As a very proud, voting member of the National Toy Hall of Fame Committee, I am very pleased that Pinball has been inducted, along with Magic 8 Ball and UNO, into the Hall as part of the class of 2018.
Michelle Parnette-Dwyer from the Strong National Museum of Play has written us a delightful piece on the Magic 8 Ball entitled: “Outlook Good: Magic 8 Ball Inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.” I am joining her celebration by republishing this slightly edited article, which I wrote three years ago, about the sheer, mechanical, joy of playing pinball.
For me, pinball was the ringing of bells; the buzzing of buzzers; the thud of the ball dropping into the slot and the silence of failure. It was about second hand cigarette smoke (lots of it) and beer and Coca-Cola and swearing and community.
Ahhhhhh – pinball. Its technology was primarily mechanical but still there was something wonderfully cyborg about it. There were holes and saucers, spinners and bumpers, flippers, rollovers, kickers, slingshots and more. Most importantly, you didn’t just work to be one with the machine; you worked to defeat it.
I can remember in that pre-digital age standing in my college campus “slop shop,” the place we gathered for conversation, bad food and play. No, I wasn’t standing so much as leaning into our campus pinball machine. Slouching around me were pinball aficionados who not only beat we non-aficionados at pinball but critiqued me and everyone else who attempted to enter their world.
I had one ball left and was ringing up a pretty big score; a combination of body language and decent flipper work were making a difference until…I missed with my flipper and the ball passed through the exit gateway. The game was over; there was silence and then a voice said: “You are one terrible flipper man.”
It still stings. Yet, I loved pinball. We all loved pinball because it was a wonderful combination of man and machine and man versus machine and man versus everyone else who played that pinball game. That included women but I don’t remember many wasting their time with us. Those who did were really good.
But I digress; it may be hard for app and console game players to really appreciate the sheer kinesthetic energy of pinball.
You sometimes assaulted the machine by banging on its sides or throwing your hip into it’s front to jolt the ball while trying not to get carried away and trigger the “tilt” mechanism which would end the game.
It wasn’t just about the way the game played. It was also about how it looked. Pinball art seemed stuck in 1950’s America with lurid images illustrating the top, sides and backglass.
Gone are company names like D. Gottlieb & Co. (unfortunately, no relation) Bally, Williams and Midway. But not all is lost. Pinball is undergoing a resurgence and thankfully, today there new manufacturers with names like Stern Pinball, the Chicago Gaming Company and Jersey Jack Pinball.
If you have a pinball parlor in your town, check it out. If you have never played, you will be entering a whole new world. If you used to play, you may be surprised athow much those machines bring back memories of a time when the mechanical was king and bells and whistles weren’t a negative but a respected, integral part of how we played.