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Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  408 ratings  ·  42 reviews
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. "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, r ...more
Hardcover, 442 pages
Published June 1st 2012 by Princeton University Press
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Dec 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best, most engaging academic books I have read in a long time. I am an academic, and my field of study is addiction. Needless to say, this kind of writing is totally my bag. However, I didn't just enjoy this book because I am a total nerd for the subject matter. Schull is also just a really good writer. I found her text approachable and engaging. She has a really excellent sense of narrative and flow, and her organization is linear, thematically sound, and well organized. I al ...more
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: design, psychology
One of the most fascinating books I've ever read. It had everything I love - architecture, design, psychology, business, public policy! I have no interest in gambling, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.

The book is thorough yet covers a lot of topics, including the environmental design of casinos, the design and ergonomics of machines, how electronic slot machines are mapped so it looks like the odds are better, why people gamble, the way games adapt to players, the massive amoun
Michael Hughes
Read about half and quit only because the information is, for me, of limited utility. Make no mistake, though: this is a dense and carefully researched ethnography, one written with a journalist's gift for storytelling. Very little jargon clouds Schull's prose, a rare thing in academic writing. Addiction by Design is recommended to anyone with an interest in the science of addiction and the ways profiteers manipulate the brain's reward system in order to separate people from their savings.
Oct 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting but gets a bit tedious towards the last quarter. Could have been paced better. Could have been edited down to about 70% or expanded to add a lot more about the actual machinations that they refer to but never really get into the mechanics or maths of.
Jan 05, 2014 added it
In this book about how people who play video poker and slot machines play not for the reward of winning money, but for the reward of being able to play longer, there's list of preconditions for an activity that lets you get into the state of "flow" (which you sometimes achieve, for instance, when programming) where your sense of time fades along with your concern for the troubles of everyday life:
1. each moment of the activity must have a little goal
2. the rules for attaining that goal must be
Konstantin Samoylov
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great overview of the gambling business and the addition it's thriving upon. Natasha shows how the gambling ecosystem is designed to create and develop the addiction. The book reflects a solid research work that Natasha conducted. All theses are backed up by examples. All examples are concrete, detailed and linked to the sources. That was a great read.
I've never thought how thoroughly casinos research and design all sides of the gambling experience. AB experiments, big data analysis, user segmen
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
Interesting and diverse look at video/slot machine gambling. I liked the psychological aspects on design the best, less so the ethnographic descriptions and the emphasis on addiction. I also felt the book could have been shorter/more concise.

Some tidbits:
"“It is not absurd to try diagnosing a civilization in terms of the games that are especially popular there,” he wrote in 1958. Caillois argued that one could make a cultural diagnosis by examining games’ combination of the following four elemen
Sam O’Brien
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An exhaustive look at an addiction you probably weren't aware of, and if you WERE aware of it you probably didn't know how complex it was. There is no stone left unturned in this book. You get to look at every aspect of machine gambling addiction, from the people who make em to the people who put em out to the people who use em. May slow down sometimes, but for the most part there's always a new piece of information that keeps you reading. After this, it's hard to look at slots the same way.
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
After reading this book it strikes me that many of the techniques used in Las Vegas machine gaming are so deceptive they should be illegal--virtual reel mapping, losses disguised as wins, and overproduction of "near misses" (Vegas permits 6X what would occur by chance in a fair game) all give players deceptively false information about their chances.
Oct 28, 2018 rated it liked it
An academic but very readable look at how machine design, data science, and casino architecture affect gamblers’ behavior. Personally, I’m not a gambler and, after reading this book, I’m even less likely to become one.
Niklas Laninge
A bit too long

I read it as a part of a research project. I found what i needed but after part one and two i lost interest in gambling and it got too caught up with anecdotes.
May 08, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
A more sincere title would have been "Superstition by mediocre writing style."
Oct 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Very good information, but with too many words...
Pete Welter
Nov 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book looks that phenomenon of machine gambling and the addiction that can form to this type of gambling.

The gambling industry frames the addiction discussion entirely in terms of the users of its machines. Addiction or gambling to excess is an internal problem with the person using the machine, either because they are genetically predisposed towards addictive behaviors, or because they are undisciplined and irrational.

What Schill demonstrates here though, is that the machine designers and
Erhardt Graeff
Mar 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is an amazing work of anthropology. The amount and quality of research poured into the author's study of machine gambling makes for a convincing account of how the casino and gambling machine industries continue to refine and perfect slot machines, video poker machines, and other electronic gambling devices in order to keep gamblers in their stools and feeding money into the machine. The odds are stacked against the average gambler in many ways beyond simply the random number generators pow ...more
May 06, 2013 rated it liked it
really enjoyed this book, really informative and didn't present the detail in a judgmental fashion. Data comes from a huge range of sources and presented in a balanced fashion. The consequences of pokies are pretty obvious even to those who are affected by them (but unable to stop)and this book details this but balances it with the recognition that people make these decisions themselves. The consequences of free choice and the market are discussed at length and this dynamic was the most fascinat ...more
Apr 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: big-people-books
Addiction by Design takes a deep dive into why slot machines hold such a tight grip over users. And tightly they do grip! The book begins with an account of a casino patron slumping over and having a heart attack. Fortunately, a quick intervention by the staff using an AED saves the patron's life. But, next to the victim, and throughout the frantic event, sits another patron, mechanically playing away at a slot machine, never moving out of the way or even flinching as the life of another hangs ...more
Dec 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book, extremely well-written with a deft writerly craft that incorporates interview and scholarly support for the argument in a way that makes reading effortless.

The primary theme is that it is wrong-headed to try to locate 'addiction' at some specific locus in the system of users, designers, casino owners, and technologies that are all required to make video gambling happen the way it does. Reducing the causal argument to something like brain chemistry, profit-seeking owner
Jan 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Really interesting account on how the casino business has hired the best talent to keep their addicted clients glued to the machines and drain the last dollar out of them. Casinos are like rat traps. If you are vulnerable in any way, you enter them and then cannot get out. You will blow all your money and your dog's, and you won't be able to stop. Casinos are designed for that. They are designed to trap their victims. They are horrible places. I was in a casino once and all I saw was a group of ...more
Jun 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Timely and profound. Timely, because 'America' is hooked on gambling in more ways than just video slots (I'm recalling 'betting on hunger') and more and more states are making it easier to participate. Profound, because I believe that in a generation we will label machine gambling as the first evidence of wide-spread brain hacking (unless maybe you count broadcast television). The whole way through I was thinking "Snow Crash".

Ms. Schüll takes us through the various levels the modern gaming/gambl
Dec 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture, psychology
The content of this book is fascinating. I don't know how many times I said, "Wow!" Slot machines bring in 85% of casino revenue. The design of both the casino space and the machine itself is targeted toward separating a gambler from his/her money. While slot machine players may get started because they're looking for the wins, the addicted players are looking for the "zone" -- that mental space where nothing else exists. Wins are not celebrated; wins just allow one to stay in the zone longer.

May 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written by an anthropologist, this well-researched account details how the gambling industry incorporates sophisticated technologies and customer tracking to refine slot machines ("pokies") such that they become highly effective in milking every last penny out of problem gamblers. These machines pervert the Csikszentmihalyi's concept of 'flow' to a purposeless process and offer it to problem gamblers, and short-circuit them to fulfill their Thanatos. Quoting Weber, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida, ...more
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
85% of profit in Vegas now comes from video lottery terminals. Players play for the experience of playing, not for the hope of winning - winning a jackpot is a nuisance because it interrupts the game. Experienced players target machines that give them a semblance of making important choices, but then jam a switch so the game plays itself, steadily mowing down their funds. Gamblers who wet themselves and keep playing. Chilling dispatches from game operators and designers. All this and more presen ...more
Charles Reimler
Oct 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Tedious Style Of Writing Unsuitable For Pleasure Reading, But A Masterpiece Of Research! Reader Cognitive Insightfully Will Not Pursue
"The Zone" Into A Gambling Addiction! Healthy Coping Escapism
Is Never Within A Casino Design Of Purposefully Addiction "B. F. Skinner Pigeons Reinforcement By Humans"
Due Profit Bottom Line Intentions! Healthy Coping Escapism Is Found By Pleasure Reading, Sports Fans, Movies, Nature Watching, And Better Choices Than Gambling "Guaranteed To Lose In Long Term" By C
Simon Newstead
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
A book that explains the personal side of gaming addiction and proposes some theories behind it. Quite a bit of repetition on the main points. I would have preferred more scientific grounding or explanations, and a deeper look into the different research studies on the topic. It also only covered physical machines rather than newer online and virtual options. That said, a solid introduction to general principles that was easy to read.
Dave Peticolas
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Although at times marred by the mushy verbiage of "critical theory", this look at the modern world of machine gambling (video slots and poker) is rescued by the thoroughness of the research. From the layout, lighting, sounds level, and architecture of casinos to the design of the machines themselves, machine gambling is a precisely engineered trap for vulnerable minds. Basically you should never, ever, ever walk into a casino.
Sep 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: social-sciences
Extremely important reference for opponents of predatory gambling, of which I am one. The author, an anthropologist now at MIT, describes how today's electronic gaming machines (slots) are designed to maximize "time on device" and make users "play to extinction," especially when arrayed artfully in a casino.
James Gwertzman
Jul 20, 2013 rated it liked it
I heard the author interviewed on 99% Invisible (podcast), and enjoyed her description of how slot machines work. The book was interesting in parts, dry in others. I was appalled at the descriptions of just how badly addicted some people get to slots. Worth a read for anyone in the game design space.
Coggy Cog
Aug 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

1st quarter of the book is great. Wish there was more depth into the psychology of the slots themselves and how a company goes about designing them - more depth to these topics.
Ivan Reinaldo
Nov 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
I think it's pretty good. It explains in pretty detail the psychology of design in casino. What I don't like is that there's a lot of unnecessary complicated wording. There's a lot of fillers, worded carefully so it seems important, just skim it.
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Natasha Dow Schüll's graduated Summa Cum Laude from UC Berkeley’s Department of Anthropology in 1993 and returned to receive her Ph.D. in 2003. She held postdoctoral positions as a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at Columbia University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy and as a fellow at NYU’s International Center for Advanced Studies. She joined MIT's Program ...more
“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.” 1 likes
“they are charged with the task of governing their own tendencies while participating in activities designed to stimulate those tendencies.” 0 likes
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