What the Flashing Lights in a Pinball Game Actually Mean
To the casual player, pinball may feel overwhelming. Lights seem to flash for no reason, extra balls pop up out of nowhere, and you can rack up millions of points without realizing it. But pinball experts know the game is about a lot more than flicking their flippers at random. As Vox lays out in their video below, each element of a pinball machine serves a purpose.
Pinball star Roger Sharpe explains to Vox that pinball is a game of skill, despite the way many novices play it. In 1976, a time when pinball machines were outlawed in New York City for being a form of gambling, Sharpe was able to convince the New York City Council that a player could control the outcome of the game if they knew what they were doing. After watching his demonstration, the city agreed to reverse the ban.
So what do pinball champions know that beginners don't? One of the most important things to remember is that the flashing lights aren't there to confuse you—they're telling you where to shoot. Some moves are worth more points at different times in the game, and paths with lit-up arrows indicate where to shoot to win big.
Like other arcade games, pinball has players work toward mini-goals, such as hitting letters on the field to spell out a word. Meet these goals and you can unlock special modes, like multiball (a.k.a. that slightly terrifying part of the game when there are multiple balls on the board at once).
Once you know the object of the game, the hard part is getting the ball to go where you want it. Sharpe suggests giving your fingers a break and slowing down your game play—instead of hitting the buttons frantically every time the ball rolls your way, practice cradling the ball in your flipper and hitting it deliberately. Now all you need to do is learn the right lingo and you're on your way to becoming a pinball wizard.