The Gambling Image
In this paper I argue that the attitude of narrative film spectator is comparable to that of the gambler.
I briefly recall the various meanings of the notion of ludus (play, game, contest, gamble) as investigated in psychology (Mead 1934), psychoanalysis (Freud 1920), philosophy (Huizinga 1938), economics (Veblen 1889), and sociology (Simmel 1911, Benjamin 1927-40, Merton 1938) and reflect on changes in contemporary film spectatorship. Gambling is the activity of playing a game of chance for stakes. In gambling one tries to guess the outcome of an event that he does not participate directly and of which he does not control all the variables. Whereas it is intuitive that the film spectator does not take part to the story directly, the aspect of control the variables is problematic, since genre conventions and canonical structure in storytelling are elements that make the events predetermined and predictable. My hypothesis to explain the pleasure of film-going is that, along with suspension of disbelief, another psychological process is at work, i.e. suspension of certainty of the outcome.
According to Erving Goffman (1967), the social actor bets a stake in everyday life. Gambling, in fact, means also to take a risk in the hope of gaining an advantage or a benefit, or to engage in reckless or hazardous behaviour. In this sense, gambling is a symptomatic characteristic of the contemporary age and of the underlying significance of the contemporary film experience. According to Roger Caillois’ terminology (1958), I argue that the “classic” age of Mimicry (identification with the character and role-playing) is progressively being replaced by Agon (competition and videogaming), Ilinx (disruption of perception as an experimental test on spectator) and, above all, Alea (voluntary risk-taking as an opportunity of pleasure, like in gambling).