Earlier this month, Eric and I took a step back in time to delve into a very different side of gaming. Every year, The Replay Foundation puts on the Replay Foundation Expo (Replay FX) in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which promises a “living history of the arcade and surrounding video game culture.” The expo features more than 1000 full-sized arcade and pinball machines, hundreds of console systems ranging from the original Magnavox Odyssey to current-gen consoles and virtual reality systems. The best part of all of this? These machines are not just there to see, but are available for all attendees to play.
Being able to visually experience the evolution of games through the years was an unexpected but wonderful treat. Too often, I think we take for granted to the level of spectacle in today’s games and disregard the past genius that helped catapult our entertainment to where it is today. Now granted, on the flip side we should also be really grateful for the quality that is so readily at our fingertips, as some of the “classics” we encountered were just not good; not even rose-colored glasses could help those. I think ultimately those were in the minority, however, and firing up most of the retro experiences was a sweet nostalgia trip.
Though there was a super-abundance of classic video-games, the biggest draw of the expo was the impressive spread of pinball machines. Nearly all of these were accessible to the public, though some were cordoned off for the professional players who were intensely competing throughout the week. Having never experienced something like that, it was truly fascinating to see and I was astonished at how lively the boisterous audience was. Watching the crowd let out impassioned “oohs” and “ahhs” with every near miss was a hoot, and I felt myself becoming excited despite being a complete greenhorn in this fascinating world. Quite honestly, I had come for the video games, but I most definitely stayed for the pinball.
There are certain elements that pinball provides which few other entertainment experiences can. It is truly a fully engaging whirlwind of flashing lights, zany sound effects, and flying mechanical contraptions. It is a full body experience that by the end of the day saw us bobbing and weaving with the bouncing balls, almost willing them in the direction we wanted them to go. We didn’t quite get to the level of kicking or shaking the machines, but we saw quite a bit of that throughout the day. The whole extravaganza was just so engrossing and adrenaline-fueled; we quickly forgot about the plethora of video games that lined the walls of the conference center.
Furthering the pinball experience is that it is not just single player-focused. In fact, the machines are designed to accommodate multiple players (usually up to four), and Eric and I constantly tried to one-up each other, recording our (often unnecessarily exorbitant) high scores for posterity. Though we certainly brought a high level of competitiveness to our games, the real thrill was in experiencing each pinball game for what it was, delighting in the unique nuances that each machine provided. Each new one was slightly (or often greatly) different from the others, providing something consistently fresh and interesting.
The fun is nearly endless at Replay FX, but I think even more impressive was the amount of nostalgia and overall appreciate it provided for the art of gaming in general. In addition to the immense spread of consoles and pinball machines was a myriad of vendors, artists, enthusiasts, and even a live band that played rock n’ roll versions of classic Nintendo soundtracks. It was the whole package of wonderful gaming nerdom, and truly provided at least something for everyone. If you are ever in the Pittsburgh area during the early part of August, this event is a must attend. Even if you don’t have a great love for pinball, it is well worth your time. And who knows, maybe you’ll discover a new (and fascinating) love.
Note: Title Image comes from Replayfx’s official website.