Having a ball

Once thought to be game over, pinball is finding a growing legion of fans


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It’s a great time to be — or become — a Winnipeg pinball wizard.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/03/2019 (1542 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s a great time to be — or become — a Winnipeg pinball wizard.

The seemingly retro pastime of playing the silver ball is picking up in popularity, as more people are coming to realize the simple pleasures of flashing lights, dinging bells, and ascending scores.

There’s no spot in the city that better showcases pinball’s resurgence than the pop-up arcade at The Forks Market.

PHOTOS BY PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS David Morris (right) and Mark Jaslowski get a kick out of watching people of all ages enjoy themselves at their pinball popup, Flipping Out at The Forks.

During a recent Saturday afternoon, the space, aptly named Flipping Out at The Forks, was indeed causing folk to flip.

The mechanical Sirens — with their lustrous lights and strangely seductive sound effects — coaxed passersby to amble inside and part with their pocket change at one of 14 machines such as Operation Thunder, Star Trek, and Sure Shot.

Dave Morris, the brains behind Flipping Out, says it’s been rewarding to see people of all ages either rekindling — or discovering for the first time — a love for the game.

“I keep getting comments like ‘How long is this here for?’ and ‘Why is this not permanent?’ and ‘Oh, thank you so much for doing this,” Morris says.

“There’s still people who haven’t heard of it and do a double-take when they walk by.”

Morris, in partnership with Phantom Amusement owner Mark Jaslowski, facilitated a similar pop-up at Forth cafe last year.

Morris says he was around people playing pinball a lot growing up. He enjoyed the game, but didn’t play extensively.

However, in 2010, when he was attempting to restore an old arcade game he received as a housewarming gift, he came across a fellow who owned a lot of pinball machines. The fond associations Morris had with pinball flooded back and his love for the game began to grow.

Morris bought his first game, a 1972 Bally Time Zone, that same year. He began attending pinball shows, including Chicago’s Pinball Expo — which has been active since 1985 and holds a Guinness World Record for being the world’s longest-running pinball event — and Vancouver’s FlipOut Pinball Expo.

It was through attending expos and meeting new people that the thought of starting a local pinball league hit him.

“A lot of communities had pinball leagues and pinball events going on,” Morris says. “Not just in the U.S., but other Canadian cities, and Winnipeg didn’t.”

“So I figured if nobody else was going to do it, I was going to do it.”

Morris established the Manitoba Pinball League in 2017 with a group of like-minded enthusiasts. In the two years since it’s inception, it has grown to more than 60 players.

Dexter Lee, (left) and Nolan Swanson-Bilyk each control a flipper.

The league plays once a month for 10 months, usually at a location that already has machines, such as the Good Will Social Club or Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club.

Players are placed in groups of four, play a total of eight rounds, and are awarded points at the end of each. The top sixteen in the standings make the playoffs, with the top three receiving plaques and bragging rights.

The league also holds one or two tournament nights a month in addition to league play. These are often “knockout” style where players with the lowest scores in any given round receive a strike toward elimination.

Events are usually casual and light-hearted, although Morris admits that toward the end of some tournaments and in the playoffs, competition can get a little more intense.

“A guy might give the machine a little kick or something” if they miss their shot, Morris laughs.

Everyone is welcome to participate in any league night or tournament. The only requirement is a fistful of change to feed the machines.

“There’s no membership fees. You don’t sign up and then have to come,” Morris says. “You can just show up to any event; you don’t necessarily have to come back to the next one, but we hope you do!”

The league recently held a tournament at Flipping Out, which was supposed to be at The Forks only until the end of March. However, the space has proven so popular that the lease is being extended.

“We’ve had nothing but a strong response,” Morris says. “It’s been really kind of overwhelming.”

“Visitors seem to really like the space,” Chelsea Thomson, The Forks’ manager of marketing and communications, wrote in an email. “We’ve seen all ages try it out, and make it part of their visit.”

Thomson noted they are “open to the possibility” of having another pinball pop-up — or even a permanent arcade — in the future.

Morris is encouraged by the number of young people coming to Flipping Out and playing in the league.

“We’re branching out to new generations, and that’s what it’s all about,” he says. “Seeing them having a blast coming out and playing, that’s what makes me want to keep doing it.

Cliff Lee (right) and Nolan Swanson-Bilyk enjoy a game of pinball at Flipping Out at The Forks.

“It’s not just 40-, 50-, 60-year-olds playing… We have a number of people in their twenties joining the league now, loving pinball.”

Morris says pinball has things going for it that video games — even those with deep storylines, hyper-realistic graphics, and VR capability — simply don’t.

“The big thing I think is the community aspect of it,” Morris says. “People are really starting to get tired of sitting at home, playing games on the TV.”

“(Pinball) is something that can’t be replicated on a computer or a headset or your phone… Pinball (machines) are made with real mechanical parts and you become attached to the game once you learn the rules and start playing the game and seeing how the ball bounces.”

Chris Fulton and his young son Max visited Flipping Out and burned through a Tupperware container full of loonies and quarters. It was Max’s first time playing pinball.

“I used to play quite a bit when I was a kid,” Chris says after wrapping up a game of Operation: Thunder. “Out in Grand Beach, Grand Marais, they used to have an arcade there, so when I saw all these games it made me want to come here.

“I just wanted to teach (Max) how it used to be,” he says. “You don’t always have to play on TV, on Xbox and all that. Show him the old roots, the old school games.”

Morris says he would like to start a youth league in the future so more kids like Max are introduced to pinball. He also has a simple tip for young or new players.

“Usually a light that’s flashing is something you’re supposed to be shooting at,” he says, noting hitting those flashing lights is key to advancing in the game.

“There’s a story to it,” Morris says. “There’s definitely progression. It’s not just whacking the flippers and hitting the ball. When you start making that progression… that’s what gets you hooked. That’s when you see how great the game is.”


Updated on Sunday, March 10, 2019 12:14 PM CDT: changes byline

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