I'd finished listening to Head2Head's latest podcast (a pinball podcast) and switched back over to Pinside. A random person I private messaged who posted a good review on a Family Guy pinball machine responded to my cold-call about whether they still enjoyed the game several years after purchasing it. I should be focusing on work but instead... a notification from Twitch that a streamer I like is live! Oh, they've upgraded to the C922 Logitech camera for 60fps on the playfield? I switch to Amazon and check out the reviews on the C922 and confirm I won't have any issues upgrading my own streaming rig to accommodate the updated buttery playfield framerate.
How does this happen? How after just 2 years am I so involved, so invested in this hobby? Fretting over the next machine like a 5-year-old frantically trying to decide what to ask Santa for Christmas? A hobby that has me playing in a league every Wednesday and streaming my own collection of pins 3 nights a week?
I could think back and probably rummage up a moment sometime 20 years ago in an arcade that led to now, but to keep this epic less than 500 pages, I'll say it started with a little known book (at the time) called "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline, the song "Africa" by Toto, and an arcade game called Joust about 5 years ago. A perfect beginning that had nothing what-so-ever to do with pinball.
But before I begin, it's important to know that "Nostalgia" is a powerful force. One day, you're older than you were, old enough to look back fondly on the times when your worries which seemed insurmountable were really nothing but bumps in a road filled with potholes and you can enjoy those memories. That feeling... for me, it was the smell of popcorn and electronics, bright colorful lights in a darkened room, 16-bit sound blasting from hundreds of machines as I zero in on the one arcade game I want to play for the next hour... is a feeling that has sights, sounds, smells, and emotions attached to it.
And that's where Ernie Cline's book Ready Player One pulls from. His writing is so-so. The story was ok. But he pulls from my own feelings and memories of playing games like Pac-Man, Joust, Kung Fu and a slew of others as a child. And that is what kept me reading. He referenced the music my parents listened to. VH1 Pop-Up Videos. MTV when they played music videos. The clothes, the awful fashions. These were all things I could relate to and by the end of the book I was "Hooked on a Feeling", one that has become very popular recently. 80s nostalgia. I started playing retro games online, going to arcades, listening to music from the 80s. My most recently used Pandora stations went from "90s Alternative" and "Dub-Step" to "80s New Wave".
And that's when I somehow talked my wife into allowing me to get a multi-arcade. I had it custom made with retro Star Wars graphics and an LCD that rotates at the click of a switch from vertical to horizontal mode, so I could play games like Pac-Man (vertical) AND games like Joust (horizontal). Joust, the game in Ready Player One that Wade Watts beat to win it all. The game I searched Colorado for and ended up driving down to Denver multiple times to play. I shopped around for the perfect joysticks that allowed both 4-way movement and 8-way. I tested multiple boards to make sure I got one that had the timing and speed like I remembered. And when it was delivered... oh how amazing it was to play ~90 games whenever I wanted in my own home!
But sadly, my wife wasn't all that interested. We would have people over and we'd play Pac-Man tournaments, and everyone would crowd around but my wife and a few of my friends’ wives would find something else to do. Maybe this is common, but I didn't like it, it didn't sit well with me. One day, probably a day that should have occurred much more quickly than it did, I asked my wife what SHE wanted. And she game me this look like, "Finally you asked" and I dutifully looked down at my toes and kicked my feet a few times admitting with body language that I was in the wrong. But we moved past that quickly and my wife told me about a pinball machine her late Uncle had in his basement. It was a Superman pinball machine where you had to hit several drop-targets to spell "Superman" and she'd always wanted a pinball machine of her own.
And here I was, so caught up and enjoying my own nostalgia that I missed completely that the arcade machine didn't do that for her, that her memories were tied to a different experience.
I went to work. I learned about pinball, something I'd never liked, a game I'd always found irritating and pointless, but determined to buy one to make her happy. I looked online and found that the hobby was experiencing a kind of resurgence and there were likely places close by with pinball machines we could go try out. Sure enough, there was a place here in Fort Collins, CO called Pinball Jones with over 20 pinball machines at each of their 2 locations. I continued researching the sport and watched a few videos where people explained basic ball handling skills (DeadFlip) and walked through different games rule-sets. I was surprised to hear about rules and modes... wasn't the point of pinball to keep the ball moving? After some time, I decided to make a night of it and go visit Pinball Jones. Our child was 2 years old at the time so I setup a baby-sitter and dinner at a restaurant across the street.
Full, slightly intoxicated, we stumbled down a narrow set of stairs into dark-room right out of the 80s. There were arcade machines, pinball machines, 2 skee-balls, free popcorn, and beer. The music was loud but not obnoxious. It was "Africa" by Toto. One of those songs I can't turn off when it comes on the radio. I thought I may have just found something I could really get into.
I ordered us a couple of pints and we walked around looking at each of the games. I had recently found Pinside so I had an idea of which of the games were rated highly. They had Mediaeval Madness, Attack from Mars, Twilight Zone, Monster Bash, Lord of the Rings, and quite a few new games as well like Tron, Ghostbusters, and Wizard of Oz. We pulled cash out of the ATM and filled our pockets with quarters from the dispensers I remembered from when I was young. We played so many pins that night that I don't really remember any one specifically except Ghostbusters. There were quite a few videos online about that game since it recently had been released so I was "somewhat" familiar with the rules and I did my best to walk my wife through them as she played. We both agreed that it was the prettiest game of the bunch and we both LOVED Ghostbusters 1 & 2.
When we left, we went across the street and ordered some Ice Cream, dragging out the evening as long as the babysitter would allow, and we talked about the games we played. Ghostbusters stood out but what got me was that after over an hour, I wanted to go back down and keep playing and so did my wife. I think we had found what she wanted and unknowingly, found what I'd been missing.
Date night was a success both in a break from watching our little one and in getting my wife to choose a pin. She wanted Ghostbusters and I couldn't argue. The art was gorgeous, the rules simple enough to explain. I jumped back into my research with an unfamiliar fervor. I setup a deal with Game Exchange of Colorado for a Ghostbusters Premium and 2 weeks later, we had our first pinball machine delivered, unboxed, and lit up in our living room right next to the retro arcade machine. We played that machine all day and night for 3 days straight. After 2 weeks of owning a pin, we had over 100 games on it! And we didn't slow down. But I (like most addictive hobbies), began to fall into a downward spiral. I was on Pinside daily. I found podcasts, Twitch streams, SDTM, TWIP, etc... and I started looking for our next pin.
And just like that, my wife's hobby became my own. I joined a league. I played in a tournament. I bought more pinball machines. I traded out Ghostbusters because, reasons :-) I started teaching my daughter how to play pinball (who is now 5). We go to Pinball Jones every Sunday as a family and my wife and daughter play The Hobbit constantly. I started streaming pinball in my free-time (twitch.tv/dontpanicflip). I join chats, I watch streams, I listen to podcasts, I feel involved in a community.
And the community...
It surprises me by how wonderful everyone is. When I'm at a tournament, people offer good advice without a care as to how my playing better may affect them. When I'm streaming, I chat with people about the hobby, about how bad my play is, about new pins, old pins, custom firmware, and... it's easy because everyone's cool. And other streamers are helpful! Deadflip has an entire page of his website dedictated to helping others start streaming and he's super helpful and responsive to questions on his stream! In league play, people are just happy to be playing along-side others who enjoy pinball. Sure, people can get a little ugly on Pinside now and then but compared to football, soccer, or any other sport, it's mild! I've been randomly contacted by people asking about my thoughts on pins and I've done the same to others (just today) and have had great back-and-forths with random people like a mis-dialed phone number that turns into a fun conversation with someone half-way around the world. It's so consistently great to interact with others in the pinball community that I've come to appreciate how special it is. I don't know that something else like it exists and I'm happy to be a part of it.
So here we are (my wife and I), initiates turned journeymen in a hobby/sport I don't think I would have ever imagined I'd be a part of but happy to have found and excited to remain and take part as the hobby/sport/community continues to grow, hopefully beyond anyone's wildest dreams.