Thursday, March 3, 2011

Article 2

Photo credit: Joe Pape (
Pinball Wizards
By Candice Black
The days of coin-operated arcade games seem to have been long forgotten about, but one group in Atlanta hopes to revive the lost art of pinball.
“I hated pinball when I was kid,” said John Latimer of Dawsonville. “I couldn’t stand the bells and chimes. But when the early ‘80s brought BlackOut, Firepower, and Eight Ball Deluxe, and  they talked, I was hooked.”
            Latimer, a customer care representative, cofounded the Georgia Pinball Appreciation Society, along with Akzo Nobel Coatings senior technical representative Joe Pape.
GAPAS began as a trading and selling website for machines, with listings for pinball parties and auctions.  Today it also serves as a message board for “pinheads”, as they’ve coined themselves, to talk about anything pinball-related.
“GAPAS was started with John having access to web host through UGA,” said Pape, “and I had a list of about 30 pinball collectors’ email addresses in the Atlanta area. John designed the site and I contacted everyone with the link. I put up on GAPAS the first invite to my first pinball party.”  
            Latimer estimates that GAPAS currently has around 100 members.
             But with all the advancements in modern gaming, why pinball?
For some “pinheads”, pinball holds an element of nostalgia. David Spake, an IT contract recruiter in Atlanta and owner of seven machines, remembers his first pinball machine, a Captain Fantastic that was waiting for him on Christmas morning when he was young.
            “Bands on tour would come through and stop by the house to play pinball,” he recalls. “I remember my sister and her friends having sleepovers, and they would have a pinball competition. She would play [the machine] with her feet, and still beat them.”
            Spake learned of GAPAS in 2002 through an advertisement for a pinball and video game auction. It was here where he learned of a group for collectors. Since then, Spake has hosted annual parties for his fellow pinheads.
            With 54 years of pinball experience, retired Air Force officer Carl Lizza still fondly remembers the first time he played pinball with his grandfather. Lizza was just 4-years-old when he joined his grandfather at a local “beer joint” to earn money by playing pinball.
            “In those days, the bar paid off when you won,” said Lizza. “After a while the bartender told my grandpa I could come in the bar, but 'no more pinball for him'. I won him too much money!”
            Lizza, whose family was in the vending and gaming business, received his first pinball machine, an Olde King Cole (one of the first pinball machines to have flippers) in 1957 for his 5th birthday. He now owns six machines, three of which are vintage.
            “Having the game room takes me back to days spent as a kid on military bases in Europe,” said George Hay, a GAPAS member and owner of 10 machines. “I’d play some 45s [vinyl records] and some pinball. Maybe that’s what I really get out of it.” 
            For others, the hobby is an addiction.
            Jeff Stoutamyer of Atlanta has turned the basement of his home into “Jeff’s Pinball Palace”, which even has its own website. The “palace” currently holds 32 pinball machines and is the site of Stoutamyer’s annual pinball parties.
Stoutamyer’s pinball obsession began innocently. “I lived in a house with an unfinished basement for 10 years,” he said. “I thought I’d put in a pool table. After it was completed and furnished, I decided the room was a little sparse and that it could use something, maybe a pinball machine.”
Stoutamyer purchased his top choice machine, Theatre of Magic, and describes himself as “mesmerized” by it.
With room for more, he purchased his second machine, an Addams family, and realized he spent more time with the pinball machines than the pool table he originally wanted.
“I dreamed of how many machines I could fit if I got rid of the pool table,” he said, “so I did. Many people self describe the pinball collecting process as an addiction. For me, this was quickly becoming the case, too.”
            “Gaming doesn’t interest me much,” said Stoutamyer. “I feel that is mostly a matter of luck, and the odds are against winning in the long haul. Pinball is therapeutic for me. The reward from having a good game after four or five bad ones is a kick.”
Latimer also disregards video games for their lack of entertainment value.
“Pinball is chaos,” he said. “While you can memorize shots, every game will be different, unlike [video games].
“The best thing is when kids gather around to watch me play. I always leave a couple of games for them to play and tell their parents to keep pinball alive.”
            There also seems to be a creative aspect to this hobby, from customizing machines to caring for broken-down ones and giving them new life.
            “Some people like beat-up old cars,” explained Spake. “They want to get it running and make it perfect. When you’re poor,” he laughed, “you can afford the broken machine and make it work.”
            “I like fixing things,” Pape agreed. “I enjoy the satisfaction of taking something apart, replacing broken stuff, putting it back together, and watching it come to life. Video games never break. I have two left from once a collection of maybe six or more, and they don’t have parts that readily break, which is no fun for me.”
            Others enjoy modifying their machines to their own personal tastes.
            Stoutamyer modifies his pins “to the max.” Such modifications include adding spotlights, toys, illuminated backboards, mirror-polished balls, gun handles to control flippers, sound and hardware upgrades, and replacing the glass with a no-glare glass.
            The world of pinball is also an opportunity for new friendships.
            At first, Stoutamyer was hesitant to take his GAPAS connections offline. “It felt scary at first to consider driving to a party hosted by strangers,” he said. “But they were fun and everyone was nice to me, a total stranger. Having broken the ice, I continued this pattern and started making some good friends.”
            For Spake, it was this social interaction that sparked his interest in GAPAS. “I joined for the comradery and meeting people with like interests. I have friendships with a group of people I wouldn’t have met in my daily life.”
            So what makes a pinball machine enjoyable?
            Spake expresses an interest in the Monster Bash machine. “It has multiple rim shots, and it said clever things,” he said enthusiastically. “The game itself has a campy feel to it. It takes primary movie monsters and puts them in a rock band. The animations are very funny.”
             Latimer was drawn to pinball machines of all kinds. “I’ll play any pin at least once. Just seeing one will make me put money in and play.”
            Entertainment value is at the top of Lizza’s list of qualities. “It has to be interesting and fun to play,” he stressed. “Then comes challenge, complexity, and theme.”
            “What I look for are a deep rule set,” said Stoutamyer, “and most importantly it has to be fun. If it doesn't get me excited, why buy it? My suggestion is to be sure and give a certain machine anchor shake before making up your mind.”
            He claimed the “untamed” Simpsons Pinball Party as his favorite. “It has a very complex set of rules and can never be tamed. And very funny sound bites.”
            Hay owns a 1967 Bally Wiggler, a machine he played as a child. “It’s a little beat and it doesn’t look that great, but it has a zipper flipper and three-ball multi-ball in a four-player game.  Ya gotta love it.”

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