How Can We Learn About Ourselves From Claw Machines?

Terence C.
4 min readAug 4, 2019

Initially, I felt that claw machines were only for kids, guilt-tripped parents and oblivious partners yet to be acknowledged as official couples. Like how moths are drawn to flames for little-understood reasons related to how they’re wired, I was drawn to the skillfulness, often passed off as luck, of the gimmicky game. Similar to starting a business, investing or scoring consecutive 3-pointers shot after shot, these activities are relatively practical to start and commit to the end. But satisfaction isn’t simply starting a business, but to own a successful one. Same goes for investing. You don’t just want to catch a fish by sheer luck. You want to know how, when and where to increase your chances of catching more fishes. As for claw machines, you are bound to catch a toy (in fact some places even offer to give you a free toy if you can’t catch it under a certain number of tries) if you spend a ton of money.

Unless you’re a die-hard fan of that particular toy, your happiness lies less in eventually catching the toy and more in catching the toy in the least amount of tries.

This is where patience comes into play. The simple but hard to follow rule of investment is this: Buy things that go up in value. If you don’t want to be sad over losses, then don’t invest. If you don’t want to be sad over failed catches, then don’t play the claw machine. But if you want to invest with a better chance and catch a toy with a higher percentage, you need to do research. You need to study. Everyone wish to have more data, and it shouldn’t come off as a surprise that more data is usually available. You can retrieve more data, at the cost of either time, money or both. If you’re unwilling to wait, simply play the claw machine and you’ll get a better understanding of the strength of the claw and if the toy is too heavy. Alternatively, you can wait till a slightly impatient guy steps in. Then, observe. Now, you have the data.

But is it enough? Will it ever be enough for you?

By no means am I a claw machine specialist, but I believe in one way or another, you would agree that checking these conditions off would drastically improve your chances of catching a toy in the least amount of tries:

  1. Will the claw rotate? If it does, how does it rotate and does it rotate every single time?
  2. How is the strength of the claw? Specifically, can it firmly pick up the toy?
  3. What is the size of the claw? If you’re attempting to catch something big and round, it should come naturally to you that a small claw has slim chances of grabbing the toy.
  4. What is the structure of the toy? Squarish? Circular? Does it have a waistline for the claw to have a stable grip? Will the toy fall flat when it is dropped, or will it bounce off elsewhere?
  5. Where is the position of the toy? Is the toy beneath, leveled or stacked on top of where you’re supposed to drop it off?
  6. How many times have the claw machine been played before you? Depending on its settings, most claw machines have a randomised powerful super-claw function after it accumulates enough plays. It varies between 12 to 30 plays.
  7. If you were to try three times, will the first attempt increase the chances of catching it the second time if you failed? On the same tangent, will your second attempt increase the chances of catching it the third time if you failed? If there is a higher tendency for the toy to land on the same exact spot where you picked it up, you’re banking more on luck than on strategy.

In my humble opinion, if one is patient and strict enough to abide by these conditions, it isn’t that difficult to excel at claw machines. The issue sets in, as with almost all areas of our life, when we suspend these principles/rules/conditions during tempting moments. Principles really count when they’re difficult to maintain. We often give in and let ourselves off the hook. We tell ourselves, “It is alright. Let’s compromise a little.”

We only experience the tyranny of broken promises when it is compounded to a point where we realise failure is not on the machine, but on us.

To a large extent, I believe how we play or don’t play the claw machine reveals a lot about how we live our lives. There will be world-class commentary by surrounding aunties and uncles on how you should position your claw and they unabashedly announce the predicted outcome of the play. Ironically, they’re not the ones walking around with bagfuls of toys, but a baggage of egos waiting to be fed. For some, they’re hopeful to skip past the optimal conditions and gamble a dollar or two, only to realise that they’ve paid the tuition fees in coming to terms that not everyday is Sunday. Then, there are others I loosely term as — The V̶u̶l̶t̶u̶r̶e̶s̶ Opportunists. They lurk around and only strike when the iron is hot. To put it unromantically, they hardly play unless all or most of their conditions are met. All of a sudden, claw machine becomes a test of patience which many would wag their fingers and assert that such a play style is boring. So is index investing. But look at Warren Buffett now.

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Terence C.

There is a fine line between fishing and doing nothing. We would like to think that we’re fishing, but the truth is we don’t have the line.