So I'm not surprised to learn from this post at Neurophilosophy (via Paul Kedrosky) that gaming machines are rigged to simulate near-misses and jackpot close calls.
Manufacturers of gambling games have apparently known the rewarding effects of near misses all along, and they design slot machines in such a way as to exploit the cognitive distortions of gamblers. Using a technique called clustering, they create a high number of failures that are close to wins, so that what the player sees is a misrepresentation of the probabilities and randomness that the game involves. The gambler who nearly hits the jackpot will therefore want to continue playing, because he thinks he has a good chance of winning.That's just diabolical, a perfect example of the latent evil inherent in neuroscience and psychological studies. But gambling is essentially an activity one participates in because one seeks to indulge the fantasy of suspending the rules of probability and coaxing the universe into organizing itself around one's own good fortune. The near-misses lend support to that dream, that the gambler has a date with destiny. It's not too much of a stretch to connect that kind of mechanical manipulation of the gambler's "narrative" of their losing experience with the sort of manipulations more conventional entertainments -- films, novels, etc. -- subject us to.