marks & methods

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The rules are simple enough – throw the plastic ring, and the thrower keeps whatever prize one’s ring lands around. Each context comes with its own standards around objects’ value, and the requisite challenge/effort required to attain the given object of value. Thus do games of chance present the seductive short-circuit of obtaining an object for less money/effort than would normally be required through the exercise of skill. There are a few variables the game masters play with to tilt the odds in their favor, not least common (in China, at least) including “gaming” the system through providing seemingly high-value prizes that are actually of much lower value (shanzhai iPods in the vending machine above, for example). The catch varies with each, and the game master usually finds a way to edge out the one risking their honor and resources for a chance at victory.

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The challenge for the game master lies in instilling sufficient confidence to establish credibility/“winnability”. Sometimes it will mean providing proof of previous victories, as in the above arcade in Taiwan, where the higher-value machines are adorned with Polaroids of wide-eyed (presumable) victors, clutching their spoils in the form of iPods, wristwatches, and plush animals nearly as large as their proud new owners. Other times it involves the game master demonstrating the ease with which one can win, proving the simplicity of the task by casually tossing a ring around a teapot or nonchalantly shooting a (specific, especially thin) balloon.

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Just as there is a multitude of means to fool a mark, a comparable number of motivations exists for those marks to engage the game in the first place. The emphasis may be upon the prize, out of desire for the object and the perceived happiness it may bring. It may be upon the victory, or the demonstration of skill, oftentimes to impress one’s companions and exhibit one’s prowess at a given game. It may also be pursuing the delight of the chase itself, to revel in and enjoy thrill of putting something on the line – less about the outcome, more about the process. For each of these motivations, a different strategy employed by the game master will work better or worse, with the savviest of game masters calibrating their strategy depending upon their perceived read of the mark(s) and their context.

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Care to take a shot?

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