We are excited to share this morning our newest entry to the New Voices catalog: “Jackpot” by Mike Nees. In this energetic story, take on two roles: The first, an addict, working the casino floor for a score and a fix; the other, a security guard who plays his job like a video game to be attempted over and over until it’s mastered. “Jackpot” offers a unique insight on casino life, and we’re thrilled to share Nees’s work. Dive in.
Here’s the thing about those old games, though: There was always the chance that some master would emerge from the shadows, pat you on the shoulder, and ask you to step aside. A teenager who worked at the arcade, maybe. He’d slice through the hoards who’d mocked you for years, demolish the bosses before they could take their first breaths.
Here’s a game where you run around the casino asking for change, security hot on your tail. You weave your way through the bachelorette parties, hide in the clouds of chain smokers. It’s tricky. Even if you shake the guards, you have to watch the shame meter—it maxes out after too much begging. The game’s called Meth Head, which, eh—if you’re really at the point of panhandling for crystal meth, the shame is probably a non-factor. Not that you’ve transcended it or anything. It’s just a constant, like tinnitus.
And here’s a game where you’re the security, and it’s your job to run after the Meth Heads. Revenue goes up whenever you clear the floor, but each wave is bigger than the last. Without upgrades, you can only give chase. Sometimes they just run in circles to tire you out. You earn a pinch their of their respect when you emerge with a baton.
In truth, when you take cover in the men’s room, you might bump into that nerd from the food court who’s always hunched over his laptop—the youngish guy with glasses who never gives you any change, only offering a tangerine here or there—and if you catch his glance in the mirror as he washes his hands, tell him how tired you are from all this running, and how he’s looking like a snack—there’s a chance that the rejection that follows, that particular face of pity, will register on the shame meter. So there’s a little truth in it, somewhere. The meter.
An earpiece feeds you intel, a taser boosts your attack. It’s never enough. Just when you think you’ve got the hang of things, your enemies swarm the floor with new vigor, drive coveted demographics to rival casinos. The old white ladies disappear. Your progress lay in ruins. And to be fair, this was how it worked in all the old games. Everything just got harder and harder, until you ran out of quarters. You knew the machines were unbeatable, but that just made you want to beat them more.
When security kicks you to the curb, it’s time to add up your change—fail to reach your target and it’s back to the casino, only now you’re muted by shame, unable to beg, and so you have to start casing purses. Thieving. Everything revolves around patience now—not a Meth Head’s strong suit. It’s so heavy-handed, this game and its agenda. How gladly it revokes your voice. Tells you what to feel. One purse, at least, puts you over the top. You can finally buy a crystal off the guy in the rooming house strewn with loose mattresses, and this part’s real enough. It even plays out as a cutscene, which is how it always feels—once you can afford the crystal, it’s a forgone conclusion. A thing you watch yourself do. Only as the warmth of that first hit courses through your limbs do you reinhabit them.