Playing Pinball @ Free Gold Watch with Tony Urso

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A few months back, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I asked him what games he’d been playing recently. He replied, “Well, nothing on consoles. What I’m really into now is pinball.”

I didn’t think much of it at the time, and maybe it was just the power of suggestion, but I began noticing more and more pinball all around me – a few pics on Instagram, a couple of errant tweets, pinball in the background of a sitcom, the suggestion of pinball as deviant behavior in Anatomy of a Murder. A surprising number of pinball references were accumulating in my daily life. How? Why?

Then one day, I was sifting through the Facebooks and noticed a post from a former colleague about Free Gold Watch, a combination print shop and pinball arcade here in San Francisco. Turned out he’d been working there for a while and was part of their pinball league.

I had to know more. Here’s his story…

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“It helped me belong and, from there, find myself.”

I had a non-gamer colleague once tell me he believed only people without personalities play video games. He said they don’t know who they are, so they pretend to be other people. Their identities wink out the moment they turn off the game. While I do think games provide a tremendous opportunity to role-play, almost all the gamers I know have remarkably strong personal identities. If anything, games enrich these identities with experiences and opportunities that both mirror and surpass those offered by everyday life. Today’s storyteller shares how one game offered him not only an escape from a tough childhood, but the opportunity to find friendship and himself. – Marie


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Growing up, video games had always been around and an integral part of my identity. A lot of my hobbies spawned from gaming. Through games I came to writing, anime, skateboarding, programming. Games even shaped my interest in music.

The reason why games were so prevalent in my life? It was an escape from a rough childhood. I was the youngest of three growing up in a household with an alcoholic parent. My siblings were old enough to always go out with friends when there was trouble at home, but I was six years behind them. So, I had to endure my father’s unpredictable temper and mood swings. Then, when I was 13, my mother finally left him, and I was stuck in the middle of the divorce. My parents went back and forth vying for custody, with me overhearing and knowing it was because whoever had me collected child support from the other. Growing up in that environment combined with feeling like the only worth I had to my parents was a child support payment, I had no self-esteem to speak of and just wanted not to exist. I also still had to deal with the consequences of my father’s alcoholism. He couldn’t keep a job; we moved a lot. At 15, I dropped out of high school when he moved us away from my friends. He didn’t even care, he was so wrapped up in the bottle.

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“I’d walk into work and see people coming down with boxes in their hands…”

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Question: What’s it like working in the games industry?

The editorial side is brutal, just because of how unpredictable it can be. I witnessed too many layoffs at Ziff-Davis to ever sleep well again. I’d walk into work and see people coming down with boxes in their hands and be like “what closed now?” That’s disheartening. And then there’s the whole thing about writing about other people’s creative efforts. The game industry opened a lot of doors for me, but it’s such a machine at this point I couldn’t do it any longer if I wanted to. 

Making games is equally stressful, but more creatively satisfying. One of these days I’d just like to make my own games with a small team, that really only need to be successful enough to keep making games for a living. It’s impossible to know how successful your game will turn out, but not having to answer to anyone besides the taxman is a pretty liberating thing.


JamesAbout James Mielke

My mother calls me ‘James’ and my dad calls me ‘Jim.’ Everyone else seems to call me ‘Mielke’ which sounds like ‘Milky.’ I produce video games, and before I got into the business of making games, I wrote about other people’s games while enjoying a 10 year run at Ziff-Davis Media, running EGM and 1UP.com by the time I was done. 

Like games? Like talking about them? Share your story.

Kill Confirmed

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Listen to this gamer story (3 min, 06 seconds):


Or, read the transcript:

So, my fiancé is not much of gamer, but over the last, maybe 7 of the 14 years we’ve been together he’s really come around. He’ll play some couch co-op with me and even occasionally play some games on his own, which is pretty amazing. But, more often than not, he will just watch me play video games. He’ll sit on the couch and give me his really good advice.

So, this one time I am playing Call of Duty and he’s not split-screening it with me which is odd because that’s a game he will split-screen with me. But, anyway, he is just sitting on the couch, watching me play, giving his usual advice like: “Oh, over there!” or “Look out!”

This time, however, he goes silent for a bit. And, I can feel him looking at me, but I’m playing Kill Confirmed. Dudes are trying to kill me and I’m trying to kill them, so I’m not really looking back. I just feel him looking at me. And he’s quiet. And then he says, “I like your grey hairs.”

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“I could never get past the first goomba…”

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Before I really got hooked, I must have played around with some of the early off-brand consoles at friends’ houses. I know because I remember flashes of light and sound and fun. Maybe some space monsters. However, the first clear memory I have of video games is playing a cocktail table version of Super Mario Bros at a hamburger joint in a college town near my family’s farm in upstate New York.

We were pretty poor, so we didn’t get to go to the burger joint very often. Sometimes in the summer, though, my mom would take us on the way home from the beach. On those days, I’d rush through my food as quickly as I could and plop myself down at the game table. I could never get past the first goomba, but I played over and over again just the same. I was 8, and I was hooked.  

Well, a handful of trips after I discovered the game, my mother must have figured out how many quarters were disappearing down that black hole. She finally came to investigate. One look at that goomba killing Mario, and she forbade me from ever again “wasting my savings on this stupid trash.” In addition to being frugal, my mother also prided herself on sheltering her children from what she considered mindless entertainment, especially anything violent. Just to give you an idea: on our three-channel television, we were only allowed to watch PBS— and only for an hour a day.

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“One of the most disturbing and awesome moments of video gaming I ever had. “

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Listen to this gamer story (1 min, 25 seconds):


Or, read the transcript:

So, I was playing Fallout for a long time. And, I would play that game for like 8 hours at a time. Not even blink. And it would just keep pulling me in. And, I got so sucked into that world, in the story, that, as I was playing it… One of the things that you do in the game, right, is you have to pick locks with a hairpin or whatever. And, I’d spent a couple days where I couldn’t find any hairpins. I’d been looking around and I had to get into this door that I wanted to get into because I knew there was going to be something cool behind it. So, I took a break from playing the game, which I rarely did at that time, and I was… I thought I’d sweep up and clean up my room. So, I’m going around, I’m sweeping, and I lean down to sweep something up and I see a hairpin. And I go: “Fuck yes!” And I reach down to grab it and then I realized that this was real life – that this hairpin was something that was on the ground. But, I was so caught up in that game that I thought that I had found something that would help me in the game. And that was when I realized how immersed in that world that I was, where the two had blended together. And it was one of the most disturbing and awesome moments of video gaming I ever had.


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Keith Michael Hostert is an Associate Creative Director working in “advertising.” He has been playing “blippers” since the Atari days and has yet to beat RYGAR or MIKE TYSON’S PUNCH OUT. Please don’t judge him.

 

 

Cautionary Tale: E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial

Storyteller Matt Holohan shares a cautionary tale of video games adapted from films…


 

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Holohan prior to the purchase of E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial.

 

My first video game console was the Atari 2600, which I bought used from a friend when he got an NES for his birthday. The importance of the Atari 2600 in the history of gaming cannot be overstated. It was the hardware equivalent of Super Mario Bros.

But this isn’t a story about how great the 2600 was. This is a story about the worst video game ever made, for any console. A game that I bought at the tender age of ten, with a dragon’s hoard of saved allowance and lunch money. This is a story about E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

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To say that E.T. is a bad video game is an affront to the word “bad.” And the word “game” for that matter. The fact is that E.T. is barely a game at all. There are enemies (which can be disabled by difficulty settings), but all you can do is run away from them. There is, nominally, a plot, but the only way to play the game is by randomly falling into pits. It’s like Minesweeper without the mines. There is no combat. There is no strategy. There is no beginning and no end. There is only a middle. An endless middle.

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A pit.

 

At the time I was naive enough to be enthralled with the game, at least for a time. I was young enough to think that playing video games AT MY HOUSE was an amazing privilege, regardless of the quality of the game. And, of course, like all children of the 80s, I thought E.T. was great. I played the game for hours, convincing myself that I was having fun, that if I varied the mundane gameplay thusly and suchly I could make it interesting.

But eventually even I realized what a dud the game was. And when I had other, more fun (meaning more-than-zero fun, or even exactly-zero fun, as opposed to the negative fun of E.T.) games to play like Missile Command, Space Invaders, and the graphically atrocious yet serviceable ports of Kung Fu and Jungle Hunt, my copy of E.T. eventually found its place under a permanent layer of dust on my shelf, much as Atari’s legendary extra copies of the game became buried in landfills.

The lessons of E.T. were stark and enduring:

1. There are good video games and bad video games. This may seem elementary but it’s not necessarily obvious to a child, or at least it wasn’t in the salad days of gaming before kids started playing video games before potty training (as my kids have).

2. A video game adapted from a popular entertainment property is not necessarily good and, in fact, many game designers of the 80s and 90s were notorious for cutting corners on adaptations because the underlying property was a sales booster regardless of the quality of the game.

3. Spend your allowance wisely.


Matt Holohan is an attorney living in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in intellectual property and is a fan of retro gaming.

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