A Ninja Turtles pinball machine isn’t that surprising. They’ve been around since 1984. A Godzilla pinball machine is even less surprising—Godzilla’s been smashing Tokyo since 1954. But a Mandalorian pinball machine? That’s got to be from 2019 at the earliest. Everything old is, well, still old, but it’s blending with the new, and that’s really cool.
I love pinball. As a teenager in the ‘80’s I remember going to the video arcade with my friends and while video games were cool enough—I was really good at Q*Bert—I was also drawn to the pinball machines that, even then, seemed a bit neglected. Even the new ones had a retro quality. After all The Who’s Tommy had been around since 1969. What really appealed to me, though, was their tangible quality. Even if I couldn’t touch the ball it was still real and really rolling around just under me, not on a screen. And unlike video games a pinball machine has thousands of moving parts that can act in unpredictable ways, raising the element of chance. Pinball is also all about focus: you have to ignore the flashing lights, the sounds, and just concentrate on that one silver ball. Or silver balls if you go into multiball mode.
The coffee shop where I found these pinball machines also has tournaments, game nights that bring people together, which just adds emphasis to the real-world nature of pinball. It’s been a long time since video games left the arcade and went into the home. For a while LAN parties were big events but it seems like they’ve dropped off significantly, and services like Twitch allow people to watch and even comment on a gamer’s progress. Some people even get a certain amount of fame and make a living that way. There’s still something, well, real about pinball, and people coming together to play it just emphasizes that.
It also reminds me of one of my favorite pinball experiences. Near where I work there used to be a place with a couple of pinball machines. I’d go there on my lunch breaks with a few quarters. There were always the same three guys gathered around the same machine. I knew they were college students but they always seemed to be there. We never talked but I felt like I got to know them. Then one day I went in and just one of them was there alone. We nodded at each other and took turns playing the two games. Finally I asked him, “So, where are the other Lone Gunmen?”
Without batting an eye he shrugged and said, “In class.”