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Pinball Machines Get the Museum Treatment

The curator of new art and history exhibit Skillshot, the Collaborative Art of Pinball shares the secrets of his own Chicago-built game.

Sorcerer pinball game
Photos: Ratko Radojcic

Before video arcades went the way of the dodo, Chicago was a hub for pinball machine production—and it remains the industry’s artistic center today. That’s the focus of Skillshot, the Collaborative Art of Pinball, an exhibit opening September 6 at Columbia College’s Glass Curtain Gallery that examines the history of the popular machines. “They’re thought of as machines designed to generate revenue, but their production is very artistic,” says the show’s curator, Mark Porter. Here, he helps annotate his own 1985 Chicago-built game, Sorcerer, which appears in Skillshot alongside eight newer machines by Chicago’s Stern Pinball Inc.

Pinball game illustrations

1. Illustrations

Sorcerer is one of only a handful of machines around the globe that feature drawings by Pam Erickson, an enigmatic artist who has since dropped off the grid.

 

Pinball game spinners

2. Spinners

Nailing all eight of these bad lads in a specific order nets you an extra ball and double points. “There’s all sorts of Easter eggs like this in old machines.”

 

Pinball game lights

3. Lights

Porter has made only one technological upgrade in the past 30 years: He replaced the original bulbs with light-efficient LEDs. “Twenty years of heat from tiny incandescents can warp the playing field.”

 

Pinball game flippers

4. Flippers

“Games haven’t always had flippers. Until the ’40s, you used to just shoot the ball into the pit and watch it randomly bounce off the pegs.”

 

Pinball game logo

5. Local logo

Sorcerer was designed and built in Chicago by pinball giant Williams Electronics.

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