Critical Play: Games of Chance


I played a couple different slots games on, as well as Roulette. I’ve passed through Nevada a few times and I often see people sitting at the slot machines inside the airport, going away at the machines and just staring at those slots, tapping buttons to spin the video screens– while I never really understood it initially, especially without the physical feeling of pulling a lever (what my 12-year-old self intuited to be the fun part of slots). Having now attempted it fully online (distancing myself even further from the physical sensation of slot-spinning), I can say that I get it now, (at least a little bit).

Playing with fake cash, I was drawn in most by the lines, sounds, and visuals associated with winning. I think it plays on a classic technique with music, and building tension– to create a setup that doesn’t quite resolve. When you spin the slots, it chooses a random song to play, and cuts the song off unceremoniously (and unresolved) if you don’t win anything. What’s the fastest way to resolve this tension? Why, by spinning again, of course. And of course, you’re treated to a small light show, lots of sound fx and all the lines you won with every time you win. I know that for me it scratches some itch to see more and more lines being filled out (ideally I’d love to see what it would look like to see a “maximum win”). This is even present in the controls at the bottom; pressing (+) increases the bet until you get to the maximum, where you get a really lovely little jingle. If you press (-), there’s no matching jingle or confirmation sound, which also feels unresolved. Of course, the randomness plays into all of this; you see it hit once in a while, which of course encourages you to keep playing (once you hit a jackpot, you have more money to play with!)– but then naturally, when you don’t win you’re encouraged to keep playing by the unresolved tension and perception of “near misses” – which the slots game above^ also makes extreme use of. The symbols have so much flourish and so many lines that almost anything can look like a near win.

I think Roulette was even worse. In that game, you feel like you have some control over what’s going on; near misses now feel like a strategic misstep rather than an issue with the game; or, perhaps worse, it feels like the game is somehow “against” you (despite it being just chance). That said, I spent less time on it since it just didn’t have the same kind of blithe, mindless spectacle as the slot machine.

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