Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/1/2015 (1678 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Better than shady land deals and contentious severance packages: When the city council in Oakland, Calif., convened last summer, one of the items on the agenda was a proposal to repeal a bylaw that forbade residents of that burg from playing pinball.
Oakland's ban, which council members voted unanimously to lift, dated back to the Dirty Thirties — an era when pinball was viewed in many circles as a form of gambling.
"Pinball was illegal in lots of places for years," says Rick Exner, a Winnipegger who manages an online forum (www.wpgpinball.forumotion.ca), which caters to pinball aficionados in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. "Pinball wasn't allowed in New York (City) until 1976, I believe, and Chicago, too, even though that's where most of the machines were being built."
Speaking of Chicago, in October, Exner attended the annual Pinball Expo in the Windy City. Over the course of three days, he and hundreds of others chatted with game designers, toured a pinball factory and tried their hand at a plethora of new releases, including one based on popular television series The Walking Dead.
On his way home, Exner made a pit-stop in Minneapolis to purchase a new machine — his 50th, but who's counting — he'd seen advertised online. When he pulled into Emerson, a border official spotted the unit in the back of Exner's pick-up truck and reacted the same way most people who grew up in the 1970s and '80s do.
"He started going on about how much he used to love pinball back in the day," Exner says, pointing out the game — Sharkey's Shootout — that caught the guard's eye. "It never fails; these things are always a conversation starter."
Ten years ago, it looked like pinball was destined for a place in the pop-culture scrapheap alongside VCRs, Pogs and the Baha Men. The pastime's governing body, the International Flipper Pinball Association, was down to a handful of members and three of the top four pinball manufacturers in the U.S. had gone belly-up.
Then a funny thing happened; computer-game producers began issuing pinball-themed titles. Seemingly overnight, a new generation of pinball wizards was suddenly curious about the silver ball.
Membership in the IFPA currently stands at 23,000-plus. Events sanctioned by its sister organization, the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association, pull in as many as 500 players. (In March, PAPA will host the World Pinball Championships in Pittsburgh, where participants of varying skill levels will compete for over $45,000 in cash and prizes.)
Exner, 47, has fond memories of plugging quarter after quarter into machines at long-gone amusement centres such as Mother's, Long John Silver's and the Crystal Palace. The licensed auto mechanic purchased his first pinball machine in 1987. Not long after he quit racing cars about 10 years ago, he got into the hobby "hard-core," he says.
"When I started, there were lots of games available and most weren't super-expensive," he goes on, showing a visitor a pair of games that used to be housed in the old Richardson International Airport terminal, before that structure was razed to make way for its replacement. "But now that more and more people are getting into it, a game that used to cost me $1,000 or so goes for $2,500 and up."
Exner created the Winnipeg Pinball website in 2010. On an almost daily basis, he fields questions from fellow fanatics along the lines of, "Where is the cheapest place to get new glass?" and, "Is there anyone in town that sells shooter springs?"
A couple of years ago, Exner heard about people in eastern Canada who were getting together on a regular basis to play pinball in somebody's garage or rec room. Figuring he wasn't the only person on the Prairies who might enjoy something similar, he posted an ad online to gauge interest.
Nowadays, between 15 and 30 people gather at a predetermined location in Winnipeg every Friday night to play games fashioned after the Harlem Globetrotters, The Sopranos and Spider-Man. (Because of the value of the machines, Exner doesn't reveal the exact location of the gatherings until he is certain anybody wanting to partake is on the up-and-up.)
"I just figured if we have (the machines), we might as well enjoy them," Exner says matter-of-factly, pausing to turn the volume down on an AC/DC pinball machine that's been blasting the Aussie band's greatest hits. "I've met people who've had games in their basements for 20 years and never turned them on but that's not us; the people I'm involved with buy 'em because they love playing 'em." (Thanks to his mechanical acumen, Exner can modify all of his machines so a) they don't tilt easily, and b) award replays "even if a poor player is on it.")
Robin van Mourik is the brains behind Pinside.com, a website that boasts a directory of 6,000-plus places around the world that have pinball machines on-site. One of the latest entries is the Good Will Social Club at 625 Portage Ave. A person answering the phone at the entertainment venue doesn't have a clue who leaked the news to van Mourik, but he confirms Good Will houses three pinball machines, two of which — World Cup Soccer and White Water — are fully operational.
"Pinside was started back in 2003 as a hobby project of mine," says van Mourik, when reached at home in Alkmaar, the Netherlands. "We started with a review section (for new and old games) and then slowly started adding stuff. The map section was added in 2008."
Van Mourik owns in the neighbourhood of 25 pinball machines. Every week, he invites anybody who wants to "play, have a beer and talk pinball" to his games room, which he has dubbed De Koog.
"We've had people from various parts of Europe and the U.K. — and also the occasional visitor from the States and even from New Zealand," says van Mourik, who promotes the gatherings on the Pinside website. "Amsterdam is obviously a huge draw to people around the world and our place is only a 45-minute train ride away from there."
Van Mourik agrees there has been a huge resurgence in pinball in the past five years.
"There are over 10 new manufacturers now creating new games. Also, digital games like Pinball Arcade are definitely contributing to bringing new people into the hobby," he says. "We get a lot of them on Pinside — and in our games-room: people telling us they re-discovered pinball from a game on their iPads and are now looking for the real thing."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.