What draws people to games of chance?

Posted on February 15, 2021 by Guest Post

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Games of chance have been popular for as long as humans have been around to play them, but they are more common in the digital age than at any point in history.

So what is it about them that pulls in audiences time and again, and are there any deeper lessons we can learn about how our minds work from this investigation?

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Risk & reward

Our brains have evolved to push us to take risks and, if our gamble pays off, to reward us with a dopamine rush that makes us feel good.

This helped our ancestors to survive for millennia, and yet as modern civilization has emerged and the number of natural threats to our safety have diminished, we have started to seek our thrills in other areas.

Whether playing online bingo, betting on sporting events or visiting casinos in person, we can feed our need for risk-taking in all sorts of ways through games of chance. And in many cases it is not even about the winning or losing, but rather the anticipation and excitement that arrives in the build-up to the outcome of a dice throw, coin toss or card flip that keeps us interested.

Of course there are differences from person to person in terms of how heightened the risk and reward response is; one individual may find that games of chance trigger it intensely, while another may feel unmoved in the face of a big win or a major loss. If this were not the case, gambling would be a universal pastime.

The relevance of randomness

It is worth noting that games of chance are not just limited to gambling and casino experiences; the vast majority of modern video games also involve elements of randomness and luck, and thus share the same risk and reward mechanics that are hardwired into the way we think.

The extent to which this is apparent to the player varies from title to title. In Hearthstone, for example, randomness is a huge part of how the game works, and while it can be frustrating for people who fall foul of the massive swings it can cause, it certainly makes things much more interesting and varied.

Conversely games which have low levels of randomness can quickly become stale. Sometimes that randomness is merely the inclusion of other human players, creating much more unpredictability than can be achieved using AI opponents alone.

Ultimately it comes down to the undeniable truth that games of chance are alluring because anything could happen, and this prevents boredom from setting in. This also explains why developers need to frequently update content in even the most seemingly luck-based games, because another thing that humans are very good at doing is adapting to novelty and quickly assimilating it as the norm.

Increasing accessibility

An aspect of games of chance which is easy to overlook but certainly significant in the modern era is that audiences today can more easily access everything from slot machines and lotteries to multiplayer games than ever before.

Being able to play from a desktop computer, tablet, smartphone or laptop means that there are virtually no barriers to games of chance in the 21st century, meaning that there is much more of a market for casual users, in addition to those who are more dedicated.

The growth of the online casino industry is evidence enough that games of chance are innately appealing to huge numbers of humans. It is simply a case of ensuring that everyone can play for fun, and avoid getting caught up in the constant chase for the excitement of winning, when losing is more likely.

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