To play is to say yes to life. To gamble while you play is to enter that affirmation into the collective record by way of attributing to what would otherwise be a free-flowing response to a multitude of fluctuating external forces—“The gambler’s reaction to chance is more like that of the knee to the hammer in the patellar reflex” (AP 513)—an entirely external and collectively upheld system of values—to, in essence, curtail one’s “playful” actions to suit the very kind of systemic governance and imminent regulation of responses that make play-for-the-sake-of-play impossible. Unlike play-for-the-sake-of-play, which must take place without a competitive, ambitious, or performative aim or any other proscribed purpose, inherently disregarding all potentially limiting structures, gambling relies upon and functions as a structure, albeit a secondary structure of rules and the reactions derived from those rules—secondary because the concept of gambling is always contained by a larger system of values, a system which compels the gambler to risk something of value in order to multiply it. A simple goal is set in place, and that goal is always assumed to be “gain multiplied over time” (GET REF). Acceleration in either direction is inevitable as the game becomes simultaneously the apparatus for achieving the goal as well as its opposite—“absolute ruin”—and therein lies its charm. Gambling is a process replete with uncertainty, danger, and passion—primally seductive, abysmally narcotic, and deadly.

“It gives and takes away; its logic is not our logic” (AP 498)

Thus the gambler at the gaming table is like the prostitute on the threshold, experiencing in his play something similar to the love only money can buy.

The game itself is defined by the externally imposed and internally agreed upon system of rules that govern the particulars of play; however, the gambler’s play, while it must remain in congruence with the established order without which there would be no rules and thus no game and no possibility of a game ever, always aims to bypass the rules that govern the probability of outcomes (thus the “Gambler’s Fallacy” that time will even things out in the long run—that rules will be made valid through their repeated engagement), relegating the gambler’s actions to a system-thwarting devotion to his own perceived sense of intuition, careful reading, and amassed skill as well as a self-centered belief in the destiny-driven forces of Luck. “Chance” in the case of the gambler is not haphazard, but a gift bestowed upon attentive disciples of the game itself. Such perceived forces do not nullify the presence of an identifiable structure, but render such structures irrelevant, perceptible to the gambler only just prior to the moment of the game’s outcome—when the gambler is faced with success or failure. However, regardless of the game’s outcome, by acknowledging either victory or defeat, the gambler situates his own particular experience within the greater structures that regulate—or seem to regulate—particular outcomes; thus the gambler’s play is only identifiable as “real” play-for-the-sake-of-play when it operates, not as a purposeful attempt at undermining and in thereby doing profiting from “the system,” but as a linking up of the internal forces at work within the gambler to the external forces that comprise the game, dissolving the lines of distinction between the gambler and the game and thus allowing their unregulated flow.

“11. The structure of all success is basically the structure of gambling. To reject one’s own name has always been the most thorough way to rid oneself of one’s inhibitions and feelings of inferiority. And gambling is precisely a sort of steeplechase over the hurdles of one’s own ego. The gambler is nameless; he has no name of his own and requires no one else’s. For he is represented by the chips he places [thus he is the force that organizes that which is to be won by him or others] on specific numbers on the table—which is said to be green, like the golden tree of life, but which in reality is as gray as asphalt. And what intoxication it is in this city of opportunity, in this network of good fortune, to multiply oneself, to make oneself ubiquitous and be on the lookout for the approach of Lady Luck at any one of ten different street corners.” (“The Path to Success, in Thirteen Theses” (In Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Vol 2 p. 146) Think here of Manhattan Transfer and the immigrant experience as a gamble, the shedding of one’s name, the multiplying of oneself, the scattering of one’s will.)

“The superstitious man will be on the lookout for hints; the gambler will react to them even before they can be recognized. To have foreseen a winning play without having made the most of it will cause the uninitiated to think that he is ‘in luck’ and has only to act more quickly and courageously the next time around. In reality, this occurrence signals the fact that the sort of motor reflex which chance releases in the lucky gambler failed to materialize. It is only when it does not take place that ‘what is about to happen,’ as such, comes clearly to consciousness” (AP 513) (Thought, reason, logic, worthless to the gambler. The gambler is like an antenna that responds to the surrounding energies. The genius is neurological.)

See related article in Convolute entitled

Presence of Mind

The Arcades Project Project is part of Heather Marcelle Crickenberger's doctoral dissertation entitled "The Structure of Awakening": Walter Benjamin and Progressive Scholarship in New Media which was defended and passed on June 27, 2007 at the University of South Carolina. The committe members are as follows: John Muckelbauer, Ph.D, Judith James, Ph.D., Dan Smith, Ph.D, Brad Collins, Ph. D., and Anthony Jarrells, Ph.D. Copyright 2007 by Heather Marcelle Crickenberger. All rights reserved. lems concerning what you find here, feel free to contact me at You are also invited to leave a message for me and other visitors HERE. The Arcades Project Project or The Rhetoric of Hypertext