"I like being around pinball because it feels safer for women"
April 11, 2015 8:32 PM   Subscribe

Tilting In Our Favor: Pinball May Be The Most Inclusive Gaming Space For Women
Sustainable, supportive relationships are crucial to me as an intersectional feminist, and there's only so far picking up the check at a fancy restaurant can take you. So I left behind a decade of working in tech to keep kids off the glass at the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, California.
I like being around pinball because it feels safer for women, or at least like it will be safe sometime soon. The things I've seen, man. At Magic the Gathering tournaments. At Halo tourneys. Compared to a grown man in a GameStop T-shirt holding a chair over a child, screaming “I will hit this fucking kid who is not mine with this chair if we do not restart this match; this map is only meant for 6 players, we need an 8-player map,” the odd old man discreetly asking me if we maybe have the Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons pinball machine in some unmentioned annex is several degrees more doable. It's a patriarchy I know I can take. (Like, in a fight.)
posted by Lexica (18 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
PS everybody go to this museum if you can - this place is AWESOME.
posted by JoeBlubaugh at 9:31 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I had my Bachelor party there.
posted by boilermonster at 9:37 PM on April 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

I can confirm that it is indeed awesome.
posted by StrangeTikiGod at 11:04 PM on April 11, 2015

Oh, man. That place looks fantastic. I hate that there's no place to find a decent table near me. There used to be an arcade that had a row of a dozen or so tables over in North DeKalb Mall, but it closed years ago. Dave and Busters is useless. There's an arcade/bar intown, but there's no place to park and they only have one funky table.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:48 PM on April 11, 2015

ob1quixote - it gives me great pleasure to see that the IPDB is running on perl as it just seems... appropriate.

When i was in Lincoln City, OR, i stopped by this place. They had about 12 cabinets so i spent quite a bit of time and shrapnel there. They have some pictures on their facebook page.
posted by lawrencium at 12:49 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wow, this place looks awesome. And i say that as someone completely spoiled by add-a-ball(which is basically the coolest place ever), full tilt, and the seattle pinball museum(which is kind of a bizarre little hidden spot).

I can also speak to something, unexpectedly, about these types of places just repelling the fedora clad, holding chair over kid misogynistic nerds. The crowd is almost entirely low-key middle aged dudes and surprisingly mixed gender groups of somewhat nerdy but more hipstery 20somethings. It's basically everyone who doesn't go to PAX, and the people who staff the booths at shows like that.

With pretty much no exception, the nerdy women i know love those places. It's finally a place for nerds that isn't for that one specific type of awful male nerd first and foremost. Several of my friends work at a local video game shop, and have to deal with those kinds of guys every day. It's also their favorite bar because those guys don't go there.

I constantly wish there were spaces to go play TCGs or fighting games/FPS/etc that weren't full of those guys though. I mean, i freaking love playing pinball, but i also love that other stuff. And that guy, in droves, shows up at every in store special event for certain jRPGs or whatever.

The stories my lady friends have from working in that store, both just during normal business hours and also during tournaments, special events, at conventions, etc are really fucked up and sad. And yea, people like that get thrown out and banned a decent amount of the time... but the factory that creates them seems to be running in 24/7 shifts.

Pretty much, it's nice that there are spaces nearly free of that guy which seem to be fortifying against him even... but i think it's equally worth figuring out how the fuck we get rid of him where he's an entrenched presence, where there's always chair guy pretty much.
posted by emptythought at 3:41 AM on April 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

I sometimes wonder if he's there because too many of us (other male nerds), having been excluded at one time or another, often systemically, are too reluctant to turn around and tell him he needs to leave. That we are not clear to him (perhaps not clear to ourselves sometimes) that him being a misogynist dick, an aggressive dick, a racist dick, is not a nerdy quirk like my somewhat overeager pedantry about Lord of the Rings or your ability to calculate THAC0 for any class/level/STR combination in the 2E PHB, it's just him being a dick, and that he can either stop being a dick (and not just this one time, for good) or he can go fuck himself.
posted by howfar at 8:02 AM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

"The Internet is dangerous for women because there is, in theory, infinite space and no concept of distance. Even in the smallest, most overlooked places on the web, you are only seconds away from being swarmed by dozens of users sending you your own nude photos and suggesting you kill yourself.
There's no Internet connection on these machines. No usernames, no comment sections. You are confined to a single point in spacetime—statistically, waiting in line for a turn to play. If cisgender, heterosexual white men had to wait in line and take turns to say shit to Anita Sarkeesian, men's rights activism would fill up one page of a history textbook under the heading "Well We Tried This Thing For About A Day."


I like pinball and would like to get to see this place someday, but...this made me sigh a lot.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:18 AM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I sometimes wonder if he's there because too many of us (other male nerds), having been excluded at one time or another, often systemically, are too reluctant to turn around and tell him he needs to leave.

There's a reason "Ostracizers Are Evil" is Geek Social Fallacy #1: "Many geeks have had horrible, humiliating, and formative experiences with ostracism, and the notion of being on the other side of the transaction is repugnant to them."
posted by asterix at 9:44 AM on April 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

Gah intersection of my entire weekend.

On Friday night we did a big birthday thing for my friend John. His invitation to his party was basically, "I'll be over at Jackbar, because there's pinball there. If anyone wants to join me, I'm sure I'l be happy to see you." So instead we (meaning mostly other people, but me too) put together one of those "overwhelm you with the surprising outpouring of love" nights. John loves loves loves pinball, is an absolute evangelist of pinball. If he is arranging an event, it will be based around pinball. Among the many highly specific gifts, somebody got him a framed copy of the patent for the first Pinball Machine. He almost couldn't handle it.

Then, yesterday (on what we didn't know was International Tabletop Day) my friend asked me to fill in for someone who had to bail last minute on the MtG draft he was doing at his home. I've basically given up on Magic after a brief flirtation with it - Netrunner is infinitely superior for me - but I was happy to fill in and give my friend the cards I drafted and play some Netrunner on the sidelines. Anyway...

6-7 dudes around the apartment at any given time, and no ladyfolk, and it was awesomely shocking how often the subject came up of how MtG head designer Mark Rosewater is making efforts to make the game more welcoming and inclusive to women. This was a group of guys with girlfriends or wives, some of whom are into gaming and some of whom aren't, so it wasn't about "oh, bring on the wimmens!" but just enthusiasm that things were getting better. The art getting notably less exploitative, the language becoming more neutral, the events making a point to attract both sexes.

It's easy to see so much goobergrape bullshit and get discouraged, but then I see something like yesterday and realize that GG only exists because it's a violent and nasty reaction to a real positive social force. And then I feel a little bit better.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:50 AM on April 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

And today I discovered there's a pinball cabinet within easy walking distance of my house thanks to Pinballmap.com and I suspect I'll be visiting Albuquerque Indoor Kart very soon.
posted by endotoxin at 12:03 PM on April 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Endotoxin! Pinballmap.com and their app is going to change my life!
posted by sleeping bear at 12:12 PM on April 12, 2015

I've been to the Pacific Pinball Museum and it's pinball heaven! I think we only lasted about 3 hours though, before our brains got rattled by all the sounds.

There's no Internet connection on these machines. No usernames, no comment sections. You are confined to a single point in spacetime—statistically, waiting in line for a turn to play. If cisgender, heterosexual white men had to wait in line and take turns to say shit to Anita Sarkeesian, men's rights activism would fill up one page of a history textbook under the heading "Well We Tried This Thing For About A Day."

It's more than this, I think. In the 70s and 80s arcades were social spaces, especially if you were too young to go to a bar or club. You didn't even have to play; you could just hang out. But the rise of PC gaming didn't just mean the loss of the social space, it became an increasingly technical endeavor.

In a time when many families didn't even have a home computer, a gamer may have even built their computer themselves to play the game. That's an entirely different dynamic than plopping a few quarters in a machine. So where arcades were places open to anyone with some spare change, PC-gaming became the domain of a very narrow demographic. And where arcades were spaces where you had to interact with people, even in a minimal way, PC-gaming became an isolated -- if not solitary -- environment.

There may not have been an anonymous internet back then, but neither were boys using the technology of the day to harass the girls at the arcade. If this was a gaming problem then boys would have been making anonymous phone calls and sending anonymous letters. (Two things you can't do anonymously anymore!)

Case in point: in the 70s I went to a day camp that had a clubhouse with a couple of pinball machines. I probably started hanging out there because I had a crush on a boy, but it's where I got my first real taste of pinball. I was awful, of course, hunching over the machine, frantically swatting at the balls with -- gasp! -- both flippers at once. But instead of being teased or bullied or harassed, a few regulars took me under their wing and showed me how to play. I'm not sure that would happen today with video games.

So I think that one reason pinball is safer is because the older crowd who remember the arcades and think of it as a social game are welcoming to anyone who is interested in learning about the game; there is no culture of "fake pinball girls." But I also think that the basic human interaction required keeps away a lot of the people who either can't or won't socialize casually over a game.

I didn't mean to ramble on, but I just love pinball so much and it infuriates me that young girls today are being driven out of the space that meant so much to me growing up, and the ones who stay are being terrorized. If I win the lottery I'm going to start an after-school pinball club for girls.

My claim to fame is getting the high score at Emo's in Houston.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:17 PM on April 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

I love that there's a bit of pinball revival happening again. Thumperdome in Pasadena is fucking awesome — a friend (and MeFite) had her birthday party there and it was so much fun.

Back in college, one of our art history profs arranged for an exhibit of one of the traveling pinball museums in our student gallery, along with a couple lectures. The best part was that I had a free hour before a class in that building and they set all the games to free play. I got really good at the Twilight Zone game and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and learned how to stick the ball on a passive bumper in Slick Chicks and take it over the top.

So glad to hear that women are finding pinball spaces less misogynistic than other gaming spots, though, you know, I kinda hope we can work to make all the gaming spots less misogynistic.
posted by klangklangston at 2:42 PM on April 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure where the passage in Foucault Pendulum where the narrator sexualizes a woman playing pinball fits in. Pinball is awesome though, and it needs to be played in person. Videogame pinball doesn't match unless it's Devil's Crush. Sydney artist Lucas Abela has also been doing some interesting stuff with physical tables, like Balls for Cthulhu.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:02 PM on April 12, 2015

If you want to play some pinball and are in the Phoenix AZ area on April 18-19, be sure to visit Zapcon. More than 100 different tables, plus an equal amount of old arcade cabs.
posted by rifflesby at 7:02 PM on April 12, 2015

I love this article. I am an evangelist of pinball as well and the ability to unplug from the internet nastiness is certainly a bonus.
The pinball world is mired in it's own prejudices and lack of diversity, and despite that it still seems like a joyous space because those people are easy to avoid, and you spend the time alone with the machine or often with close friends.
(mental note: don't ever bring up issues of diversity or representation on pinside)
posted by Theta States at 7:15 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Piffle. Everyone knows that the safest gaming space for women is Cards Against Humanity.
posted by clarknova at 12:39 PM on April 20, 2015

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