Growing up, the decision to play a game, any game - be it a board game like checkers, chess or Monopoly or card games like Solitaire or UNO - came packaged with a simple, exhilarating concept: winning. Even most of the popular home console games of my 80's youth were changing to become less arcade-style 'stage-clear' games to either direct competition with a live challenger (ex; fighitng games like Mortal Kombat) or the promise of beating a game and seeing that elusive end screen. "I did it! I won!". But pinball was an outlier. A fun and addictive challenge on the edge of my gaming periphery but a game with seemingly no end. I drop my coins and do my best to keep the ball alive but in the end, the table always wins.
Too often, trips to the arcade or vacations on the boardwalk would end with a lingering sense of frustration and loss. No matter how hard I tried, a bad angle or a wild bump would ultimately put an end to my game despite my best efforts. Even as my skill improved throughout the years, that sense of loss continued. It was always the final taste in my mouth. Even playing well and cracking a high score on a machine would act as a temporary balm but I knew deep down that I would inevitably be a loser again. I didn't realize it at the time but this mentality persisted for many years and kept me from truly finding the joy in this game. So why exactly did I keep coming back?
Surely I was having fun. Figuring out new table mechanics, calling a shot and placing it exactly where I wanted it to go, or a wild minutes-long multiball frenzy were factors. But it wasn't until I realized that 'winning' at pinball wasn't the goal. Winning is a mirage of multi-colored flashing lights and sound. But in the end, the table will beat me. And you know what? That's ok. The joy of pinball (for me at least) is in the moment. Living in the now. From the moment I launch the first ball to the final agonizing drain, my joy is tied to the life of the ball and the promise of what I can make the ball do during that time. In some ways, pinball became more than a game to me but a metaphor for life. Do the best you can with the time you have. There was no winning. Even a high score is a temporary achievement until someone better comes along. This letting go of my subconciously preconcieved notions helped me truly love this unique amusement experience, loss and all.