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Before contemporary consoles destroyed the arcade, there wasn't a greater feeling than visiting one with a huge sack of quarters and enjoying that human-on-human contact of competitive gaming. Those fond memories of playing Street Fighter and Outrun cabinets were pretty magical but in a traditional sense, drawing people to some of the first coin-operated arcades came through pinball machines. Giving pinball a historical context starting from its beginning as an improvement on the European invented spring launcher to the video game boom's destruction of the craze, Special When Lit: A Pinball Documentary is great for any gamer or documentary connoisseur. Famed Australian video and theatrical director Brett Sullivan looks at every aspect of the pinball craze that literally changed pop-culture.
Special When Lit: A Pinball Documentary sheds some interesting light on how the United States government attributed the delinquency of school-aged children to pinball and how lawmakers thought the machines were mob run. Oh how history repeats itself. Original pinball machines lacked flippers until 1947 and therefore were seen as more of a game of chance though there wasn't a reward for winning. States including New York and Chicago banned pinball until the mid/early 1970s and even held prohibition style raids.
The documentary also mentions Hollywood's distain of the pinball craze then like it does video games today. The reason? Mainly because before the ban, pinball actually made more money than the film industry between the 1950s through the 1970s. Though there were statewide bans on pinball, many domestic machine creators exported to other countries and still made tons of money from states unaffected. This is why in many cases, Hollywood used pinball as a symbol of rebellion for better or worst.
As a changing of the times, the most heart breaking aspect of Special When Lit: A Pinball Documentary comes as the pinball machines are replaced with video arcade cabinets. From an economical perspective, games like Space Invaders were immediately popular in arcades outside of their entertainment value because they were easier to maintain and eventually allowed real-time competitive play as oppose to waiting in turns. Many pinball developers were shut down overtime. Though digital versions of various pinball machine cabinets have existed for decades at this point, Special When Lit: A Pinball Documentary points to their lack of cultural soul in comparison to what the real culture was about.
Like any extreme fan of a pop-culture relic, Special When Lit: A Pinball Documentary humanizes those who still have a love for pinball to this day. There are even a few collectors who own houses stuffed with enough pinball machines that walking through them feels impossible. There are even pinball tournament champions who break down the science of the game like Street Fighter combo theory. Deep and entertaining, Special When Lit: A Pinball Documentary is equally thought provoking and entertaining.