Pinball Wizard

Mark Schwisow likes to say his enthusiasm for playing pinball is a story in three acts.

Act One: As a young adult in the 1970s, Mark played lots of mechanical pinball at bowling alleys and convenience stores.

Act Two: As a father, Mark introduced his children to pinball machines in the mid-80s as something they could play together.

Act Three: As a retiree, Mark remembered his enjoyment of playing pinball, so he bought a machine four years ago, and then another, and then another, and now he owns 20 machines and hosts pinball tournaments.

“The first one I bought, King of Diamonds, was special because it was one of my favorites when I was young. It came out in the mid-sixties, and the goal was to hit all the card targets,” Mark said. “The machines were mechanical then, with switches and relays. Now, they have circuit boards and digital displays.”

Pinball machines have advanced, but the goal remains the same: keep the ball “in play” for as long as possible and hit various targets to score points. According to Mark, a game can last a few minutes, but experienced players can keep the ball moving for half an hour.

“Controlling the ball is a practice in physics,” Mark said. “Pinball ownership also takes mechanical skills, because the games sometimes break or a fuse goes out, but I’ve gotten pretty good at fixing them.”

That Pinball Sound

When Mark hosts a tournament, he said it sounds like a full-blown arcade. The sounds and music are part of the appeal of playing a pinball game. New machines are still being made, and they have more robust sound systems, video screens, and even touch screens.

“For example, the Godzilla machine plays old sixties movies on its screen,” Mark said. “The theme is part of the storyline. The most popular games are about music or movies that people are familiar with, like Guardians of the Galaxy, Terminator 2, Guns N’ Roses, or Led Zeppelin.”

Mark has begun hosting tournaments in a climate-controlled garage he owns in Edmond. Other tournaments are held once or twice a month in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, which have started attracting players from other states. In the competitions, four people are paired up at a machine, and whoever scores the highest after playing several machines moves to the next round. All experience levels are welcomed.

Mark recommends that anyone interested in becoming involved with pinball tournaments visit the Oklahoma Pinball Enthusiasts Facebook page. For new players, he suggests visiting Cactus Jacks, an Oklahoma City arcade with about fifty games from a variety of eras for people to experience.
“There’s definitely a nostalgia factor involved,” Mark said. “I remember the older games, but I enjoy the new ones, too. People of all ages seem to enjoy pinball because there is such a variety.”

To learn more, search Oklahoma Pinball Enthusiasts on Facebook

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