifteen years of field research in Las Vegas, anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll shows how the mechanical rhythm of electronic gambling pulls players into a trancelike state they call the "machine zone," in which daily worries, social demands, and even bodily awareness fade away. Once in the zone, gambling addicts play not to win but simply to keep playing, for as long as possible--even at the cost of physical and economic exhaustion. In continuous machine play, gamblers seek to lose themselves while the gambling industry seeks profit. Schüll describes the strategic calculations behind game algorithms and machine ergonomics, casino architecture and "ambience management," player tracking and cash access systems--all designed to meet the market''s desire for maximum "time on device." Her account moves from casino floors into gamblers'' everyday lives, from gambling industry conventions and Gamblers Anonymous meetings to regulatory debates over whether addiction to gambling machines stems from the consumer, the product, or the interplay between the two.

Addiction by Design is a compelling inquiry into the intensifying traffic between people and machines of chance, offering clues to some of the broader anxieties and predicaments of contemporary life. At stake in Schüll''s account of the intensifying traffic between people and machines of chance is a blurring of the line between design and experience, profit and loss, control and compulsion.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 456 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.68 in

Published: May 11, 2014

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0691160880

ISBN - 13: 9780691160887

Found in: Social and Cultural Studies

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– More About This Product –

Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas

by Natasha Dow Schüll

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 456 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.68 in

Published: May 11, 2014

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0691160880

ISBN - 13: 9780691160887

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Note on Informant Anonymity xiii

Introduction: Mapping the Machine Zone 1

Part One: Design
1. Interior Design for Interior States: Architecture, Ambience, and Affect 35
2. Engineering Experience: The Productive Economy of Player- Centric Design 52
3. Programming Chance: The Calculation of Enchantment 76

Part Two: Feedback
4. Matching the Market: Innovation, Intensification, Habituation 107
5. Live Data: Tracking Players, Guiding Play 137
6. Perfect Contingency: From Control to Compulsion 166

Part Three: Addiction
7. Gambled Away: Liquidating Life 189
8. Overdrive: Chasing Loss, Playing to Extinction 210

Part Four: Adjustment
9. Balancing Acts: The Double Bind of Therapeutics 239
10. Fix upon Fix: Recipes for Regulating Risk 257

Conclusion: Raising the Stakes 290

Notes 311
References 385
Index 42

From the Publisher

Recent decades have seen a dramatic shift away from social forms of gambling played around roulette wheels and card tables to solitary gambling at electronic terminals. Slot machines, revamped by ever more compelling digital and video technology, have unseated traditional casino games as the gambling industry''s revenue mainstay. Addiction by Design takes readers into the intriguing world of machine gambling, an increasingly popular and absorbing form of play that blurs the line between human and machine, compulsion and control, risk and reward.

Drawing on fifteen years of field research in Las Vegas, anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll shows how the mechanical rhythm of electronic gambling pulls players into a trancelike state they call the "machine zone," in which daily worries, social demands, and even bodily awareness fade away. Once in the zone, gambling addicts play not to win but simply to keep playing, for as long as possible--even at the cost of physical and economic exhaustion. In continuous machine play, gamblers seek to lose themselves while the gambling industry seeks profit. Schüll describes the strategic calculations behind game algorithms and machine ergonomics, casino architecture and "ambience management," player tracking and cash access systems--all designed to meet the market''s desire for maximum "time on device." Her account moves from casino floors into gamblers'' everyday lives, from gambling industry conventions and Gamblers Anonymous meetings to regulatory debates over whether addiction to gambling machines stems from the consumer, the product, or the interplay between the two.

Addiction by Design is a compelling inquiry into the intensifying traffic between people and machines of chance, offering clues to some of the broader anxieties and predicaments of contemporary life. At stake in Schüll''s account of the intensifying traffic between people and machines of chance is a blurring of the line between design and experience, profit and loss, control and compulsion.

From the Jacket

"A stunning portrayal of technology and the inner life. Searing, sobering, compelling: this is important, first-rate, accessible scholarship that should galvanize public conversation."--Sherry Turkle, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

"A fascinating, frightening window into the world of gambling in Las Vegas and the technological innovations that deliberately enhance and sustain the ''zone''--the odd, absorbed state for which extreme machine gamblers yearn. An astute and provocative look at addiction and its complex moral, social, and emotional entanglements."--T. M. Luhrmann, Stanford University

"At the heart of Schll''s book is the interplay between the players and the machine; between the players and the machine manufacturers; between the players and the math program; and between the players and the ''zone'' that the machines help produce. A tour de force that changes the dialogue on gambling addiction."--Henry Lesieur, author of The Chase: Career of the Compulsive Gambler

"Schll''s clear and dramatic writing style is itself addictive. One is drawn into the ways in which the interactions among the different stakeholders lead to players'' experience of being drawn into a ''zone'' where they remain until all resources are gone. This is a must-read narrative that points to the many variants of screen addiction possible today.."--Don Ihde, author of Bodies in Technology

"This gripping, insightful, and poignant analysis of machine gambling offers a kind of object lesson in the intensified forms of consumption that computer-based technologies enable. An exemplary case of the way in which close, critical investigation of specific sites of capitalism can provide a deeper understanding of both intimate experience and widespread socioeconomic arrangements."--Lucy A. Suchman, author of Human-Machine Reconfigurations

"Schll offers a provocative and important study of the imperative some people feel to lose themselves in a machine. The ethnography is rich and deep, shedding original light on the significance of addiction and gambling in American culture. The story told in the book is absolutely riveting."--Emily Martin, author of Bipolar Expeditions

Editorial Reviews

"If books can be tools, Addiction by Design is one of the foundational artifacts for understanding the digital age--a lever, perhaps, to pry ourselves from the grasp of the coercive loops that now surround us."--Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic
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