I WAS NEVER much of an arcade kid. My parents were the kind who only occasionally, and very begrudgingly, doled out quarters. And a little video-game box inside the home? Forget it. The idea of being a “gamer” seemed as remote as becoming a pilot.
But a few years ago, my wife started popping into arcades (usually John John’s on Capitol Hill — R.I.P.) for the occasional pinball game. Predictably, I was terrible. But I got curious: the artistry of the playfield, the guts of the machine, some mystery character named “E.L.F.” whose initials were always on the high-score list. (Eventually, I found him. He’s a tall, soft-spoken, redheaded metal-looking dude who seems very nice.)
When I started hanging out at arcades to research this story, I was awful. I’m still awful, but I asked people for tips and got a tiny bit better. I pass them on to you.
Raymond Davidson, No. 1 ranked pinball player in the world: “Don’t flip both flippers at once; learn the rules of the game, and try to aim at the blinking lights. Also try to learn the technique ‘dead bouncing,’ which means when the ball is coming fast toward a flipper, don’t flip! Just let the ball bounce on the flipper, and it will lose speed and nicely land on the other flipper, where you can trap the ball and plan your next shot.”
Sarah Hager, league player, pinball-yoga teacher: “Breathe. There are lots of noises and flashing lights, but breathe. And slow down your play — trapping up is key. And watch people better than you. Ask them first, and don’t stand too close. But people will usually let you watch.”
Dwayne Collins, league player, bon vivant: “One: Catch the ball on your flippers as much as you can. Two: Take a breath. Three: Place your shot. Be patient, find a game you like to play and play it a lot. And have fun! Friendships are the best part.”