Concordia University



Gambling, gaming and academics who ‘dare to discuss emerging questions’

From June 8 to 11, the world's leading experts in two expanding fields of research are coming together at Concordia
June 3, 2015
By Tracey Lindeman

The digitalization of gambling and the “gamification” of non-gambling video and smartphone games (like Candy Crush Saga, pictured) is increasingly blurring the line between the two activities. The digitalization of gambling and the “gamification” of non-gambling video and smartphone games (like Candy Crush Saga, pictured) is increasingly blurring the line between the two activities.

As a province, we love to gamble — whether it’s that lucky number in the 6/49, a quick game of online poker or by pumping coins into one of 12,000 video lottery terminals.

In fact, nearly 70 per cent of Quebecers freely admit to having played the odds in the past year, according to figures from Sylvia Kairouz, Concordia’s Research Chair on Gambling.

Gaming is also growing in the province, where video game creation is a huge industry. Meanwhile, the digitalization of gambling and the “gamification” of non-gambling video and smartphone diversions is increasingly blurring the line between the two activities. 

That’s why Kairouz has organized next week’s Summer Interactive Symposium: Research 2.0 to bring together the world’s leading researchers on both subjects. 

Sylvia Kairouz, Concordia’s Research Chair on Gambling Sylvia Kairouz, Concordia’s Research Chair on Gambling. | Photo: Concordia

Academics from as far as the Netherlands, Germany and England, as well as some closer to Montreal — like Natasha Schüll, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who studies machine gambling — are gathering at Concordia. From June 8 to 11, these experts will discuss the unique characteristics of gambling and gaming, and the growing number of points at which they intersect.  

Kairouz says this overlap can be seen in games like the puzzle app Candy Crush Saga that tap into people’s desire to gamble even when there is no financial benefit to winning.

She calls these “pay-to-win” games, and they are fundamentally different from “pay-to-play” games, where a participant initially invests in a licence, and then plays for free.

“These games are set up in a way so that once you reach a certain point, you are offered the options of paying for help or other tools that facilitate your efforts to move on in the game,” Kairouz says. “So it’s free to play, but you have to pay to win.”

Two dynamic new fields of research

Kairouz first became interested in gambling because of its similarities to, and interactions with, other addictions like alcoholism, drug abuse and smoking. Much of her research focuses on how addiction behaviours shape the health of individuals and the greater population.

For Kairouz and her contemporaries, it’s an exciting time to collaborate: gaming and gambling — and their consequences — are emerging fields of study. They also provide ample opportunity for data mining.

She found that many of the invitees to next week’s symposium jumped at the chance to finally share their work and develop new avenues for collaboration.

“A big challenge with gambling — and this is one thing I felt was attractive — is that it’s one area where things are changing and moving so quickly. The gambling landscape has been evolving over the past 20 or 30 years, so the consequences are still being observed in our society.”

Kairouz became Concordia’s first Research Chair in Gambling two years ago. She says the university is a dynamic place to dig into this type of project, because of its interdisciplinary focus and willingness to take a chance on new streams of research.

“People dare to take novel approaches and discuss emerging questions,” she says. 

Concordia’s Summer Interactive Symposium: Research 2.0 on gaming and gambling studies runs from June 8 to 11, 2015. 
The opening conference is free and open to the public; it takes place on June 8, from 1 to 4 p.m., in the Grey Nuns Salon (E.104) in the Grey Nuns Building (GN) at 1190 Guy Street on the Sir George Williams Campus.

Two keynote speakers are participating in the symposium: Jennifer Whitson of the University of Waterloo, who is delivering a talk called “Risk, Reward, and Addiction: How gamification compels us to gamble with our lives,” and MIT's Natasha Schüll, who is tackling “The digital mediation of uncertainty: Online poker as a technology of the self.”


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