Video Gambling Terminals Are Still A Mystery To Me

This interesting talk deals with the efforts that the designers of video slot machines take to make those and other facets of the Vegas experience optimally absorbing of gamblers’ dollars:

Natasha Schüll at Gel 2008 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

It’s a fascinating line of study, and it makes particular sense that gambling companies are powerfully incentivized to invest significant research into their products.

I recently took my first trip to Las Vegas. I wasn’t there to gamble, but I was planning on blowing some greenbacks to take in the feel of gambling anyway. So I sat down at few different gambling terminals and fed some sweaty bills into them. I should mention that I used to be an enthusiastic video gamer, and that the gameplay on these machines was closer to video games than the slot machines or card game simulations that I would have anticipated from my pop-culture understanding of Vegas infrastructure.

the back of the fabulous Las Vegas sign
what happens in Vegas might as well stay in Vegas

So why is that the games on those video terminals seemed so powerfully un-enjoyable to me? The gameplay was dull, the graphics and sound were too professional to be ironically vulgar, too amateurish to be impressive. The design and execution felt all-around lackadaisical. There wasn’t much happening on the screen to catch my attention or hold it. Some cows mooed, I think I tried to guess which virtual holes virtual lobsters were going to come out of, there was a half-hearted Aliens theme to one of them (I love Aliens! but not that game), and one of them had something to do with dolphins. I finally tried the spinning logos, reminiscent of actual one-armed bandits, and that was a little better, but a few digital spinning wheels connected to a mushy half-lighted button just didn’t get me into “the zone”.

Presumably I’m not the target market, but if these terminals are the ultimate physical instantiation of person-years of focused psycho-engineering effort, how is it that they’re so brutally boring?

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