I liked Pinball, too.
When I was just teenager in school, I had a big problem. It was boring. Well, everything except English, Eng Literature and Geography. I spent a lot of time avoiding class to escape into the city (not a big one) to play pool and pinball.
I’m speaking about 1971/2. There were no other electronic games, except a racing game that rolled a lit-up track under the driver who held onto a dodgy steering wheel and tried not to crash – I was hopeless at it.
I played pinball at an earlier age too, 14 years old, at a guess. Five cents a game. The machines were like complicated clockwork decks, where the ball could get stuck in one of the holes, bumpers, lanes, or wear and tear bitter spots, and stopped working. The score was displayed on the backboard in rolling plastic numbers, and a free game might be 660.
Back to 1971. The machines had improved: 20 cents a game, variety of numerous tables; long flippers, lights to knockout, much more bumpy bumpers, less breakdowns. As you might imagine, I became proficient at these games and could stay for a whole afternoon for a dollar, instead of being bombarded into a torpid state by economics class.
Zoom forward to 1979. Now machines had digital light displays, famous games (or infamous, I don’t think that Playboy pinball will have its reputation enhanced any time soon). There was also Evil Kneivel, 6 Million Dollar Man, a massive Star Trek game with a very heavy deck, and various others lost in my memory. This was, for me, the peak of pinball design. If Elton John could be a pinball wizard, then so could I. This is what I told myself as I idled away my early 20’s. Free games crept up to about 600,000.
I worked as a proofreader on a night shift, which was not ideal for social connectivity. Good for playing pinball, though.
Then dropped the craziest thing even seen on the planet: Space Invaders. It’s hard for me to imagine how this quite ordinary game could enthral thousands, but I plugged money into the damn things – I wasn’t very good at it.
Now pinball makers had to come up with something new. Hence double, and triple decked pinball at a dollar a shot. Now, I felt I needed a doctorate in physics and geometry to play such tricked-up games. Black Knight I remember – way too much information. Too many impossible shots, secret pitfalls, lightening velocity of the steel ball, and only three balls to do the business. I gave up. Free game: 110.million.
I wanted to write this because I don’t think pinball gets much love these days. They were a dynamic test of reflexes and skill back in the day. Probably if I found one and tried to sell them as an exciting adventure to young people, they wouldn’t be too thrilled.
Gaming has taken off into the ether as all of you are aware.
As I said before, I was a dead loss at school, but both my parents were teachers (my Dad at the school I kept skiving off from), the house was full of books: classical literature, history – ancient and otherwise, geography, children‘s literature. I read, the only school-like task that probably would get a tick during my education.
I felt a total misfit in school, as sons of teachers find. I trying to latch on to this clique or that. Pretty sure I failed that, too.
Now, many years later, I’ve begun writing SF novels. the first is very close to press, and though I did find it a struggle to write, it was completed and sent to an editor. I have another completed novel sitting in a draw (file) while I percolate the story in my mind.
Both my parents have passed away some years ago. My Dad thought I could be a good writer, I wasn’t able to oblige him. I know I was a great disappointment to him. I wish he could see the groundwork he laid for for me to eventually find a space in my life to become a writer. The first thing I’ll do when I get a hard copy of this first novel, is take it up to the beautiful little cemetery we have here in the country, and lay it near his headstone, so I can say:
“You were right – it was doable.” I even like to think he would have enjoyed this story.
To be fair to my Mum and Dad, the disappointment of not being an ace at school was tempered over time by them seeing me become a good person and empathic man. There’s a fair thrill for any parent to achieve that.
So, how important is pinball? In the greater scheme probably not too much. I couldn’t see myself writing an Ode to Pinball, but I did want to remember it’s role, living in the nether world, between and during schooldays.