Drawing on fifteen years of field research in Las Vegas, anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll 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. Schüll 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 Schüll'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.
When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia's parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run "Quiet War" in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia's pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee Entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.
Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness aand healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness, qaug dab peg--the spirit catches you and you fall down--and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices.
"A fascinating, frightening window into the world of gambling in Las Vegas and the technological innovations that deliberately enhance and sustain the 'zone'--the odd, absorbed state for which extreme machine gamblers yearn. An astute and provocative look at addiction and its complex moral, social, and emotional entanglements."--T. M. Luhrmann, Stanford University
"At the heart of Schull's book is the interplay between the players and the machine; between the players and the machine manufacturers; between the players and the math program; and between the players and the 'zone' that the machines help produce. A tour de force that changes the dialogue on gambling addiction."--Henry Lesieur, author of "The Chase: Career of the Compulsive Gambler"
"Schull's clear and dramatic writing style is itself addictive. One is drawn into the ways in which the interactions among the different stakeholders lead to players' experience of being drawn into a 'zone' where they remain until all resources are gone. This is a must-read narrative that points to the many variants of screen addiction possible today."--Don Ihde, author of "Bodies in Technology"
"This gripping, insightful, and poignant analysis of machine gambling offers a kind of object lesson in the intensified forms of consumption that computer-based technologies enable. An exemplary case of the way in which close, critical investigation of specific sites of capitalism can provide a deeper understanding of both intimate experience and widespread socioeconomic arrangements."--Lucy A. Suchman, author of "Human-Machine Reconfigurations"
"Schull offers a provocative and important study of the imperative some people feel to lose themselves in a machine. The ethnography is rich and deep, shedding original light on the significance of addiction and gambling in American culture. The story told in the book is absolutely riveting."--Emily Martin, author of "Bipolar Expeditions""