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photo by Emilly Prado

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How I Became a Pinball Queen

A guide to taking up space at the arcade.

Nothing motivates me more in life than proving people wrong—especially those who expect less of me. So when a fellow femme suggested adding the badge of pinball expert to our 2016 resolutions, I was totally game. The world of pinball evokes visions of sweaty teenage boys in 1980s arcades, and the modern-day reality of this isn’t too far off. Gamer culture is still largely thought of as a sphere for boys and men, and tons of old machines like Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons are overtly sexist, using imagery of women with Barbie-like physiques who wear denim cutoffs and bikinis while farming. Being a woman who doesn’t fit into the stereotype of what’s expected of me is empowering, and playing pinball itself is an act of challenging the regressive aspects of gamer culture.

To begin our pinball journey, we expanded our Sunday brunch plans to include seemingly endless rounds of pinball at C Bar, a low-key neighborhood establishment on Southeast Gladstone Street. This full bar and eatery houses a rotating selection of about a dozen pinball machines. It was the perfect place to try out different machines and find our faves. After understanding the pinball basics of plunge ball, flip around, and get points, I soon learned that every game is unique and has its own set of rules. My first love was Banzai Run because it’s an old-school game with an excellent soundtrack and there’s an upper level you can get to which allows you to play vertically! I’m a person who really digs playing games of all kinds—from soccer to Settlers of Catan to regular sessions of laser tag with friends as an adult. Pinball was another methodical way for me to wind down from a stressful week. Plus, it’s fun to play solo or with friends (pro tip: tap the start button up to four times to add more players!).

Pinball seems like fun and games, but understanding strategy is essential and online tutorials are an excellent resource if you’re serious about learning how to score big on any given machine.

While some folks spend their time on YouTube studying makeup tutorials and laughing at comedy clips, I humbly opt for the plethora of pinball lessons. The videos helped me to figure out how to actually play the games I find aesthetically pleasing and, as was the case with Medieval Madness, taught me how to perfect my game. Pinball seems like fun and games, but understanding strategy is essential and online tutorials are an excellent resource if you’re serious about learning how to score big on any given machine.

As with anything, practice makes perfect and pinball is no different. Since most games will run you 50 cents a pop (pro tip: you can usually feed the machine two bucks at once and it’ll give you five plays instead of four), this habit can quickly get expensive. Luckily, the folks at downtown Portland’s barcade, Ground Kontrol, host free play nights twice a month! This means you pay $5 and play as much as your heart desires, all night long. And if you decide to earnestly take on the challenge of becoming a pinball queen as well, you can have the comfort and support of a home base with Belles & Chimes, a women-only pinball league that started in Oakland, California, and has expanded to several cities including Portland, Austin, and New York. Similar outfits have sprung up across the US, so if you’re looking for camaraderie with players of all levels, be sure to check out your local options or start your own!

My friend and I have started to challenge dudes when they’re hogging a machine. The satisfaction that comes from blowing people away with the swiftness of my flipper skills still hasn’t gotten old.

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