Fieldwork reveals how slot machines are exploiting people
Natasha Dow Schüll has been on fieldwork in Las Vegas among gamblers and the designers of the slot machines. Her book Machine Life: Control and Compulsion in Las Vegas will be published by Princeton University Press in early 2009.
Her research, she writes has been “focused on a dramatic turn that has taken place in recent decades from social forms of gambling played at tables to asocial forms played alone at video terminals". The machines are designed to exploit aspects of human psychology:
Without the presence of social elements such as other players or a live dealer, they are able to exit the world and enter a state where everything fades away. (…) Players enter what’s known as the “machine zone,” where even winning stops mattering; in fact, it can be unwelcome because it interrupts the flow of play. Such players only stop when their credits are consumed.
What revenue slot machines do generate comes not from entertaining but exploiting people. Should the government, whose role is to protect its citizens, become a partner in this ethically dubious enterprise?
To Salon.com she says that the industry has successfully defined the terms of gambling addiction: It’s telling that we speak about problem gamblers, but not problem machines, problem environments, or problem business practices.
The anthropologist has put three papers on her Las Vegas research online (pdf):
Shifting the paradigm from people with problems to machines designed to be predatory is an amazing change in perspective. I am so glad her work is getting attention.
Very interesting approach. I have no doubt that values and purposes are embedded in technology from inception and design, to production and ultimately use. But I wonder how an engineer would dismiss such claims arguing this is a problem of use (how people make use of the slot machines) and not of design. Social shaping of technology is a particularly suitable theoretical framework for this type of work.
Comment from: Larry [Visitor]
Does it really take an advanced degree to determine that slot machines are a Lousy bet? Natasha is doing what she claims is wrong. Specifically, she is making a damn good living off of Slot machines. She should be ashamed!
Comment from: gbby [Visitor]
Before you make an idiotic comment, you should do a little inquiry into the nature of her research. If it’s so easy, why don’t you get a PhD - like she did - and make a “damn good living” as well…
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