Pinball fanatics rack up the points at expo
BY KEVIN ROMANCHIK
OU News Bureau
Even with console video games, 3D technology and controls dictated by human motion, the art and practice of pinball machines still bounces with a crowd.
The Michigan Pinball Expo, run by founder John Kosmal, took over Oakland University during a recent weekend to display his and fellow players’ love for the game. The expo, in its third year at OU, attracted thousands.
Kosmal said he has been glued to pinball since he was 9 years old and was introduced to the game during a summer camp trip. Since then, he has more than 70 full-size games in his collection.
“I was walking around the arcade when I saw a guy wheel across a huge cardboard box and pulled out a new Centaur 81 Bally (pinball machine),” Kosmal said. “I watched kids play for a few hours because I was smaller than everyone else. Eventually I was able to get on the machine and I’ve been playing ever since.”
The expo featured more than 150 machines, including pinball classics and modern machines such as Stern’s brand-new AC/DC theme, which is Kosmal’s most-recent purchase.
“We are trying to keep it at a number where we can maintain the quality,” Kosmal said. “We have great technicians and volunteers that keep all the games running so we don’t have any that are down.”
The collection of games at the expo comes from members through the Detroit Pinball League.
“We all have pretty substantial collections and bring some of our games,” he said, “but other local businesses, retailers and collectors make up the supply.”
Since its first year in 2009, the expo has seen exponential growth in attendance.
“The first year we had just over a thousand people, then we went to about 2,600 people the next year,” Kosmal said. “We’re approaching 4,000, and that’s not even counting Sunday.”
The attendees range from the young to the elderly, and novice to the seasoned players.
“It goes back for guys my age, (pinball is) what we grew up with,” said Jeff Saksa of Rochester Hills, who attended the event with his 9-year-old son, Dominic. “I think they are different game than a video game because there is more interaction.”
Some visitors came because of the vintage attraction.
“It’s nice to go back to the original games that started it all,” said Brian Farris, 20, of Brownstown. “It’s good that they have an event like this with these games that my parents used to play in the arcades.”
But what keeps pinball fanatics racking up points all these years?
“Pinball gives you a real-life (look) at geometry and physics. It’s something you don’t get from a video screen,” Kosmal said. “Pinball is alive. The ball gets English and changes speeds; no two games are ever the same.”
Kosmal explained that these differences keep unpredictability a factor.
“You can’t learn patterns in pinball because it’s always different,” Kosmal said. “It’s very random and every game is like its own universe.”
According to Kosmal and other enthusiasts, pinball will stay relevant for a long time.
“What keeps pinball alive is that it’s original and something that you can’t mimic,” Kosmal said. “They have video pinball games but it’s not the same thing. It feels completely different. You would lose the full experience.”
Kosmal compared playing pinball to a bag of potato chips, where you can’t just have one, or in this case, just play one game.
“When you expose people to it, they gravitate towards pinball,” Kosmal said. “They play a couple games and they are sucked in.”Tweet
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