Gaming vs. Gambling: Blurring the Line


Normally, I’m not too big on gambling.

I’m a gamer and when presented with a game of any type, I take it that the object is to win. This is not a good attitude to have when it comes to games of chance. While it is true that in games like poker, blackjack, and even to some extent craps, strategy is key, it still lies with fate to determine your final outcome.

I cannot afford to lose (too much), so I try not to play.

During a recent vacation, I had the chance to spend a day in Atlantic City. I usually cringe at the thought of going to a casino for any period beyond two or three hours (because that’s when I’m usually out of expendable funds). However, I was on vacation and had actually budgeted for one day of gambling.

My wife goes to casinos on a more regular basis than I do and for once I decided to follow her example. I wouldn’t brave the tables. I would try to give my money some longevity in the way that she typically does. I would play penny slots, five measley bones at a time, hoping to break the bank. This is not my normal playstyle as I often look to the bigger payoffs and better odds of the tables. A quick break from the one-armed bandits caused me to lose twenty of my valuable gambling dollars in the span of about ten seconds with two failed (though properly played) hands of blackjack. I had been spanked as a reminder that we were going to be there all day and I had to make my loot last.

This technique actually worked wonders. We never spent too much in one place. We spread our money all over the casino. We were up, we were down, we were up again… we won enough money gambling at the fabulous Caesar’s Palace Atlantic City in order to grab ourselves lunch with the profits before heading back into the thick of things and coming back completely empty handed.

Slots, for those of you who live a more pious life than I, are no longer the simple three-reeled contraptions once glorified by Casino Night Zone in Sonic 2. Ok, well, some of them are, but most of them are not quite as simple as you think they are. I’m sure this doesn’t come as a shock to most of my readers, however, there are the occasional strays who seriously don’t gamble and learned everything they needed to know about casinos from Rain Man and Vegas Vacation. That said, let’s talk slots.

One of the big attractions at casinos lately is the multi-player giant video slot machine. This consists of four to six individual video slot screens in front of one screen used to unify play through bonus games when a player gets lucky and earns it on their reels.

The one I sat down at first was Clue, themed after the board game. Upon putting in my player’s club card, the machine prompted me to create a login and password. This was something I’d never seen before. Presumably, they would use this information to track play and play style. I shrugged, made a login, and chose Professor Plum as my “character” for the game.

Going back to the same machine later, I once again inserted my card. It greeted me by my user name and put me in as Professor Plum without prompting me to choose or re-login. I was able to bring up a user info panel on myself and saw that I currently had no achievements.

Achievements?? E-peen for slot machines?? Nothing could conceivably get gamer-types more interested than throwing achievements into the mix. With the Harley Quinn DLC, I recently rediscovered Batman: Arkham City and have spent all available gaming time tearing it apart for achievements I didn’t get the last time through. If I spent nearly as much time at the slots to do the same, I probably wouldn’t have a computer to write this post. I suddenly wondered how many gamer points I would get if the machine watched me casually lose the contents of my bank account and immediately had no desire to achieve that one.

The whole user info/achievements thing got even more interesting when I hit up a machine called Super Team; a superhero themed slot with a cartoony team of superheros who would help you win money (more on that later).

Super Team was another machine the login was good for (it’s not for every machine) and, before play started, gave me an option to create a superhero character which, I later found out, would be my avatar for a few of the video bonus games and which would hover encouragingly with the rest of the little heroes at the top of the machine, happily watching me shovel money into the ever-burning furnace of the East Coast Gambling Juggernaut.

The truly interesting thing about this machine was that certain character creation content was locked and could only be accessed after gaining certain achievements. There were very few costume options for a player who had only spent a limited time (and limited amount of money) trying to coax this clever device into giving up the goodies. Of course, I wound up playing this machine quite a bit and was equally enthused when I won something around ten bucks as I was when I unlocked a different face mask option for my avatar.

That’s right, fellow gamers, they’re crossing over. They’re bringing everything that keeps us glued to our consoles and our PCs to the realm of gambling. Who knows? Pretty soon you might be able to pay for a DLC extra reel or different paylines. It’s only a matter of time. We, the gamers, are being baited HEAVILY into the slot machine universe. Watch your wallet if you wind up somewhere with machines like this because I can guarantee that you, like myself, will wind up enthralled and spending more money than you really wanted while searching for a new costume color or cape/glove option.

The Super Team machine also does something to keep you roped in. Every once in a while, the machine will erupt in a heroic anthem followed by some spy-style action music. One of the group of cartoon heroes from the upper screen will descend to the play field and use their super powers to increase your winnings. This does everything from change certain fields into wild-cards to simply giving you free money. It happens at random and has nothing to do with your play, the amount you have in credit on the machine, or anything else. Just suddenly, boom, there’s a dude, and he’s messing with things so that you’ll probably win a couple more bucks (or cents, depending).

We played quite a few machines with these random bonuses and I found that we would play these ones longer just because, at any moment, you could score something special. It could be that next pull. You don’t want to get up and leave because that very next one could wind up being the big big winner but you don’t know when it’ll hit. It’s the same thing with the actual slot machine, but it gives you something more for which to play.

Now, I can’t talk too much smack because one of these random bonuses is what paid for our lunch that day, however, I still sort of loathe this concept.

The idea that any machine could just suddenly up and cough up dough at any time is very reminiscent of every little kid getting a trophy for participation. They may not be the big winner but gosh darn it they’re still just so special that they have to get a little something. I’m not one to pass up the pity win as an adult, but seriously, I don’t feel like a winner because a mermaid swims across the screen, blows me kisses, and gives me ninety cents. Thanks for the three extra pulls, sweetheart, now where’s the real cash? Of course, you’ll have to make those three extra pulls and then some to make sure that big money isn’t right around the corner.

This really isn’t about disparaging anyone against playing slots or gambling. Both are fun pastimes. Both can be dangerous if done in excess. Like anything else, do it to have fun, don’t do it to try to take the house to the cleaners.

I used to be very anti-slot machine because I knew the odds were not in my favor (speaking of, no Hunger Games slot machine yet?) and tried to relegate myself to table games. Half a week in Vegas some years ago, where I got brutally assaulted by a few different blackjack tables and came home almost penniless, didn’t teach me my lesson. A half a day in AC with my wife did. We both had a ton of fun even though we lost a bit. The machines I mentioned above plus a few others which I found particularly enjoyable (Ghostbusters, Spartacus, Van Helsing, The Hangover, String of Pearls) contributed greatly to my day. The fact that they’re starting to cater to me as a gamer was actually more of an accelerant than a deterrent. As long as you have control over your wallet and you know when to quit, you’ll have much more fun dropping money there as you would playing for tickets at Dave and Busters except, you can win real money, not a bunk ass rice cooker that’ll be dead in a month.

Keep an eye on your wallet, my friends.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

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