Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas

By Natasha Dow Schüll | Go to book overview

6
PERFECT CONTINGENCY:
From Control to Compulsion

THE PSYCHOLOGIST Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized the term “flow” to describe states of absorption in which attention is so narrowly focused on an activity that a sense of time fades, along with the troubles and concerns of day-to-day life. “Flow provides an escape from the chaos of the quotidian,” he wrote.1 Csikszentmihalyi identified four “preconditions” of flow: first, each moment of the activity must have a little goal; second, the rules for attaining that goal must be clear; third, the activity must give immediate feedback so that one has certainty, from moment to moment, on where one stands; fourth, the tasks of the activity must be matched with operational skills, bestowing a sense of simultaneous control and challenge.2 Machine gambling, as we have seen, possesses each of these properties: every hand or spin presents players with a small goal; rules are limited and well-defined; bets are made and decided in a matter of seconds, giving players immediate feedback on their actions; reel-stopping features, responsive touchscreens, and multiline, multicoin betting options lend players a sense of potential control over contingency that invests them in the game, and video poker reinforces this effect by introducing an element of actual skill.3

Unsurprisingly, the “zone” of intensive machine gambling is characterized by the hallmark psychophysiological shifts and desubjectifying effects of flow. Gamblers “forget themselves” and feel carried forward by a

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