Slot Machines and Video Games: What You Need to Know About Their Addictive Design

The lives of some people very close to me have been shaken by one man’s long-denied gambling addiction. I can’t go into details. As in many cases, there is a complex mix of mitigating and exacerbating factors and I think I can understand what the man is going through and why he feels what he is doing is the right thing for him. But in light of its impact on his family and his career, I wish he had pursued a different path. In light of what I have seen gambling do to others in the States and here in China, I detest that institution and the vermin of the industry who prey on the vulnerable.

The gambling industry’s primary source of profit is the slot machine. It is amazing how addicted people become to slot machines, sitting in front of them for hours and hours as their savings or borrowings are whittled away. The Atlantic Monthly has an excellent read about the design of video games and their deliberately designed features aimed at creating and rewarding addiction. Please see “How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts” by John Rosengren. I feel it’s important to understand how the Adversary and his corporate allies have so artfully and craftily designed these systems to destroy their victims through addiction. In fact, this would be a good article to discuss with your kids, with your home teaching families (as I have done in one case so far), and others in your ward and circle of friends. It’s a painful read because of the gritty details in a few lives shattered by gambling, but I think you will benefit, especially from the background information about the industry and its designs on you and your loved ones.

There’s a science to the design of addictive slot machines. A profound understanding of human psychology and the response to various forms of stimulus is employed to keep people hooked. The principles used are similar to those employed in modern video games. They are designed to keep people playing for long periods of time. It’s a design that creates addicts. Here in China, where a large fraction of the young men show signs of addiction, it is greatly damaging their lives. Video game addiction is less costly than gambling. There are probably very few suicides and less financial fraud driven by this addiction compared to gambling. But too many people quit advancing intellectually, spiritually, and perhaps even physically (less exercise) as they get pulled into the empty illusory world of video games. (Tip: If you are giving up sleep, work, school, and social interactions in the physical world to spend every possible minute gaming, you may have a problem.)

Many LDS families struggle with this challenge. What are the best practices parents can take to reduce the risk of addiction? Some of the more successful families I know have strict rules to limit TV and games and do much to encourage other activities like reading, sports, and other aspects of a healthy life. What are your suggestions?

Update: Yes, I recognize that there are important differences between gambling games such as slots or video poker and gambling-free computer games. Computer games have been used to teach useful schools, can be wholesome and fun in social settings, etc. But addiction can be devastating. I’ve seen too many bright people drop out of school, perform poorly at work, and show general lack of motivation for anything except video games. In one case I was close too, a young man with a great new job lost almost everything due to the after effects of research fraud driven by his addiction to a really stupid video game.

Measuring video game addiction is challenging and controversial. Is addiction a genuine problem in just 0.5% of video game players, as mentioned in a valuable article from Psychology Today?  That number seems surprisingly low compared to the number of parents I see who believe that their kids are addicted to video games and compared to the number who seem to me to be messing up their lives with excessive, compulsive video gaming. But perhaps the level of addiction considered there is more extreme, especially given some of the examples of tragedy mentioned there. If not 0.5%, is the level of addiction closer to the 3% or 8% figures from studies mentioned in an article in the Economist? Or is it 50% (here in China, for example), which still may seem low in the eyes of some parents, educators, and bosses frustrated with the vigor-impairing apparent addictions in those they are trying to strengthen and motivate? If you have a reliable measure, let me know.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

11 thoughts on “Slot Machines and Video Games: What You Need to Know About Their Addictive Design

  1. When our daughter was young she clamored for us to play the (then) new California Lottery. Rather than lecture her about the evils of gambling we decided we'd practice instead. We picked some numbers and checked twice a week to see how we'd done. It didn't take many of my happy dances around the living room (celebrating the dollar we'd saved by not buying a lottery ticket) before she lost all interest in winning sudden wealth.

    Those who attempted to lecture me on how I should have lectured her were idiots.

  2. Big jump from a guy committing suicide because of a horrible addiction to gambling to the evils of video games. Please share evidence (not anecdotes) of the evils of video games.

  3. I lived the evils of gambling and drug addiction first hand in the so called "family" I was born into and raised in.

    Because I tried to protect the woman who gave birth to me after her husband died, and she had Alzheimers, my life was an even worse nightmare for 13 long years.

    I was arrested for attempted murder. A false accusation of course. But it was done to silence me so that the person who accused me of such a horrible act could keep stealing money from my so called mother who had Alzheimers. And the gambling addict tried to gain possession of my "mother's" house, which was worth $1.2 million. The gambling addict bankrupted my "mother". The gambling addict was also a true Sociopath, diagnosed by three Psychiatrists. The combination of drug addict, gambling addict and Sociopath is a dangerous one.

    The drug and gambling addict has a son who is also a Sociopath, drug and gambling addict. I caught this jerk stealing drugs and money from my "mother" many times, as well as his addict mother stealing.

    What a nightmare. My kids were subject to the nightmare also. To this day I have issues I have to deal with because of this BS. Especially being accused of attempted murder, and having people turned against me.

    @ PassThe Chips : Video games ARE addicting. The youngest in my former family would spend over $200 at the video arcade at the mall each time he went. He went at least once per week. This was before home video game systems were invented. Of course his parents indulged him. To this day he has every home gaming system and every game made…..tons of money invested and his mother bought a lot of it…and he is always playing when at home. Always. His step son is even worse because the step son does nothing but stay home all day and play those addicting games. The kid is going nowhere in life. Yes, the parents are at fault for allowing the step son to do so.

    I limited my kids time on these stupid games. And they had to pay for the games they wanted, and still want. I refused to buy them every game, and every game system.

  4. Sorry for another comment:

    My spouse has a cousin who works for a company that repairs casino slot machines. This cousin said that the machines are set to pay out a certain dollar amount set by the Casino. Slots are the gravy train of Casino's.

    This cousin never gambles. His eyes were opened after working on slot machines.

  5. "Welcome home! How was your trip to Vegas?"

    "I did great! I went there in a $10,000 car and came home in a $200,000 Greyhound bus!"

    Seriously, I agree with you 100 percent about the gambling industry, Jeff.

    — OK

  6. An important thing I've learned about addiction is that the addiction lies within the individual and not within the activity/substance. The activity in-and-of itself is not addicting (though the desire to participate in it can be quite compelling–that's where the psychology of the game comes in, or a chemical dependency), it is the individual's approach to the activity or substance that determines whether or not it is addictive.

    An addict seeks to replace feelings of love and sometimes affirmation/adequacy with the physical pleasure of reward from the game or substance. He seeks to escape the reality of his situation by replacing it with a more desirable and rewarding reality. He feels shame associated with the addiction, and it is this pleasure–shame spiral that perpetuates the addiction. That's why true addiction should be addressed in a group setting where you can talk about the issues arising from your addiction. In order to treat addiction, it must be brought into the open.

    The Church has taken some strides in regards to addiction in the recent past by beginning to refer members who are addicts to 12 step programs rather than attempting to "pray it away." It is important that we remove the stigma from addiction however, in order to allow addicts an easier road to recovery. Guns don't kill people–people kill people. Gambling doesn't make addicts, addicts make addicts.

  7. Yes, but imagine a gun that didn't just shoot a bullet, but also detected actual kills and then gave you praise, bonus points, added firepower, and online status among supportive peers. The more you kill, the bigger the perks and higher the status. It would be a gun deliberately designed to create violence addiction, Don't blame the gun, but do understand the devious intent of its exploitive designers and marketers.

  8. In your update, you could have replaced "video games" with just about anything (e.g., food, sex, television, sports, etc.). Addiction (to anything) can be devastating.

    Again, looking for evidence. And suggesting a 50% addiction rate to video games in China? I can't decide if what you are suggesting is fake news or truthy. I'm leaning toward truthy.

  9. Video games especially mmos and mobile games are basically designed the same way slot machines and other gambling games are. Just google/bing/duckduckgo Video games and Skinner box to get a host of articles on the subject. I was pretty addicted to World of Warcraft. I had literally three years of playtime, yes actual playtime, time spent in game. Luckily eventually I was doing something menial in game to get in game currency to get some items needed for what's called a raid when it hit me. Not only was I not having fun, but that I hadn't for quite a while. I still have to be careful about playing games like that and very careful with mobile games as I'm very susceptible to Skinner boxes. Needless to say video games can offer amazing and great experiences, they can bring people and families together. That said they can also tear families apart and lead to neglect. Anyway if you have an addictive personality (and yes that is most likely tied to your genetics) be very careful of what games you play.

  10. If you think it is bad now, imagine what it will be like when virtual reality becomes commercially viable.

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