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Natasha Dow Schüll (Cohort 1) Softpedia

Gamblers Want Immersion, Not Payoffs

In her new book, entitled Addiction by Design, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Program in Science, Technology, and Society (STS) associate professor, Natasha Schull, explains some of the motivations that appear to drive gambling addiction. Some are not at all what you would expect.

Many people are convinced that gambling addicts are aiming for large payoffs while they play, and that the prospect of winning the jackpot is what keeps them going. While this may be true sometimes, Schull says, other gamblers simply want to play for the thrill of it.

She explains that addicted gamblers experience what they themselves call an immersive experience. This means that, while they play, they are completely oblivious of the world outside, and experience a state of tranquility that they cannot find through other means.

In order to conduct research for the book, Schull went to study gamblers in their natural habitat, Las Vegas. She found a wide array of motivations at work there, including “to keep playing – to stay in that machine zone where nothing else matters.”

The author paid special attention to compulsive machine gamblers, to the detriment of those playing poker or black jack; these are cataloged as social games. Electronic slot machines, on the other hand, require solitude, and provide a way for people to shut out the world around them for a long time.

“I could say that for me the machine is a lover, a friend, a date, but really it’s none of those things; it’s a vacuum cleaner that sucks the life out of me, and sucks me out of life,” said one of the gambling addicts that the MIT expert interviewed.

She adds that the quest for reaching the “zone,” rather than a love for money, is what drives gamblers, and says that policymakers in the United States have yet to understand this, and to include it in the legislation they create.

“It’s a real stumbling block for policymakers to understand that. Everyone believes the harm is how much money is spent, and that what’s driving the compulsive gamblers is a desire to make money,” Schull explains in the book, which was published by Princeton University Press.

“But […] the ‘zone’ is really what’s driving this experience. The idea of winning money falls away when you get to the point of addiction.,” she goes on to say, adding that all people visited the zone, but that most can pull themselves out of it.

“This experience of being in the zone is one we’ve all had, whether it’s eBay auctions or sitting on the train compulsively using our phones,” Schull concludes.