The New York Times

No one has uncovered the Platonic ideal of a slot machine, but there are certain principles that undergird most games. First, there is a vague aesthetic uniformity: colors tend toward primary or pastel, franchise tie-ins are ubiquitous, and game soundtracks are typically in a major key. More notably, most modern slots offer upwards of 50 and even 100 different ways to win, which can confuse casual and even advanced players.

In addition, the symbols that appear on a slot machine’s reels are usually listed in a pay table, which is displayed above or below the area containing the reels. These symbols may include fruits, bells, and other traditional casino icons, as well as bars and sevens. The pay table also indicates how many credits the player will receive if these symbols line up on a winning payline.

When a slot machine is turned on, a random number generator (RNG) cycles thousands of numbers each second. This process determines the position of each symbol on the reels. The RNG then selects the next set of stops, and the symbols on the reels reflect this selection.

The spinning of the reels is a kind of courtesy to the player, as the computer has already chosen what symbols will land on each spin. This explains why it’s often difficult to spot a pattern in the results of individual pulls. In a series of interviews with people who play slot machines, Schull heard a common theme: they played to zone out and escape their thoughts. As a result, she believes that these games are a form of entertainment as well as gambling.