I’m a child of the 70’s and 80’s. I grew up on arcades and video games. Last year, I even built an arcade emulator out of an old computer that basically plays every video game that I ever plunked a quarter into in my lifetime. Many of my greatest summer vacation memories center around a place called the Myrtle Beach Pavilion which, amongst other very cool features, is essentially a huge arcade that opens out to the boardwalk and the beach. They knocked it down a few years ago to build condos, but I can vividly remember the heady smell of ocean air mixed with cotton candy and snow cone juice. Man, I’d spend HOURS in that joint playing all the classics. Everything from Pac-Man to Pop-A-Shot basketball to skeeball and pinball. So, when my kids come home with an invitation to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, I don’t complain too much. I still have a soft spot in my heart for an arcade – even one that features a big cartoon rat and some questionable-at-best pizza.
With the proliferation of home video games, the “arcade” as I once knew it is mostly non-existent nowadays save for your Chuck E. Cheeses and places like Dave and Busters that marry the arcade concept with high end bar. One thing I notice especially at Chuck E. Cheese – the games are vastly different from the ones I played back in the day. Today it’s mostly about the activity of playing the game. Back when I was a quarter jockey it was all about the competition and proudly inserting your initials into the high score slot. Many of the “games” they have at CEC aren’t GAMES at all – they’re rides. That’s all well and good, I suppose – but I was thrilled when my kids took a shine to Frogger and Donkey Kong and Pac-Man on my home machine.
So, I’m in the CEC this past weekend and I’m not really all THAT interested in most of the “games” that are inthere. And then off in the corner I see one lone pinball machine – the Elvis Pinball machine. This is a WAY cool pinball that features Elvis tunes – of course – an upper-playdeck as well as a lower scoring field and a tiny little Elvis action figure that dances when you hit certain scoring combinations. So, I’m thrilled – I’ve found my goto for the afternoon. As I saddle up to this beautiful machine, it occurs to me that “pinball” as a game is a pretty antiquated activity. You just don’t see pinball machines out and about like you once did. As I’m thinking all of this and studying the flipper placement and scoring opportunities, a woman – probably in her late 20s or early 30s and of some manner of middle-eastern descent – excitedly jumps in front of me and begins to pump quarters into the Elvis game. The machine has a feature where if you don’t pull back the plunger and launch your ball into play, it does it for you automatically after about 5 seconds. So, the machine auto launches and guess what the woman did? She did nothing. She watched the ball bounce around a bit and then fall between the flippers and out of play. And then she walked away. So, I’m standing there with the look on my face like a confused dog with my head cocked to one side with one ear up and one ear down. I can’t just let it go to waste. After I realize she’s not coming back, I step in and play balls 2 and 3 on general principle – and looks are not deceiving – this is a kick-ass pinball!! About five minutes later, she comes back and does the same thing again – this time she pumps in two tokens as if she’ll get a bigger prize if she plays more tokens – again nothing. Watches it go down the tubes and walks away. And now I have 2 free games to play. I’m telling you, this woman had absolutely no cultural reference point for the game of pinball. Didn’t motion toward the flipper buttons in any way – just hovered over the cabinet and watched the pretty silver ball disappear. After performing this routine a few more times – she brings her daughter over to play. The daughter does exactly as the mother did before her. I wonder if they even knew who Elvis was? In any event, I found the whole situation to be fascinating and I’m here to publicly thank my pinball benefactors for the afternoon.
Check out video of the awesome Elvis Pinball from the good people at Stern.