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The mesmerism of slots

By Frank Scoblete


Next time you go to the casinos don’t play right away. I want you to walk around the slot aisles and watch the players. That’s right. I want to propose to you an experiment that might prove a contention of mine that I am about to share with you.

I think what you will find is that most players are lost in another world. They are not aware of the activities around them as much as they are aware of the world of their machine and what it is giving them and what it is taking from them. That would certainly be one type of thought pattern.

But there is another, a deeper level.

Many such players are actually not all that aware of the game in and of itself. Instead, they are playing a game at the front of their consciousness but deep down, somewhere in that area between awake and away, many slot players are doing something else, perhaps something serious, inside their minds.

I am speculating that slot machines are not just slot machines but they are something else, something that channels the unconscious or general awareness as opposed to acute awareness.

I submit to you that many players are solving problems, calming jangled nerves, planning their futures, or going into a kind of reverie. I am getting this insight just from scouring the slot aisles and watching the players, as I am now asking you to do.

In the brilliant novel Shogun by James Clavell, the protagonist is a British adventurer who is shipwrecked ending up in Japan. As he struggles to understand the new and unusual culture in which he finds himself, he is told by numerous characters that he needs to sit and “watch the rocks grow?’ When he finally does take their advice and sits in a rock garden, he slowly comes to understand the wisdom in this practice. Focusing on the rocks gives his subconscious the time to work out problems he is facing. The rocks in a rock garden are silent and watching them “grow” is a time for quiet and solitude.

The slot machines are noisy in the midst of the bustling casinos, yet, they are the Western, modern version of a rock garden and the players are the adventurers. The noise in the casino is merely the background wind. It has little or no impact on the minds of such players. For many slot players those glowing, glaring, musical machines take players far, far away.

What is it about those machines that can do such a thing? I have never really noticed table game players so enthralled by the game that they lose sight of most everything else. Blackjack players talk to each other; craps players cheer and moan; clap each other on the backs, while roulette players jump and applaud or explicate when their number fails to show. Table games are more of a community experience; the tables are more like altars in religious ceremonies. Slot machines are solo, private experiences; a monk meditating in a cave.

We sometimes talk about delving so completely into something that it fully consumes our consciousness and such a mental state is often labeled mesmerism. Such mesmerism allows the inner being to take over the outer being. Although the idea of subconscious thoughts owes its germ to Sigmund Freud, there was a hazy knowledge of deeper psychic levels way before he mapped out his version of the unconscious areas of the psyche.

Yes, occasionally you will see this or that slot player talking to another player or a friend or acquaintance, but such players are not the norm. The norm is someone alone with his or her thoughts.

I sometimes wonder if slot players are in some kind of alpha brainwave state of relaxed awareness, the kind of consciousness that mediation brings. If so, such a state can be a wondrous experience and slot players go back to the machines to enjoy it.

Okay, so now you walk the slot aisles and watch the players as I am asking you to do. Take a moment or two to catch the players’ eyes, their bearing, and consider where that person really is; what reality that person is experiencing; what thoughts are floating here and there or what intense ideas have taken control of their consciousness. I do think you will find that slot machines are more than just slot machines.

I think some casino executives know that such mental states exist inside the slot playing public and this is why so many players flock to the machines. It is not just to gamble away the time, it is to go somewhere they rarely go elsewise.

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