Kevin Perone’s early childhood memories consist of piles of quarters and playing pinball.
Now, as the co-owner of Lyman’s Tavern in Washington, D.C., he’s introducing the retro game to a new generation. His bar, which has 11 pinball tables, is just one of the many arcade-themed bars popping up across the country.
“Our customer base here is more people in their 30s and above but when the millennials come in they’re definitely drawn to the pinball machines,” Perone said. “A lot of them have never played before in their lives.”
Perone also happens to be a member of D.C.’s Pinball League, which plays at both Lyman’s Tavern and Black Cat. He said the pinball league really brings people of all age groups together.
“There’s a lot of folks we would’ve never met if we didn’t have pinball.”
According to the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA), there were more than 3,500 pinball tournaments held worldwide in 2016 alone, with cash prizes of up to $15,000.
That’s nearly 800 more tournaments than the year before.
Josh Sharpe, the president of the IFPA, said the association helped make pinball a legitimate competition again by creating the first official world ranking of pinball players for the sport.
“Prior to 2006, there was no good way to indirectly compete with players all across the world, some of which you would rarely play,” Sharpe explained in an email interview. “Our World Pinball Player Rankings created a formula that allowed players to be ranked based on their tournament performance, and this gave the opportunity for the best in the world to compare themselves against their peers.”
But pinball hasn’t always been this popular.
In the mid-40s pinball was banned in major American cities like New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, New Orleans and Los Angeles because lawmakers labeled it a form of gambling, according to the History Channel. The ban was eventually lifted, but other retro games like PAC-MAN and Space Invaders eventually made pinball obsolete once again.
Then came home gaming systems like Nintendo, which certainly didn’t do pinball any favors.
But now, retro gaming is the kind of cool nostalgia both young and old seem to want.
Need proof? How about the fact that Nintendo’s Mini NES Classic Edition sold out almost instantly.
And if that isn’t enough, now more and more arcade-themed bars are attracting crowds of all ages.
While those bars have a retro feel, the machines themselves are anything but. Many of the machines reference modern day shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Avatar.”
“There’s something about the feel of a pinball machine,” Perone added. “The mechanics of it and the switches and the call outs. It definitely lures people in. We have a lot of new players that have never played pinball in their lives and now they’re in the league and super stoked.”
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