Simanaitis Says

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“I WON! I won!” Or maybe not. Artfully engineered responses from games—and gambling hardware—are designed to encourage continued play through what researchers call “losses disguised as wins.”

This concept is discussed in a recent technical report ( titled “The Impact of Sound in Modern Multiline Video Slot Machine Play.” Authors Mike J. Dixon and other researchers are in the Department of Psychology at Canada’s University of Waterloo. Their research expands on an earlier review of the literature (, “Game Sound Technology and Player Interaction: Concepts and Developments,” by several of these researchers. Both papers make for entertaining reading.

We all like to play games of one sort or another. However, if the game is sufficiently complex, it’s not always clear whether we’re winning or losing.


A sufficiently complex video presentation can complicate who’s winning and who’s losing. Image from the research paper of Dixon et al.

Dixon and his colleagues found that the sounds accompanying the play had significant effect on player perception.

They put 96 participants—some infrequent gamblers, others regulars, but none being treated for problem-gambling—through a slot machine simulation, both with and without the high-intensity sounds usually associated with this activity.

The machine was programmed to win 14 percent of the time, 28 out of each 200 spins. Also, each session had 144 outright losses and 28 which researchers termed “Loss Disguised as Win.” This last condition was a loss, but characterized by a visual—and if sound was turned on—an audible suggestion of a win.

After each session, players were asked how many times they thought they had won.


The game’s sound had a significant influence on perception of winning or losing. Image expanded from the research paper of Dixon et al.

Sharing the inherent optimism of the gambling activity, everyone overestimated the number of wins. However, with sound active, players overestimated by a significantly larger degree.

What’s more, researchers also recorded skin conductance measuring perspiration, heart rate and subjective judgments of the players. They found that the sound gave rise to greater arousal, both physically as well as psychologically.

Last, there’s an interesting nugget lurking in the paper: Researchers noted that their payback rate of 89.17 percent was comparable to percentages used in slot machines in Ontario.

Hmmm. Walk in with $100; walk out with $89.17.

By contrast, wife Dottie and I beat the odds in Japan’s equivalent—the pachinko parlor.


Pachinko parlors in Japan are popular with people of all ages. Image by Tischbeinahe,

A pachinko machine is a vertically aligned pinball machine, but sans flippers. The only thing controlled by the gamer is when and how many of the little ball bearings are inserted into the top of the grid.

Pachinko parlor cacophony makes a Las Vegas slot machine venue resemble Walden Pond. See (and hear!)

Wins are signified by a raucous cascade—not of coins, but of ball bearings. These ball bearings can then be replayed or swapped for prizes or tokens, but not cash. Direct gambling on pachinko is illegal in Japan. But it’s permissible to take tokens from the parlor to an “independent” exchange center nearby for cash redemption.

Wife Dottie once hit a pachinko jackpot, in which the attendant rushed over with nested baskets to hold all the ball bearings. In our particular pachinko parlor, prizes even included household goods; I recall dish washing soap and cans of tuna being among of the offerings.

Our pachinko prize of choice: Black Nikka Whisky.

Our pachinko prize of choice: Black Nikka Whisky.

We had enough for a bigger prize: a bottle of Black Nikka Whisky. It has resided for years on the back shelf of a forgotten cupboard. God only knows what the kids will think when they clean out this place. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

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