"Play Game" (1:00 min)
Two Russian novels "The Gambler", by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and "The Queen of Spades", by Alexander Pushkin, prompted my interest in the games of chance before writing my thesis titled “Organization of Casino Activity as a Modern Recreation Center under Conditions of a Large City” at the University of Humanities and Social Sciences in St. Petersburg, Russia.
My field research was conducted in the newly opened casinos and nightclubs in St. Petersburg. I interviewed casino management, events producers, psychiatrists, and visitors. I researched gaming as entertainment while considering historical, managerial, economic, and psychological aspects.
The Jokers in my work are not costumed performers -- they symbolize human desires and motivations. As jokers, they have a habit of creating interruptions and distractions. My Joker is like the Mephistopheles character in Goethe's "Faust," though perhaps not so sinister. He is part tempter, part illusionist. He is the person you want to see him as, and he takes advantage of your dreams to work his will. People see his many faces depending on their desires.
Card games came to Russia from Germany at the beginning of 17th century and spread widely. However, playing high stakes games was not new to Russia. For example, in 1584, Ivan the Terrible, being near death, played chess with Boris Godunov betting the entire content of the regal treasury.
By the end of the 19th Century, card games became an important part of recreation of the Russian high society. Knowing how to play certain card games became an important part in social education of young men and women. Every respectable house was expected to have rooms for gaming, even books on social etiquette included chapters on how to behave during card games.
This is how the famous lover Casanova described the atmosphere of a game in one of the St. Petersburg houses: "Everything was in French manner: food and drinks were fabulous, lively conversation, and the game was even better. High Society in attendance consisted of honest people who would lose without regret and win without boasting."
In 1766 Katherine The Great created a new law regarding gaming. The law stated that all card debts should be forbidden and that a son financially dependant on his father shouldn't be trusted. This law affected the mentality of Russian players for centuries. Society reacted to this law with a "code of honor" that prescribed gamblers to pay card debts on time. By the end of the 19th century society people were joking that many people knew rules, laws, and etiquette related to card games better than civil law. Gamblers religiously followed the "code of honor" rules because to break them often meant to loose integrity.
Gamblers can be very irrational in pursuit of the winnings. They often look for "signs" which may bring them luck in gambling. Searching historical archives I came across an 18th century story told by a gambler:
One night, while walking to my social club to play cards, a bird pooped on my shoulder and ruined my coat. I arrived at the club very upset by this event. However, I joined the game and won big that night. Now, every time, when I am on my way to the club to play cards, I walk through this same alley waiting for a bird to fly over my shoulder and repeat the incident. By now I am convinced that the bird brought me luck.
A gambler is often influenced by the desire for risk–taking and adventure and not by the monetary winnings. A game of chance is experienced as a confrontation with fate, where the process of a game, with its instantaneous ups and downs, is a source of enjoyment.
During a game a player may experience a surge of zeal - a psychological phenomenon, where the main role belongs to emotional processes. When making a bet a person might feel as if he/she is on the "edge," and the passing of time is experienced in slow motion - as if one minute lasts for years. A person who is not predisposed to enjoying such an emotional 'ride' of a game might play just once or twice.