Problem gambling is a complex psychological and social phenomenon with many aspects to it. It resembles other forms of addiction and people with gambling problems may often have other issues. I don’t want to trivialise the nature of gambling addictions or reduce it to a single set of causes.
Having said all that…there is one aspect to gambling as a psychological phenomenon that struck me just now when discussing writers. Gambling is pleasurable and the nature of that pleasure has been much studied, including by people who design machines for gambling on. One of the notable features of gambling (and a factor that can lead to it becoming a problem for some people) is that people still gain pleasure from it even when they are losing. The phenomenon called “loss chasing”
“Although the traditional view is in agreement with neuroscientific data, it fails to explain why people often describe gambling as a pleasant activity rather than as an opportunity to gain money. During gambling episodes, PG report euphoric feelings comparable to those experienced by drug users (van Holst et al., 2010), and the more PG lose money, the more they tend to persevere in this activity—a phenomenon referred to as loss-chasing (Campbell-Meiklejohn et al., 2008).“https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3845016/
The features of gambling that make it pleasurable (and hence potentially dangerous) are the way rewards are structured. Those features are:
- Occasional small rewards
- Unpredictable, irregular rewards
- An illusion of control (I.e the chance element may be disguised or the gambler rationalises that they have more control than they actually have)
- Losses disguised as wins (a payoff that helps hide the fact that overall the gambler is losing)
- The real chance of a large payoff
How many of those features match aspects of writing fiction for money?
- Occasional small rewards – a short story accepted by a magazine, a small payment from Amazon etc
- Unpredictable awards – the last story sold, the current story only gets rejections. People bought your last book on Amazon but not your current one. How come?
- An illusion of control: its the cover, match your genre, follow these rules for writing cosy mysteries etc etc.
- Losses disguised as wins – perhaps less obvious but present when considering sunk costs or for writers considering only the income per effort on their more successful work when in reality the income represents the effort on their total output (including the stuff that didn’t sell – which loops back to the illusion of control).
- The real chance of a large payoff! You could be next John Scalzi or Larry Correia or James Paterson!