absolutely recommend against punching the machine / by Matthew Thompson


In a wonderful turn toward the idiosyncratic, NYT recently profiled Resorts World Casino in Queens, and the frequency with which their slot machines are attacked by disgruntled gamblers. According to the article, the maiming of gambling machines represents, by far, the highest number of reported crime incidents in the casino. Since opening last October, police have arrested 41 individuals suspected of purposefully punching in the screens to video roulette wheels and digital baccarat tables, compared to 19 for larceny (mostly pick pocketing), and 19 for assault (human on human, presumably). 

As discussed before, I think quite a lot about our relationships with responsive though entirely inanimate objects (televisions, ATM machines, MTA consoles), and whether we cast a kind of flickering personality onto the screens of those inanimate objects while we interact with them. I would say, "Yes." I would say, too, that this response is related directly to the sheer number of minutes we plunk into our devices as so many coins dropped into the slot. I have today, for instance, spent far more time staring into the imagined face of my laptop than enjoying the actual face of my perpetually smiley actual dog, or the actual eyes of my infinite actual lover.


This is a fact that should upset me and it occurs to me now that when we do propel our devices into cognizance (if we do), the relationship is almost always adversarial. "My phone is being an idiot," "Officer, that slot machine goddamned ripped me off," etc. The people in this article are most definitely smashing their fists into the blinking gambling machines because of the money they lost. Though perhaps it is also about all the hours spent interacting with a device, even developing an apparent relationship with the device, that, at the push of a button, the spin of a digital wheel, leaves them belly-up with three lemons in a row. I find it fascinating that the attackers rarely take out their anger on the main screen, the interactive screen, but on the static side screens and advertising space. "They still hold out hope," says gaming console manufacturer Mark Prater. As a boy, even at my most red-faced and fuming, I could never do more than swipe my goading brother in the shoulder with a loose, half-open fist as I chased him through the house. 

Of course, with many things in life, this topic has already been covered by the The Twilight Zone. In "The Fever," Everett Sloane plays Franklin, a resolutely moral man who takes a chance with the slots and wins, then loses, then loses his mind. The carnage begins around 3:22. Also worth watching is the episode's finale, in which the slot machine appears as an apparition in Franklin's bedroom, and pushes him out the window.