Right on the button

Digital tricks and behavioural insights

Guardian Australia has a feature article running on its website, called ‘Hooked: how pokies are designed to be addictive’. Its design is not only interactive, it cleverly demonstrates how design features in poker machines keep us hooked by using those same techniques in the article itself. It literally gets us to push the right buttons. 

The first red button represents fixed rewards, which both humans and animals find less interesting than intermittent rewards – the second blue button. We quickly get bored with predictability compared to the small hit of feel-good dopamine our brains deliver when an unexpected reward arrives (food, money, even an email from a friend), and it’s the anticipation of the next reward that keeps us checking our phones or feeding more money into poker machines. It’s called random reinforcement. 

The article also points out that by creating the impression of continual near misses, poker machine players feel they are somehow getting closer to a win, even as they are losing over time.  

For those of us who are not poker machine players, this clearly explained feature (complete with interviews, graphic displays and colours and sounds) lays out in simple terms how our instincts and behaviours can be hijacked by these machines. Using a few digital tricks, we’re given behavioural insights in a truly interactive and engaging way. 

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Pokies: hijacking our instincts and behaviours