Spin City – The psychology behind the lure of pokies

There are many reasons why people start playing the pokies and why they keep going back. They might have been introduced to pokies by their family or friends, they might play as a form of escape, they might keep going back to try to win back their losses. However, did you know gaming machine designers use psychology to lure people in?

Let’s start off with patterns. Human beings have an inherent need to seek out patterns and structure in our world. Poker machines play to this basic need by generating endless random patterns. When a certain pattern emerges (e.g. a winning combination) we recognise it instantly. Seeing patterns emerge out of this randomness is rewarding in itself, and helps keep players engaged.

Patterns are not the only thing we instinctively search for. Humans are automatically drawn to attractive faces, and in particular to eyes. Designers play to this by incorporating attractive female faces with impressive eyes on gaming machines.

The outcome of each spin is determined at random by a computer chip in the machine. However clever machine design can give players an illusion of control. Modern machines are designed with more and more interactive elements, which trick players into thinking there is an element of skill involved. Machine design also taps into player superstition. For example touch screen technology is used to interact with players when they touch the machine, playing to a common superstition that touching a machine grants luck for the next spin. This illusion of control may make you think you can use skill or luck to “beat the machine”, whereas in reality the outcome is completely out of the control of the player. In fact the outcome is always going to be a loss for the player in the long-term, because the machines are programmed that way.

So what’s the point of knowing all this? Knowledge is Power. By better understanding the psychology behind the lure of pokies, you can arm yourself with the knowledge to make the right decisions in the future.

This article is based on VideoScience’s insightful video on the psychology of slot machine design – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYoQrL1hKoo.

For more information on how gaming machines work, watch Part 1 and Part 2 of ‘Gaming Machines: Facts and Myths’, featuring Jay Laga’aia.

For those who think they may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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