Brian Jacobson
Going Full Tilt

Reflections on a multi-ball world

By - Mar 30th, 2012 04:00 am

It’s a bit like being a pinball, trying to navigate the thick crowds in the main Arcade Hall of the Midwest Gaming Classic. All the sprawling hallways in this Brookfield Sheraton hotel are filled with original retro arcade games and pinball machines.

One ballroom is filled with a marketplace trying to sell you on buying all those old Atari 2600 cartridges back that you sold at a garage sale so many years ago and regretted ever since. Another room is filled with old computers from TI-99/4As to Commodores to Apple IIes, loaded up and ready to play Parsec, Karateka, and Lode Runner. Still another room has championship Pokemon matches, another has a guy attempting to set a World Record playing Nibbler, and another has the Ben Heck Experience complete with Bill Paxton pinball. In the hallways, there are cocktail table pinball and video games, SMASH TV, unique sodas in glass bottles for sale, and documentaries on the subject at hand. In the main restaurant, there is an overflow audience watching a Skype conversation with Ted Dabney, one of the founders of Atari.

It’s visual agog and a cacophony of familiar sounds. There are flashing lights, dinging bells and flippers clacking. The sound of Ms. Pac-Man chasing a thumping pretzel is behind you. For the price of admission, collectors and salesmen have set up these entertainment machines to be free to play — no quarters required. Finally, a machine becomes freed up and you sidle up. You run your hands along the chrome ridges and search for the plunger. Thwack.

There are, of course, distinct differences between playing a video game and a pinball machine. Besides the fact that these objects are real and subject to real Newton’s laws of motion, most modern games involve some sort of plot or forward progression to a goal. With pinball, there is artwork and a theme. There is the goal to beat the high score or to prevent the ball from reaching the bottom. But beyond that, you enter a kind of zen state. All the world melts away and your focus hones in on this one task, on these few impulses and reactions. There is no pause button. There is no “Continue?…9…8…7…”

You would think there would be one kind of type of person at this kind of convention meets swap meet meets lovefest. But here is a row of kids playing Gyruss and Gorgon. Here is a father showing his young son how to play Cirqus Voltaire. Here is a couple, where the woman is beating the man at Street Fighter. Everyone is here, and yet everyone looks lost. Everything is a mass of memories and things to be discovered for the first time.

I took a lot of pictures. Scroll through them at your own leisure, and feel free to make comments out loud like “Oh God, I remember that one” or “Wow, that had that one there? I can’t believe I missed it.”  There’s always next year. For best viewing, visit our Flickr account and view the fullscreen slideshow mode.

0 thoughts on “Going Full Tilt: Reflections on a multi-ball world”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Except for the crowds, wish I was there!~! Brings back lots of memories from lots of years.

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