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. Slot machines, revamped by ever more compelling digital and video technology, have unseated traditional casino games as the gambling industry's revenue mainstay. 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, risk and reward.Drawing on fifteen years of field research in Las Vegas, anthropologist Natasha Dow Schull shows how the mechanical rhythm of electronic gambling pulls players into a trancelike state they call the machine zone, in which daily worries, social demands, and even bodily awareness fade away. Once in the zone, gambling addicts play not to win but simply to keep playing, for as long as possible--even at the cost of physical and economic exhaustion. In continuous machine play, gamblers seek to lose themselves while the gambling industry seeks profit. Schull describes the strategic calculations behind game algorithms and machine ergonomics, casino architecture and ambience management, player tracking and cash access systems--all designed to meet the market's desire for maximum time on device. Her account moves from casino floors into gamblers' everyday lives, from gambling industry conventions and Gamblers Anonymous meetings to regulatory debates over whether addiction to gambling machines stems from the consumer, the product, or the interplay between the two.Addiction by Design is a compelling inquiry into the intensifying traffic between people and machines of chance, offering clues to some of the broader anxieties and predicaments of contemporary life. At stake in Schull's account of the intensifying traffic between people and machines of chance is a blurring of the line between design and experience, profit and loss, control and compulsion.
Winner of the 2013 Sharon Stephens First Book Prize, American Ethnological Society Honorable Mention for the 2013 Gregory Bateson Prize, The Society for Cultural Anthropology The Atlantic Editors' The Best Book I Read This Year for 2013, chosen by senior editor Alexis C. Madrigal Natasha Dow Schull, an anthropologist at MIT, has written a timely book. Ms Schull has spent two decades studying the boom in casino gambling: the layout of its properties, the addicts and problem gamblers who account for roughly half its revenue in some places, and the engineering that goes into its most sophisticated products. Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas reads like a combination of Scientific American's number puzzles and the 'blue Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. --Christopher Caldwell, Financial Times Addiction by Design is a nonfiction page-turner. A richly detailed account of the particulars of video gaming addiction, worth reading for the excellence of the ethnographic narrative alone, it is also an empirically rigorous examination of users, designers, and objects that deepens practical and philosophical questions about the capacities of players interacting with machines designed to entrance them. --Laura Noren, PublicBooks Schull adds greatly to the scholarly literature on problem gambling with this well-written book... Applying an anthropological perspective, the author focuses especially on the Las Vegas gambling industry, seeing many of today's avid machine gamblers as less preoccupied with winning than with maintaining themselves in the game, playing for as long as possible, and entering into a trance-like state of being, totally enmeshed psychologically into gaming and totally removed from the ordinary obligations of everyday life... The book offers a most compelling and vivid picture of this world. --Choice If books can be tools, Addiction by Design is one of the foundational artifacts for understanding the digital age--a lever, perhaps, to pry ourselves from the grasp of the coercive loops that now surround us. --Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic Natasha Schull's Addiction By Design is fascinating, absorbing, and at times, a bit frightening... Schull's work will have wide relevance to many audiences, including those interested in technology studies, media studies, software studies, game studies, values-in-design, and the psychology and sociology of addiction and other technologically mediated behavioral disorders. --Hansen Hsu, Social Studies of Science Original, ambitious, and written with elegant lucidity, Addiction by Design presents us with a narrative that is as compulsive as the behavior it describes. The book repositions debates in the field of gambling and will surely become a classic text in studies of society and technology. --Gerda Reith, American Journal of Sociology Based on fifteen years of ethnographic work, Addiction by Design is an ambitious and thought-provoking book that challenges the neoliberal ethos currently governing the way in which governments and professionals think about gambling addiction. --Kah-Wee Lee, Technology and Culture A handbook on regaining our proper orientation to the world. Schull's book offers a grim warning about the ways others can deliberately cut us off from natural and supernatural joys. --Leah Libresco, Commonweal