It's a serious collection of fun and games as pinball-arcade show visits Tacoma

Staff writerJune 7, 2014 

Rescue the princess. Defend the earth. Slay dragons.

All are possible this weekend at the Greater Tacoma Trade & Convention Center, where — until 3 p.m. Sunday — Tacoma is the center of the pinball and arcade game universe.

Vintage game collectors, top players, designers and manufacturers have converged on the city for the three-day Northwest Pinball & Arcade Show, which over the past seven years has grown into one of the largest such shows in the world.

For many, the show’s biggest attraction is the array of games — all set on free play and ranging from vintage pinball machines from the 1950s to prototypes of games still in development.

But there are also suppliers of hard-to-get machine parts, presentations by top people in the field, movies, tournaments and prizes.

“We do it to promote the hobby,” said Dan Halligan, the show’s promotions manager.

Everybody who helps organize the show is a volunteer, Halligan said, and whatever profit is left after expenses are paid goes to scholarships for students planning to enter the field of game design.

All of the games on display are lent by private collectors, he said, most of whom live in Washington and Oregon.

Many of the enthusiasts are high-tech professionals, attracted by nostalgia for the simplicity and purity of early games, Halligan said.

Brian Cady, an IT architect and former Microsoft employee, fits that mold.

“It’s 1960s microtechnology,” he said.

“For me, it’s relaxing. I’ve worked in IT for a long time, and these games are a nice break for me.”

Cady had to stop and think when asked how many games he owns. After some calculation, he came up with a total of either 20 or 21, all of which he keeps in a daylight basement in his home in Bonney Lake.

“My goal is not to have a single error in any of my games,” he said, “but with that many games there’s always something.”

Cady brought two of his 1960s vintage pinball machines to the show, one called “Sky Line” and the other “Spin-a-Card,” both manufactured by D. Gottlieb & Co. in Chicago.

“It’s just a hands-on, a much more compelling experience because it’s not just dealing with something on a computer screen,” he said.

Jonathan Joosten, the editor of Pinball Magazine, flew in from his home in Denmark to attend the show. He’s here promoting the magazine and also a new pinball coffee table book, “Pinball,” by the Argentinean photographer Santiago Ciuffo, available in four languages.

“When you buy a pinball machine, you never buy just one,” Joosten said. “You start with one. Then at some point you are going to want another one.”

Joosten said he was first attracted to pinball as a child. “Ever since I played the first time, I wanted a machine,” he said. “I asked for one every year for Christmas but never got one.”

He was at last given a broken machine, he said, and he was hooked.

“You might think they’re all the same,” Joosten said. “But they’re not. Every time you play, you think you can do better next time. You want to try again, so you put in another quarter. That’s why they made so much money.”

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693; rob.carson@thenewstribune.com

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