Let’s take a trip down memory lane…
Remember when you couldn’t wait for the school bell to ring at the end of a long day? Your legs itched to get running the moment the teacher laid the chalk down and dismissed you from your desk-filled cage of monotony.
Money in your pocket, you and your best friends would take off running down the road to the local arcade and push your way to the back until you began to hear that beautiful cacophony of sound:
CLINK! BZZT! RING! RING!
For millions of us beginning our downward descent into middle-age, the pinball machine was a sweet memory of easier times. Each time you slipped a coin into the time-worn slot and felt the small metallic ball thud against the spring-loaded ball-shooter, you felt a sense of new possibility. Once you released the shooter and sent the ball flying up the side of the cabinet and set the machine whirring and purring, you flew to the buttons – your only lifeline to the two flippers that meant the difference between a high score and an embarrassing lost game.
In those early days, a pinball machine was the best way to train your reflexes and hand-eye while wasting away an afternoon with your best friends… and your lunch money. While today’s myriad of home gaming consoles features incredible realism and multi-player fun, nothing quite matches the experience of taming the behemoth of Star Wars or Attack on Mars pinball machine.
Pinball Machines – A History of Fun & Skill
In today’s digital-obsessed world, the best hype a pinball machine can hope for is a short cameo in the latest Stranger Things episode. However, around the world, millions of middle-aged gamers are increasingly putting down their controllers and headsets and thinking back with joy on a simpler time when the pinball wizard ruled the arcade.
Pinball machines: a byword for the life of leisure, an aimless distraction for teenagers and slackers everywhere. And, along with darts and pool, the best way to sharpen reflexes while smoking and/or drinking.
The pinball machine of the collective memory actually evolved from a version of a billiard table known as bagatelle – which was first patented into the first “pinball machine” in 1871 by Montague Redgrave. Over the ensuing decades, the bagatelle would see increasingly more complex iterations until the first official mass-produced machine was marketed by the Bally Pinball Company in 1931.
That first pinball machine, known as Ballyhoo, came to fame during the fun-starved generation that experienced the Great Depression and World War II. Flippers were introduced to the game with Double Shuffle in 1932. Soon, the concept of “winning” with flippers captured the imaginations of a fearful political machine and was banned in 1942 in the city of New York due to the fear that it was a front for gambling and organized crime.
As with most prohibitions, making something novel off-limits only increases it’s intriguing nature, and pinball machines saw an explosion of popularity with the post-war Boomer generation that sought to fill their newfound free time with fun and games.
Over time the pinball machine would see a variety of upgrades including magnetized balls, new electrics, full-scall movement of the machine’s board to increase difficulty, and the ever-popular “tilt”. Before long, the pinball machine’s popularity caught the eye of movie marketers, who began to customize machines with a variety of movie-based designs and versions.
With the advent of the video game console and computer system in the late eighties and early nineties, the arcade became increasingly less popular until many simply went out of business. The pinball machines saw their lights go off, only to be relit in various pizza restaurants and novelty gaming stores.
Over time, however, many pinball lovers began to seek out these orphaned arcade games and began to seek them out from antique stores and warehouses across the globe, restoring them back to their former glory for an entirely new generation to experience and enjoy!
How to bring the nostalgia home without breaking the bank.
While we’ve spent a lot of time here arguing for bringing the nostalgia of pinball to today’s game-hungry populace, we aren’t alone. In fact, in the past several years, hundreds of these memory-inducing light and sound machines have popped up for sale around the various corners of the internet, wooing buyers from all over the world. Many are brand new, seeking to recreate the magic of the original versions, while some arcade game restorers have gone to great lengths to locate and restore many first-edition machines to their former glory.
That former glory comes with a pretty hefty price tag. Many pinball machines that are available for purchase online cost nearly as much as a new car. For example, online pinball machine retailer The Pinball Company features a AC/DC Premium Pinball Machine by Stern for $9,999, and a high-end restored Addam’s Family by Bally for over $17,000! At these prices, the everyday pinball wizard is left with the only option – remembering playing these awesome games in their memories.
But there is hope! If you are one of the many who love pinball don’t want to mortgage the farm, doing a little bit of research can help you find used pinball dealers who are willing to negotiate with you on a steal of a deal for some of the popular models. Some of these used models may come with some wear and tear (and maybe a few loose screws) but you won’t regret having the chance to own a piece of gaming history in your home or business. Remember those great memories made around the pinball machine at the local arcade? Imagine the new ones you’ll make as your friends and family join you for a game in your game room! With a little hard work and the same luck that helped you get that high score on that Star Wars pinball machine, you’ll be able to relive the nostalgia today.
Play on, pinball wizards. Play on.