At first glance, gambling activities can look like any other game — shiny, colorful, and evoking a sense of optimism. The shiny packaging and whimsical undertones could be why nearly 80% of American adults dip their toes into the gambling pool at some point in their lifetime. Whether for leisure, money, or excitement, there are various motivators behind this seemingly ubiquitous activity.
But with the presence of gaming everywhere, how do you join in while making sure to keep the fun in “fun and games”? What factors come into play that blur the lines of responsible gaming? –
In truth, much has been said about the science behind gaming addiction. But beyond psychology, game design and imagery play an active role in shaping the individual gaming experience and the collective culture we have today.
The more you don’t know
The appeal of gaming is largely because of the unpredictability of its results. You never know if you’re about to hit a jackpot or walk home empty-handed, but scientists agree that the endless possibilities are part of what attracts gamblers.
Whether a reward is certain or not, our brains release dopamine whenever we expect something pleasurable. In gambling, it’s these neurotransmitters that are responsible for that gambling high. According to researcher Christopher Fiorillo, it also likely influences the risk-taking behavior evident in many gamblers.
Similarly, scientists from Carnegie Mellon University claim that curiosity is closely linked to player engagement levels. Game designer Greg Costikyan confirms that the desire to know what awaits after each level is the key to sustaining a player’s interest. It is this idea of uncertainty and excitement that game designers use to guide their work when crafting different gaming experiences.
The risks of design
Indeed, gambling immerses players into an entire environment characterized by simple yet dramatic storylines, catchy sounds, and enticing graphics. It isn’t just a matter of wins and losses. Every part of the game is meant to captivate you, which can explain why land-based casinos tend to be flashy and online gaming providers are chockfull of visual jazziness.
But of course, there wouldn’t be an entire industry behind game design if there wasn’t a method to the madness. We’ve all heard of the age-old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but eye-catching design is an effective way to hook players in. Though non-players might see this detail as frivolous, this is what actually makes a brand and helps it stand out from the rest.
Auditory and visual effects become even more enchanting when combined with the concept of uncertain rewards. Little cues such as jackpot jingles associated with winning can lead gamblers to gain more confidence and continue playing for longer. Moreover, in an experiment by psychologists from the University of Waterloo, it was found that sound can influence players’ preferences. The majority of the players surveyed preferred games that played sounds after every win, thanks to the positive reinforcement. Simply, it’s the slot machine equivalent of a crowd cheering.
Caption: Online gaming provider Sandlot Games makes use of dynamic visuals and exciting sounds with its array of slot reels to engage players.
Blurring the lines of responsible gaming
In recent years, players and companies have began to take significant strides towards an initiative called Responsible Gaming. This concept is comprised of several requirements that apply to gambling stakeholders to ensure the protection of players against the potential repercussions of gaming. Its tenets include ethical and responsible marketing, but of course, the industry has found ways to side-step these lines by using design as a soapbox.
“The manufacturers know these machines are addictive and do their best to make them addictive so they can make more money,” explains Terry Noffsinger, an attorney who has filed lawsuits against casinos taking advantage of vulnerable customers. In contrast, this is why other casinos impose very strict age limits and qualifications for its visitors, given the need for a mature mental capacity when dealing with these games. They want to ensure that their customers are responsible and in the right state of mind to stop when they need to. But of course, it’s not an easy feat for everyone.
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Caption: Slot game designers draw inspiration from an impossibly wide array of influences. Many titles, like Egypt Story, borrow from ancient cultures and mythology, while others are the result of cobranding partnerships that feature characters from popular movies and TV shows.
Not all fun and games
This year, it is predicted that the gambling industry will reach a yield of 130 billion U.S. dollars, and companies are expecting nothing less than a boom in the market. But like other forms of addiction, gambling disorder isn’t something meant to be taken lightly. It is a serious problem with serious consequences for individuals, which is what brought up the need for Responsible Gaming in the first place.
In this sense, more care must be put into slot design and marketing. While it isn’t necessarily against the rule to dress-up images on a screen, it should go hand in hand with proper guidelines and other resources that promote Responsible Gaming. At the end of the day, games should be just that: games. A leisure activity meant to be a source of amusement and entertainment.
Patrick Supernaw is the lead editor for Great Lakes Ledger. Patrick has written for many publications including The Huffington Post and Vanity Fair. Patrick is based in Ottawa and covers issues affecting his city. In addition to his severe hockey addiction, Pat also enjoys kayaking and can often be found paddling the Rideau Canal. Contact Pat here