Project description

Slot machines use a range of design features that leverage psychology to keep people playing.

Here, we attempted explain these design features to our readers in a way that would let them actually experience each phenomenon.
In addition to this, we worked from a principle of breaking down what is a complex topic and complex machine into its component parts, and building up the explanation from simple to more complex concepts.

Take the first chapter as an example of these concepts: the very first phenomenon is intermittent reinforcement, demonstrated by having the user click a simple button, which then rewards the user. For the second button, the reward schedule is varied, and then the user experiences the difference between the two.

Then, to ground the concept in its real-world effect on people with a gambling addiction, we have someone explain how it actually makes them feel.

These approaches are used throughout – interactive, tactile explanations of psychological concepts which are then put into context with their real-world effects.

The piece was targeted at a general audience, and came out at a time where poker machines (aka slot machines) were headline news in Australia due to a landmark court case. The court case involved a former gambling addict suing a poker machine manufacturer and casino, arguing the machines were deceptive and misleading.

These machines are a big issue in our contry. Australians lose more money per adult on gambling than every other developed country.

What makes this project innovative?

This project is innovative for a few different reasons.

There are very few examples of similar work in Australia where the media has explained a topic in a way where people can actually experience the concepts involved. It also addresses a common shortcoming of datavisualisation and analysis - that plain charts and visualisations can sometimes mask the human impact of the concepts involved. By including real people sharing their actual experiences we ground abstract concepts in reality.

It is also innovative from a technological point of view. We had to write programs to simulate actual slot machines, and the piece itself incorporates two different, fully-featured slot machine games in the back-end.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

The project generated significant traffic and social media engagement. We have also been contacted by health workers who are now using this as an educational tool with people.

Source and methodology

Concepts and maths to generate the underlying models came from Addiction by Design, Natasha Dow Schüll, How electronic gambling machines work, Charles Livingstone, and the Wizard of Odds.

Technologies Used

Javascript, html, css for the interactive side of things, Python to model the outcome of poker machine games

Project members

Nick Evershed, Ri Liu, Andy Ball, Melissa Davey, David Fanner and Josh Wall


Project owner administration

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