Pinball is new again (to me)

There’s nothing I love more than gaming, maps, and lists I can check off. 

I heard about an app called Pinball Map which combines all those things, so of course I didn’t hesitate to check it out as I’m perpetually open for the next obsession. It’s a map of user-submitted locations where you can find pinball machines, along with relevant information like the state of the machines, other logistical information, and user-submitted scores.

I didn’t play pinball much as a kid. We lived in a rural area so getting to arcades was rare. Plus, money was tight, so the idea of taking four kids to a place designed to steal your cash was inexplicable to my parents. And to really seal the deal for me, the pinball machines I encountered at arcades always cost more money to play than the video games. Why would I play these expensive, archaic devices when I could play the X-Men, Simpsons, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games? Likely, in the long run, I wasted more money and time on those less-satisfying games, than had I given pinball a better chance. 

Even so, present day, I’m fascinated by being able to discover local machines via the app. (Any excuse for an adventure.) For instance, I was generally aware my gym had pinball machines but it wasn’t until this new quest, that I really paid attention. 

Shaq Attaq pinball
I’m determined to be the very best at this game.

And once I began looking, I found them everywhere. A particularly stunning discovery was a local grocery store with a secret nook in the back with over 35 machines; turns out its owner is a pinball fanatic. My kid was with me that first time and we had the whole place to ourselves— it was a blast.

Pin ball

Seeing my kid play real pinball for the first time (and doing remarkably well too) made me realize that there’s a “new” pinball feature I hadn’t enjoyed as a kid. 

Modern pinball machines have an autosave feature that gives your ball back if it goes into the gutter too soon; a frustrating act of random chance inherent to pinball, mitigated by modern sensibility. I think I would have liked pinball far more as a kid had the machines I played featured this kinder ball handling, and maybe they did at that time, but the autosave was purposely turned off. 

Lord of the Rings pinball

The other day I encountered a modern Lord of the Rings machine in a dying mall arcade. It had its autosave turned off so it could suck up more of your quarters. I was quite cranky with this discovery since the left outlane of that particular machine was suspiciously hungry, and because LOTR has become one of my favorite games of pinball in this new-found quest. No doubt the arcade needs the money, but it felt like I had been transported back to being a kid, confused as to why anyone would want to play a game that was so openly hostile to players.

Otherwise, this new journey has been fun! I’ve joined the Pinside website as I find its personal scoring tracking system better than the Pinball Map app. I’ve even added a few publicly-available machines that I found were missing from the maps of both databases. Now, when I’m off visiting a place, not only do I pull up a map to see if there is a geocache nearby, but I also check for pinball machines. I just have to work on a better explanation to bar and restaurant managers as to why I seek entry into their establishment without needing to sit at a table.

“I like pinball” has worked, but lacks a certain verve.