Post 8. Design Responses; some possibilities

Throughout the course of the subject I have been greatly interested in the the issue of Poker Machines in NSW and how their ‘designed addiction’ strategies are harming Australians’ mental health every year. For this reason I decided to focus my attention on the issue of Addiction and more specifically addiction to Poker Machines.

In my first post on this blog I analysed the documentary Kaching! Pokie Nation. and was completely shocked by many of the statistics regarding problem gambling in Australia. Neil Lawrence who passed away before the completion of the documentary was the lead producer of Kaching! and was actually the father of a friend of mine. Since his dad’s unexpected passing, that friend of mine has gone on in the last year to launch a campaign called ‘Proudly Pokies Free’ which aims to celebrate pokies free venues and raise awareness of the damage pokies are doing to our communities.

This personal connection has furthered my interest in the area of poker machine addiction and has informed my practice in thinking about potential design responses to the issue.

In class on Tuesday the 6th of September we used the constraint of WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY  to dissect each of our issues and brainstorm potential design responses. Below addresses these constraints which as a group we then discussed and added to.

Poker Machine Addiction Exercise

Some facts to get us started! Taken from

  • With around 200,000 machines, Australia is home to 20% of the world’s poker machines. Over half of these are in NSW.
  • Australian’s lose almost $12 billion dollars a year on the pokies… That is more per capita than anywhere else in the world.
  • There are 16 venues within the Sydney lockout zone that are allowed stay open past 1:30am for the sole purpose of letting people play the pokies.
  • Young people aged 18-24, spend more on the pokies than anyone else.
  • Last year Australians spent $23 billion on Gambling… about $12 billion of that was on the pokies.
  • Apart from Nevada (Las Vegas), NSW has more poker machines than any other state in the world….
  • 70% percent of Australian’s are in favour of policy to make poker machines safer.
  • Last year, NSW lost almost $6 billion to the pokies… that’s about $800 per person.

Who does this problem affect?

Acutely, addiction gambling and specifically poker machine addiction affects the individuals who are the ones playing  the machines in pubs, clubs and casinos. These individuals are the ones who the games and machines are designed for and are the ones suffering from addiction as a mental illness.

These individuals are at the core of the problem but effect of poker machine addiction of course extends to these individuals’ family and friends, colleagues and work associated persons and the greater community who suffer the repercussions in a collective financial way (as in the economical effects addiction has on an individual’s productivity in the workplace and the extended effect this has on a business/company). The wider issue of poker machine addiction also puts pubs, clubs and casinos and their operators in the spotlight as their decisions to have poker machines in their venues is at the centre of the issue. In my opinion, their needs to be a huge change in the way poker machines are regulated in venues across Australia and the decision to have certain numbers of machines should not be left up to individual business owners but controlling bodies/boards who have individuals’ interests and mental wellbeing at the forefront of their decision making.

For the purpose of this exercise and with the future design project ahead of me, I will be focusing my attention specifically on the individuals in this issue as they are the ones suffering addiction as a mental illness. Furthermore I will be focusing on the demographic of individuals in NSW aged between 18-24yrs old as they are the age group who spend the most money per year on poker machines.

What are the boundaries of the problem? (Structural/representational etc)

Addiction poker machine gambling is a multifaceted issues and involves both structured and representational boundaries. In its broadest context, poker machines and their existence in Australia is due to unsympathetic laws (or lack there of) in place in regard to gambling in pubs and clubs). In my research i discovered that 70% of Australians are in favour of poker machines being made safer ( I found this incredibly interesting as it shows that Australians are aware of the widespread problem of poker machine addiction and so in this way the boundaries of the problem are largely structural because it is the organisations making money from poker machines that are controlling the machines widespread existence and widespread harm.

When does the problem occur?

I found this question a little tricky to answer as I don’t have any exact statistics on when problem poker machine gambling is occurring but because of the age bracket I have identified I would assume at nighttime? But more broadly I would say everyday pokie addiction is happening.

Where does the problem occur?

The problem is of course nationwide however I will be focusing on NSW as we have 10% of the WORLD’s poker machines here which means that other than Nevada, as a state we have more poker machines than any other state in the world. I was completely perplexed by this fact and it has encouraged me an enormous amount to research further into the deeply embedded gambling problem that Australians have.

Why is this issue important?

Poker machine addiction amongst young people aged between 18-24yrs old in NSW is an incredibly important issue because it reflects unsympathetic laws and policies in place that encourage the development of serious mental illness. It is important to address this issue as, as a community, state and nation we need to and in this instance the government needs to put vulnerable people who are at risk of developing addictive behaviours at the forefront of our decision and policy making. I developed this ideological standpoint with the help of Chris Gaul.

Five Point Summary

Having completed the who/what/when/where/why exercise I brainstormed some potential design responses with the two focuses being to ‘educate people on the effects of addiction to poker machines and make clear that poker machines use ‘designed addiction’ strategies in their manufacture’ and ‘to ultimately reduce poker machine addiction via strategies targeted at the individual’.

  1. Art exhibition style portrayal of a pokie machine whereby a pokie machine stands alone in a gallery like space, perhaps with an actor playing a game continuously. Could have some sort of physical representation of the money being lost in order to convey to the audience the easy-ness of losing to the machines.
  2. A poetic focus on the signs, symbols and sounds used to propagate the addiction. Some sort of data visualisation on the re-appearance of symbols like dollar signs and gold coins throughout different poker machine games.
  3. Addressing the ridiculousness of the name ‘VIP Lounge’ – remove this name and have ‘Pokie Addiction This Way’ or something like that. An approach similar to the way in which cigarettes are advertised; the harm and damage likely to occur at the forefront of the object rather than the ‘cool’ or ‘fun’ status potentially associated with it.
  4. Similar to the above in a way – have pokie machines installed like ATMs on the street in broad daylight. The shame pokie addicted people suffer could deter people from playing.



Having been greatly inspired by the collaborative project between Zoe Sadokierski and Kate Sweetapple named ‘Unlikely Avian Taxonomies’, I wish to propose a poetic data visualisation project that will directly address Poker Machines as machines of ‘designed addiction’ that whilst mechanic in their physicality, are human designed and human focused and prey on human weaknesses.

Language is an incredibly powerful tool in all its forms and so it is no surprise that language is used, in combination with specifically designed sounds and graphics, in poker machine games to attract and addict vulnerable people.

Just as Zoe and Kate recognised patterns and humorous ways of categorising bird species through their names, I have begun research into the names of poker machines games having recently realised the action speculative words used in the game’s titles and the general ‘glamorisation’ of games through such titles. I would like to create a project that examines the relationship between words and addiction and more broadly, the wider context of ‘designed addiction’ in gambling.

When speaking with Jacqui Lorber Kasunic today, we discussed the themes of many poker machine games and subsequently their titles, and the apparent allure of a ‘promise’ of becoming something wondrous or ‘masterful’ which perhaps in an individual’s everyday life is not attainable. Many poker machine game’s titles suggest that through endurance (and less advertised – $$) one will be able to rise to the top, be a winner, and in general succeed at something. This responds to the human desire, engrained in many people, to conquer and prosper.

As is evident, I am greatly interested in this area of how language can be designed to addict. Of course this language is used in combination with visuals and sounds, but it is for the purpose of this project that language will be focused on as it will be able to be categorised more definitively in comparison to sounds or symbols.  I wish to use this explorative project to address and raise awareness of the detrimental effects that designed addiction through poker machines is having on young people in NSW and hope for this to encourage conversation about law and policy reform regarding making poker machines safer.

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