The Grinders: Making Meaning in the Online and Offline Lives of Internet Poker Players
Problem gambling affects only 1–3 percent of the gambling population but still most research on gambling is problem-oriented (Raento 2011, 76). Thus, the negative “cover story” (Gubrium 2008, 512) of gambling needs to be unsettled and complemented, because it obscures the complexities of the lived reality of mainstream gambling culture (Reith & Dobbie 2011; Matilainen & Raento 2014, 433; Jouhki 2011a, 79). Most gamblers are not the marginalized, addicted persons so often envisioned in both research and the media (Vuorento 2011; Binde 2007, 152–157): the mainstream of gambling is about entertainment, excitement, mental challenge and social value. To some it is also a profession. This article seeks to give an account of the everyday reality of active online poker players. It is about the “grinders” – the amateurs, semi-professionals and professionals who earn relatively small amounts of money over a long period of consistent, conservative play.
Thus my research question is: How do active online poker players negotiate the meaning of the game and its position in their social surroundings? More specifically, I am interested in how they become poker players, what kind of routines they develop, and how they perceive the meaning of money and work in the context of poker. I want to explore the meaning of poker outside of the actual game itself, in the wider social context. The research question is wide but this seems to me to be quite justified because the field is so little studied by culturally oriented scholars (Raento 2011), and wide questions help to bring about the holistic view that is needed when examining a less familiar phenomenon. Hence, I will present some basic facts about online poker, contextualize the game briefly with some reference to the academic literature about gambling and, most importantly, bring the matter empirically closer to the reader by exploring the views of my interviewees.