Kind of sad to see this one die on the vine. So I’ll answer my own question and then drop it if others think it’s a dumb topic.
Pinball builds communities that didn’t exist before. Even this, Pinside, is a community. I found “my people” around 2002 with a local mailing list, and my friendships have grown exponentially since then. I was a lonely kid, and sometimes I still get lonely as an adult - mostly when I’m working out of state. I’m never lonely in GA - there’s always something to do, people I can hang out with.
Pinball is social, it builds new bonds. Gottlieb coined the phrase “It’s more fun to compete”, but what they also meant was “it’s more fun to share pinball with a friend.” I’ll take a step farther. Pinball helps our teenagers become men and women. They play pinball with other adults that aren’t their parents, and they even engage in conversation - this is huge. A teen in a pinball league is probably less likely to commit suicide or shoot up a classroom, because he knows that he has adults he can talk to.
One of my son’s college classmates (a kid from Korea) shot himself in the head in his dorm room, because he got an ‘F’ in one of his classes. He was isolated, didn’t talk to anyone before he did it. Loneliness can be deadly. Pinball isn’t the only solution, but I think it’s a small part of a much bigger picture.