Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas

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9780691127552: Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas

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.

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From the Inside Flap:

"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 Schüll'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

"Schüll'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

"Schüll 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

About the Author:

Natasha Dow Scholl is associate professor in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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