SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Pinball has been a staple in arcades since the 1970’s.
The game has experienced its peaks and valleys. After a boom in popularity in the early 1990’s, the number of pinball manufacturers worldwide dwindled to one by the turn of the century. Now, pinball is enjoying another resurgence.
Step inside Boss’ Pizza & Chicken on Minnesota Avenue and there’s a room devoted to an arcade classic.
“I’ve been a pinball fanatic since I was a kid,” The Pinball Room manager Kasey Wheeler said.
In the fall of 2020, that passion transformed into a business for Kasey Wheeler after connecting with Boss’ owner Jeremy Seefeldt.
“He had the space and I had the machines and some of the knowledge and away it went, so that’s how it was born,” Wheeler said.
The first tournament at The Pinball Room attracted only four players, but the space quickly gained a following.
“We jokingly say we’re the island of misfit toys, we’re pinball lovers,” Wheeler said.
Nearly three years later, in a day of online gaming, more than 30 people attended last week’s league kickoff event.
“Guys my age, now that we’re middle-aged, you don’t have to be in great shape and it’s fun to do and it’s very competitive and deep, so we found a core group of people and they all love pinball as much as I do,” Wheeler said.
“It’s a totally different mindset and skill set to play a pinball machine versus a video game. It’s a lot more interactive, a lot more reflexes involved, watching the ball where it goes, again planning your moves,” Sioux Falls pinball player Brad Eleeson said.
Brad Eleeson considers himself a pinball enthusiast and discovered The Pinball Room two years ago.
“I learned that there’s this community here, so got involved with the community playing different tournaments and leagues and now it’s just an addiction,” Eleeson said.
And the company Eleeson keeps is a big part of the draw.
“It’s not just playing the games but afterwards chitchatting with people, learning about their lives, other hobbies besides pinball,” Eleeson said.
“Pinball is back and I don’t think it ever really left,” Sioux Falls pinball player Dani Dinkum said.
Dani Dinkum grew up playing pinball. Today, it fulfills her need for competition.
“I used to play softball for 13 years and once I had a bunch of injuries I couldn’t play anymore. This is very similar to that sport,” Dinkum said.
And it’s easy to get lost in a game.
“You just get into a good flow and rhythm with it, so if the machine is tuned up really well I think that’s really what makes a good machine,” Dinkum said.
“They’re not quite as complicated as you might think,” Sioux Falls pinball player Bernie Berg said.
Bernie Berg is an avid pinball player. He owns nine machines and also enjoys fixing them.
“Follow the wire and fix it. It’s probably easier to fix a pinball machine than it is to fix a lot of things around the house,” Berg said.
Much like making repairs, the hands-on aspect of pinball appeals to Berg.
“Everything in front of you that you’re interacting with is mechanical, so there’s this real element you’re interacting with while still playing a game,” Berg said.
From The Avengers to Toy Story, no two games look alike or play the same way, but in this room of 18 tables, the current game of choice is Attack from Mars.
“A lot of fun. It’s a remake of an older game that came out in the early 90’s,” Eleeson said.
“I like stuff like Attack from Mars because all you have to do is shoot for the blinky lights and keep the ball in play as long as you can and try to beat it,” Wheeler said.
As for what makes for a good pinball game…
“Some players that are really good want deep rule sets and some people that just want to whack a ball around for a while want something very simple and entertaining like that Attack from Mars behind us,” Wheeler said.
The cost of machines is on the rise due to increased demand. Wheeler says a new machine that once cost $2,500 can now run more than $10,000.
“Toy Story was $12,000 and that gets to be where… ugh, but it’s been a good machine for us and hopefully it will continue to perform,” Wheeler said.
It’s the cost of doing business, and one Wheeler has no interest in giving up.
“I think I have 32 machines now and my wife kind of says you’ve got to thin the herd a little bit but we’ll see how that goes for us (laugh),” Wheeler said.
The Pinball Room is open daily, and hosts league play on Tuesday nights and a tournament on the first Saturday of every month.
Wheeler hopes to see The Pinball Room expand into the dining area at Boss’ in the future.