Virtual Reality Gambling Environment (ViRGE)
What is the impact of electronic gaming machine design on physiological arousal and gambling behaviour?
Australians gamble more than any other
nation in the world, with up to 500,000 Australians currently experiencing, or are
at risk of, problem gambling. As each problem gambler has a negative impact on
the lives of 5 – 10 others, up to 5 million Australians are affected each year.
Of the many types of gambling, ‘pokies’ is perhaps the most insidious.
Strategic use of sounds, lights, thematic programming and phenomena such as
‘losses disguised as wins’ and ‘near-misses’ are carefully constructed to lure
players into addiction and keep them there. Importantly, the gamblers ‘zone’ – a
hypnotic gambling state – is a well-known phenomenon that maintains problem
gambling behavior. Traditional laboratory research is unable to immerse
participants into such ‘zones’ to measure the effect that the gambling
environment has on decision-making and behaviour. Virtual reality (VR), by
contrast, is a fully immersive, naturalistic technology that may overcome these
limitations currently restricting the impact of research into the fundamental,
treatment and policy aspects of problem gambling. VR offers the advantage of
exposure to stimuli, which in real-life would be impractical, dangerous, or
extremely costly to duplicate.
BMH and sensiLab have built a novel Virtual Reality Gambling Environment (ViRGE). Using the latest HTC Vive technology, ViRGE immerses users in a virtual casino through which they can freely move and gamble at will. This enables ecologically valid real-time investigation of affective, cognitive and physiological changes associated with virtual gambling. Importantly, it allows determination of the behavioural impact of subtle, but important structural characteristics of pokie machines (eg, near-misses) and changes in the gambling environment (eg, responsible gambling messages, alcohol consumption). Using ViRGE, this research project is currently investigating how near-miss outcomes motivate slot machine play using physiological (eg, heart rate, skin conductance), behavioural (eg, pace), and psychological (eg, mood) approaches.