THE POWER OF PINBALL

The Star Trek in the Young Oncology Unit

It’s far from a new phenomenon, but pinball has shown how it can really play a significant role in aiding the recovery and treatment of hospital patients, and in particular youngsters.

Just recently, UK pinball owner Erdinch Degirmenciogl of the Pinball Mill was able to supply a Star Trek pinball to the Young Oncology Unit at Christie Hospital in Manchester.

The Star Trek at The Christie Hospital
The Star Trek at The Christie Hospital

The Unit is run by the Teenage Cancer Trust, the chosen charity of Northern Lights Pinball who supply and run the pinball element at the Play Expo show in Manchester each year.  They have worked with the Teenage Cancer Trust in previous promotions, and at the last Play Expo show the charity asked about getting a pinball into their dedicated hospital unit.

The Young Oncology Unit
The Young Oncology Unit

Lorraine Wright, the Teenage Cancer Trust Youth Support Coordinator at the Christie Ward, told Pinball News how they were looking for something to engage the young male patients and give then something new to occupy their mind during their hospital stay.

She said, “We recognised that something with a competitive edge generally gets their interest and David (another member of my team) suggested a pinball machine. The machine is fabulous.  It is already getting lots of use and everyone seems to love it!  It’s another opportunity for young people to get involved in something when they are here having their treatment – this is invaluable as it stops boredom and low mood and ultimately aids young people through their treatment.

The Star Trek in the Young Oncology Unit
The Star Trek in the Young Oncology Unit

This is probably the first such case of pinball helping with the treatment and recovery for youngsters in the UK, but it’s a well-known aid in the US where charities such as the Pinball Outreach Project and Project Pinball as well as several individuals and pinball suppliers work closely with hospitals and support groups to leverage pinball as a therapeutic and recuperative aid.

Nicole Anne Reik-Dunlap is the founder and Executive Director of the Pinball Outreach Project and is a volunteer at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon.  She told Pinball News how she introduced pinball into the lives of patients at the Hospital and the effect it had on them.

She said, “We had two games at the hospital for almost a year and I came up with an idea for a program called Friday Night Lights. On Friday nights I would go around to the rooms inviting patients and their families to play pinball with me. A lot of the parents were excited for an opportunity to have someone engage with their child as most of them have been staying in the hospital for long periods of time.  There’s also a great physical component that allows patients to get up and out of their beds for a while. It’s a motivator for them.

Playing pinball with their children has brought further benefits beyond the purely therapeutic ones.  Nicole explained how she has seen “…parent’s having the opportunity to bond with their kids over something from their generation, something they can’t do with the video game consoles that you see at every hospital game room.

The remedial effects are easily seen as Jessica Thompson, Child Life Specialist at Randall confirmed.  She said, “Pinball provides a great opportunity for our patients and siblings, especially our older kids and teens, to engage in developmentally appropriate play, get out of their rooms and interact with peers, and forget about being ‘sick’ for a small amount of time.

Lori Mathios from Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California, is another beneficiary of the Pinball Outreach Project’s work.  She also expressed how pinball helps both the children and their parents at such a difficult time.  “The pinball machines provided a much needed diversionary for our patients and their siblings, and allowed the parents to relive their own childhoods”, she said.

So if you have a pinball you could spare and maintain, you too could change the lives of countless children at a local hospital or therapy centre.  Pinball is all about having fun, and who needs fun more than children going through such an incredibly tough time?

After all, as Amber Chavez from the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange, California explained, “Patients are able to take their minds off of being in the hospital and enjoy some quality time with their families. Thank you for making that possible and brightening up their day.

 

RETROVOLT ARCADE

The main pinball row

Southern California has a new ‘retro’ pinball and video game spot that focuses on the way arcades existed in a now-bygone era, without the domination of prize and/or ticket redemption games that are now the norm.

The Retrovolt Arcade in Calimesa
The Retrovolt Arcade in Calimesa

And that’s exactly how owner Bob Elson envisioned his place from the very beginning, with special emphasis on a family-friendly environment that preserves that same fun and magic that people fondly remember.

Retrovolt Arcade owner, Bob Elson
Retrovolt Arcade owner, Bob Elson

The appropriately-named Retrovolt Arcade is located in Calimesa, California, about 75 miles east of downtown Los Angeles (less than a 90-minute drive depending on the time of day). The arcade first opened in April 2017 in the neighboring town of Mentone but was forced into a 3-month-long relocation to its present site because of zoning issues at the original location.

As of this writing, the arcade is open for business four days a week (Thursday thru Sunday); doors open at 4pm Thu & Fri, 12 noon Sat & Sun, and close nightly at 11pm (9pm Sunday).

Retrovolt at present has approximately twenty-three pinballs and forty video games, all set on free play. Admission into the arcade is $10 (€8.47/£7.57) per hour per person, for unlimited play. Currently this is the only rate offered (no half-hours, child rates, etc.), but Bob says this may change in the future as the business gets more established.

Upon pre-paying your time at the front door, you are given a large white sticker (like the kind used for address labels) that has your “end” time written on it with a Sharpie, and you apply this sticker to the front of your shirt. Customers’ time is overseen using a large LED digital clock that hangs high over the front counter, and the Retrovolt employees walk the floor at regular intervals, letting people know their time is up as is necessary. Additional time can be purchased anytime at the front counter (up until one hour before closing, obviously).

The pinball lineup focuses on late-’70s to mid-’90s solid state pins, with some variation either way. The newest games presently on site are Star Trek and Ghostbusters (both Pro models).

The main pinball row
The main pinball row

The pins have all had considerable cleanup and restoration work done on them, resulting in very good overall playability. (One small example that caught my eye was the presence of a brand-new ‘Dunk the Dummy’ drop target on the 1985 Williams Comet pinball.) Several of the older pins have had their bulbs changed out to LEDs and are, for the most part, kept true-to-form in terms of lamp color and appearance. (Attack from Mars looks especially nice in this regard.)

The current Retrovolt pinball lineup:

  • Attack from Mars
  • Centaur II
  • Comet
  • Demolition Man
  • Genie (w/PI-1 CPU board)
  • Ghostbusters (Pro)
  • Indiana Jones (Williams)
  • Judge Dredd
  • Jungle Lord
  • Jurassic Park
  • Lost World, The: Jurassic Park
  • Monday Night Football
  • Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man
  • Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
  • Silverball Mania
  • Simpsons, The (Data East)
  • Space Shuttle
  • Star Trek (Stern, Pro)
  • Star Wars (Data East)
  • Stargate
  • Tales from the Crypt
  • Whirlwind
  • World Cup Soccer

 

More pinballs on the mezzanine level
More pinballs on the mezzanine level

The video games are likewise from the ‘golden era’ of arcades, and all the biggies are here (Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Mario Bros. and Zaxxon, just to name a few). A small handful are modern-day recreations and/or outfitted with LCD screens, but many are vintage originals. There was even one multi-game cabinet that had 600+ games to select from (I believe it was called Pandora’s Box 4.)

The main video game row
The main video game row

No food or alcohol is available on site, but sodas and bottled water can be purchased from a cooler kept behind the front counter. There is also a New York-style pizzeria next door to Retrovolt that specializes in pizza, pasta and subs for dine-in or take out.

Two parted-out EM cabs form the front counter
Two parted-out EM cabs form the front counter

Retrovolt Arcade offers a well-thought-out and well-done look back at arcade gaming the way it used to be, and this, along with the friendly and knowledgeable staff, is already earning tremendous player appeal based on reviews on the site’s Facebook page and elsewhere online.

For those in the Inland Empire (or anywhere else, for that matter) that were part of those days – as well as those that simply can’t wait a full year for the next Arcade Expo show in nearby Banning – Retrovolt Arcade is definitely worth a look.