Controversy Back to the Future: PINBALL BANNED ACROSS AMERICA - Destructoid


Controversy Back to the Future: PINBALL BANNED ACROSS AMERICA

11:44 AM on 07.28.2007
Controversy Back to the Future: PINBALL BANNED ACROSS AMERICA photo

In my 2nd volume of Controversy: Back to the Future I'm going to talk about the first electronic game to ever get America's collective panties in a wad: Pinball. As innocuous and peaceful as Pinball seems now (hell, we can even play it in the airport during Orange Alerts), there was a time when a host of major American cities, including New York, outlawed the old ball and flappers.

In order to give some context for the nation's shit storm over a seemingly harmless game, let's take a quick dip into the chewing tobacco pouch of history. Turn your clocks all the way back to the year 1863, when one of our country's most revered presidents, Abraham Lincoln, played his first game of Pinball.

FYI: "the old ball and flappers" is also an exotic sex move
they charge top dollar for over on 53rd and 3rd. Don't make
the same mistake I did.

Hold on a minute! Are you saying that honest Abe, the man who freed the slaves and prevented the country from splitting apart - this thoughtful, decent human being played the equivalent of video games? Did they even have pinball back then?

Yes, and . . . yes. What we now know as pinball has its roots in an offshoot of billiards called Bagatelle or "Hit a Pin". Players would use a cue to knock balls up an inclined table, trying to land them into a series of installed cups. Eventually, a plunger replaced the cue, and the game made gradual advances before transforming into the version we play now.

Some of the earlier models of pinball included Baffle Ball from Gottleib,

as well as Ballyhoo from Bally,

the first electric pinball machine, Contact,

and, finally, Humpty Dumpty, in which flipper bumpers were introduced:

Once pinball settled into its close-to-final form, the huge success of the machines gave competitors motivation to enter the arena. In the 1930s, slot-machine companies started distributing pinball machines that would actually pay-out money based on your score. (I believe the fine journalists at GAMEPRO and IGN know a little bit about this mechanism).

Of course, having a device that you put money in, on a calculated risk that you would earn more back, meant that pinball quickly became associated with gambling in the public mind. When states across America started shaking their crime sticks at gambling, all forms of pinball got banned as well. Because, unlike now, politicians back then didn't know anything about how to regulate interactive electronic entertainment. Sigh.

Things escalated to their most histrionic and surreal when the mayor of New York City, Fiorello LaGuardia, publicly destroyed several pinball machines with a sledgehammer during a press conference in 1942. Part of me doesn't even care that it's fucked up; that shit is hilarious.

When LaGuardia had finished smashing up part of our cultural legacy, he threw the pieces into the ocean as his finishing move. I hate to trot out a bedraggled comparison to our Manhunt problems, but at least things haven't gotten this crazy yet.

Apparently, after bans went into effect in many states across the country, pinball machines went through a great round-up and were turned into scrap metal to help with the war effort against Nazi Germany. The ban against pinball lasted nearly 35 years in New York, before finally being lifted in 1976.

So the next time you see that lonely pinball machine sitting in the corner of your local $2.00 movie theater, give her a whirl. Think back to her revolutionary underground days when she played muse to presidents, her punk rock rebellious phase when she died her hair purple and told the New York mayor to piss off, and her glorious patriotic swan song when she defended the world against fascism in the great war. The kids might think it's quaint that you're not hitting up Initial D: Fourth Stage, but if they only knew . . . if they only knew.

If you liked this installment of Controversy Back to the Future, check out my earlier one on Maniac Mansion, and stay tuned for future posts.

And as a special shout-out to Riser Glen, here's your moment of actual Back to the Future controversy:


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