Online poker gamblers employ software to track and algorithmically analyze play-by-play game information in real time, parsing opponents’ behavioral patterns and tendencies into color-coded numerical values that hover over their respective positions at the virtual table. These continuously updated statistical dashboards, along with retrospective game analysis and methodical routines of self-adjustment, help gamblers abide swings of chance and avoid falling into the emotionally clouded, fiscally dangerous state of “tilt.” Drawing on interviews with gamblers, observations of online poker play, and discussion threads from poker forum archives, the article explores how the game and its data-intensive software teach gamblers to act from the vantage of an infinite temporal field in which probabilistic values can be trusted to bear out. Although digital media is often associated with choice paralysis and the disappearance of the subject, here it serves as a technology of the self. The composure toward chance events that gamblers cultivate online carries over to their lives off-line, lending them a subjective “readiness” for living with uncertainty. The case of online poker offers a window onto broader predicaments of choice making under conditions of heightened economic volatility.
Abiding Chance: Online Poker and the Software of Self-Discipline
Natasha Dow Schüll is a cultural anthropologist and associate professor in New York University’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication. Her first book, Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (2012), is an ethnographic exploration of the relationship between technology design and the experience of addiction. Her forthcoming book Keeping Track concerns the rise of digital self-tracking technologies and the new modes of introspection and self-governance they engender.
Natasha Dow Schüll; Abiding Chance: Online Poker and the Software of Self-Discipline. Public Culture 1 September 2016; 28 (3 (80)): 563–592. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-3511550
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