The pinball machine in the corner of the bar suddenly began to play a tune and lights flashed in its backglass. Turning slightly on my barstool, I looked at the machine and mused, “That’s pretty cool. No one has been playing with it for a while, so it plays music like the pied-piper to attract customers.” The come-hither tactic worked, I sipped some beer from my glass and slid from my stool at the bar. My scant experience with pinball machines meant a low score, but I decided to try my hand anyway.
My first pull on the spring-loaded ball launcher was so weak that I thought my ball wasn’t going to make it to the playing field. But then it touched a mushroom bumper and sprung to life to bounce rapidly between all the bumpers. The machine’s backglass showed the number score rising quickly. Each point was celebrated with flashing lights and a noisy, “boing, boing, boing!”
As suddenly as the scoring spree started, it ended. The ball slowly began to roll down toward the apron. The only defense I had to prevent losing the ball were the two flippers guarding the drain. Timing was important, but even knowing this, I didn’t wait to properly bat the ball back into play. In my excitement I vigorously and indiscriminately pressed the buttons to make the flippers wildly flap. The entire game table bounced under my hands. Someone watching laughed and said, “Be careful. You’re going to make it go ‘tilt’.” That gave me pause. When a pinball machine goes ‘tilt’, it shuts down. Despite my efforts, the ball slipped between the ineffectual paddles and disappeared.
The second ball managed to stay in play much longer. I even saved it from going down the drain a couple times by delivering well-timed blows with the flippers. When hitting the bumpers, the ball displayed a fascinating amount of energy. It seemed to have a mind of its own, so the resulting score didn’t really feel like mine. A player is just a witness, and my only influence on the game rested entirely on stopping the ball from going down the drain.