A couple weeks ago, my fellow Center for Cartoon Studies faculty member and all-around great guy Stephen Bissette handed me an article that he had cut out from Wired magazine. It had been delicately cut out of the magazine, and all 3 pages had been placed in its own manilla envelope with "FOR JON CHAD! ABOUT PINBALL!" scrawled across it. He gave it to me, knowing of my love of pinball. I just got around to reading it last week, and it was a very surreal experience.
As I opened the article to its first page, I was shocked by the headline. As I tore into it, I realized that this was the grimmest look at pinball that I had ever encountered. Here's some passages that really put a stake in my heart:
"Toll the bell, Pinball...is dead"
"Pinball machines were too heavy, bulky, and delicate...the arcade dinosaur had met its mammal"
"In retrospect, pinball was only a bridge between the machine age and the digital age. Like it or not, we have reached the farther shore."
What is all this about? I thought that we were living in an age where you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting an article from a local paper writing, "remember pinball?!" in reference to some new barcade-type outfit opening up. This is supposed to be the fat years for pinball, right? What's going on!?
In full disclosure, I only got one page into the article before I stopped, and it finally dawned on me, "wait, when was this written?" I know that that must seem like the dumbest thing in the world, but I really hadn't thought of it. So, low and behold, this was written in February 2000. Doing some quick math, that's, like, 4 months after Williams closed the doors of their pinball division. FOUR MONTHS!
Suddenly, the article took a new light. It wasn't infuriating like the first page had been, where I was thinking that Wired just had their facts grievously wrong about what I saw as a thriving pinball scene. Instead, it was sad, and frightening. THIS was the length that people were convinced that pinball was dead. WIRED MAGAZINE was willing to put it in print and run it. I feel so lucky that Alec and I got into pinball when we did, but this makes me admire those who went through the pinball dark ages! It's a testament to the strength of the community, and the enduring enthusiasm that pinball fans, operators, and designers have for the craft.
Again, going through the early 2000's wasn't part of my pinball narrative, so reading this article and seeing the articulation of the sentiments at the time was really fascinating. If you are interested in checking it out, I found it archived HERE.