Making Pinball More Welcoming (AKA #PinballSoWhite)

Inspired by the sexism thread … does it bother anyone else that the pinball community is not only 90% male, but at least 95% white? Frankly, it creeps me out sometimes.

How can we make pinball more welcoming to a diverse crowd?

I expect that making sure to introduce myself to the one black guy who shows up to a local tournament is probably not the way to go… (translation: already tried that).

Of course this problem isn’t limited to African Americans, but they’re the largest racial minority in the US and I definitely don’t see them at tournaments. I would love to see more east Asian and south Asian players too, and more Hispanic people of all races…

Am I just seeing something in the northeast/midwest that isn’t a problem in other areas?

Is it a question of exposure or access? Should we be placing route machines in non-white neighborhoods? Is it not wanting to be the only [person like yourself] in the room? Should we be encouraging new players to bring friends?

Any tips for encouraging non-white players without being creepy?

Are there other tournaments that don’t have this problem? What’s different about them?

And let me just stop you now if you were going to bring up the five or so top-100 players who are not white as evidence that we aren’t exclusive, because that’s really not a statistic to be proud of. Someone who routinely qualifies in A is obviously very dedicated to pinball despite any disincentives to playing, so these aren’t the people I’m worried about. I’m looking for people who love pinball but don’t play with us for reasons that we can change.


My immediate reaction is to think that maybe it’s just a cultural thing; i.e. pinball just isn’t a popular hobby in non-white cultures. But that’s just an Occam’s Razor thought of mine, based on no real evidence. (Also, I have no ideas for how to change this.)

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While I always hesitate to equate struggles with racism and sexism, I will say that, especially in light of the sexism thread, this line of thought is very similar to “girls don’t game,” “girls just don’t like pinball” and I would encourage people away from it. I appreciate @ErinK bringing this up, as it’s pretty front of mind for me, as someone who is very vocal about inclusion and yet organizes tournaments in basically the whitest metropolitan area in the US. I don’t want to put the burden on people of color to tell a bunch of white nerds how to be better, but I also don’t want to assume I know the best way forward. In any case, I am curious if there’s anything constructive event organizers as well as participants can do other than be welcoming, be friendly, and try not be racist.


I’ve always found the demographic stuff to be very regional and location biased.

Be it age, gender, or race… it really is heavily influenced by the area and location itself.

Our area used to be more older white guys (30-70) with just a sprinkling of women. Head out west, and demographics were MUCH younger, and the scene had more gender diversity. Meanwhile in other locations even in our region, depending on the organizers and atmosphere… the demographic varied greatly again.

Most recently I’ve seen the style of location influence the player base the most. Pinball is largely a social game, so what drives the social interaction or common thread bringing people together in a space, or to enjoy that space is a big deal.

Lately I’ve seen the location be more significant than a player’s past when it comes to interest.

So maybe its a long winded way to say… take a look at the environment/location and see what demographics that is friendly to or creating a draw for?

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I have no solutions to offer, but I can tell you this phenomenon is definitely not limited to the midwest. I live in one of the most diverse cities in the country and it constantly weirds me out how pinball is pretty much the only part of my life where nearly everyone I interact with is white.


I don’t really think the comparison holds, though, because generalizing 50% of the world’s population with a baseless stereotype is pretty different from looking for trends and existing patterns in smaller cultures.

That said, I know virtually nothing about non-white cultures in the US and am very open to the idea that what I said is completely inaccurate.


I didn’t play pinball before I hooked up with friends who did (when I was over age 40). I can’t say it’s a popular hobby in my culture, except with my immediate social circle (and the cause/effect relationship there is backwards). I’ve also met black people who loved to play, but haven’t come out to a tournament or league despite my invitations.

I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions around diversity in the tech world from a wide variety of angles - hiring, speaking at conferences, attendance at events, etc. Whenever we talk about increasing participation, we try to start with “What communities are we not reaching out to that we could, instead of the ones we already reaching out to that aren’t having the result we’re looking for.” In many cases it involves talking to people already in those communities to find out what the best inroads are. As I sat here thinking about this in relation to pinball, I began to realize that there while we have about a dozen location in Portland with > 7 games, none of them are in racially diverse neighborhoods (if Portland can even be said to have such a thing which is already questionable.) So that led me to wonder what would happen if an operator started approaching bars in those neighborhoods in an attempt to make one. Start putting fliers about tournaments on those machines. Approach regulars you see playing when you do collections. I mean, in Portland, this is how the entire scene began. Expanding it beyond our own little bubble would take the same kinds of efforts.

Of course the second part of this is that once those people start attending events, they need to be treated with respect and not othered or treated weirdly or whatever. This is where tech tends to fall down hard, even when we get people in, they get treated like garbage and bail so it actually does more harm than good in the first place. I’d like to think our community is better at that than others, but it is worth keeping in mind.


Spoke to a friend about this. He suggested starting with listening to people of color who are in the community. Did they find the pinball community welcoming? If not, why not?

Also he says @ErinK is da bomb.


Signed up pretty much for this. It does bother me, and I think like a lot of crazy stuff in this country, a lot of it is down to plain dumb inertia. Segregation was still a thing in the USA way after pinball machines were invented, so the machines would’ve started off in whites-only pubs, and this country moves SO slowly. I don’t know what to do about the current state of affairs but to continue talking about it, addicting black friends and acquaintances to pinball, and hoping.


From my view (40+ years of playing pinball), the bigger issue is the growing income divide. For the first 70 years of this hobby, it was a game for all. Now it’s becoming a rich man’s hobby.

When I started playing, there was only four parties involved in pinball. The manufacturers, the distributors, the operators and the players. That’s it. Now, we have home buyers/ collectors, pinball shows, companies who only make mods for pins, podcasts, tutorials, fund raisers, companies remaking older titles, twitch broadcasts and even a glossy magazine. Yet annual sales of pinball machines is a fraction of what it used to be. The so-called ‘resurgence’ of pinball is virtually all on the money side. Low income folks aren’t seeing it.

If you have the means, operate games. Doesn’t matter what side of town. At $1 or less a game, people will find them. If you don’t have the means, support your local operators. Don’t support private pinball clubs/ museums that require membership fees or charge a daily/ hourly rate. Those aren’t good for diversity.


Hello - person of color here as you like to say - AKA I’m black.

First and foremost PLEASE stop with the African American classification. I am like most of the other blacks born here. We are NOT from Africa. I am from the United States of America - so I am just an American - just like you. By labelling me an African American - you are already saying we are somehow different, somehow not as good. Do you go around calling yourself an Irish American, English American, German American, etc?

Also I really like to just consider myself a person - no different than anyone else. I despise special or different treatment simply because my OUTER appearance differs from yours. So stop going out of your way in the name of inclusion - just be yourself and we’ll be straight. Don’t feel compelled to come up to me unless you really want to meet a new friend.

Second Pinball is Pinball. What I mean by that is that it represents America - good/bad/ugly/beautiful- as a time capsule. There is no need to change it - no need to rewrite history to make someone more comfortable. If we can’t learn from the past then we are damned to repeat it. I don’t feel excluded because the games don’t have black themes or any of that nonsense.

I’m here because I love the game and I love to meet new people plain and simple.

I am a member of a league with all kinds of different people. Read again what I just wrote - PEOPLE. Until the classifications STOP, the division between people will exist. See people for people with no names or classification and the world becomes a much better place.

Third you ask about access to the game. I have been playing a lot longer than many on this board have been alive I suspect. I have played in Laundrymats, liquor stores, bars, you name it. All in the so called 'hood. The game in general is hard to find in the wild today. Obviously having more pinball on route everywhere would be a good thing!

Kids now unless placed in front of a machine will pay it no mind. They are too busy with their damn phones and pokemans to look up at the world around them. That’s a different topic.

Keep playing, keep competing and the next time you see me - or someone who looks like me - don’t immediately think of me as black. Think of me as a person - because anything else really is just racist and as you say creepy.



Whether its white, black, female or male , any race , any sex for that matter i think the bottom line is this:

  1. More pinball on location will expose and introduce more people to it. I think Stern putting games at HeroesCon in San Diego was a great example of this. We had 4 pinball machines at the HeroesCon in Charlotte, NC which was a collaborative effort between a Barcade in Raleigh & Charlotte. Pinballs are going into hospitals via Project Pinball/POP etc. We all love pinball and need to continue to be ambassadors for it. I run tournaments (money & charity) and have 3 games on location. You want more PEOPLE in pinball, put a game on location.

  2. Treat ALL PEOPLE with respect

I can write a dissertation on this topic and identify pinball deserts etc etc. but I think most of us can agree on these two points.

Here is a pic from our HerosCon mini arcade setup in Charlotte in June. This is exposing people to pinball!


I think that actually is partially the reason, but I think there are many others. In this case, it’s simply because pinball never really caught on in any non-white country. That means that for someone who immigrated to the United States or Europe, or who had parents who immigrated to the United States or Europe (like me), they probably didn’t grow up with pinball. Certainly, I didn’t, because my parents associated almost exclusively with other people of their culture and knew comparatively little about American culture. Hence, I had a harder time understanding pinball, and I pretty much had to force myself to understand it.

(I actually didn’t learn until long after I graduated from college that the respectful thing to do when given a gift or offered food is to accept it, for instance. In my parents’ culture, that is considered highly rude, because if you do so, you are viewed as greedy and taking advantage of other people’s generosity. The polite thing to do is to always turn down any gifts or offers, and this is what I had been trained to do. Even now, I am trying hard to unlearn it, but old habits die hard.)

[quote=“CFFLegs, post:3, topic:1827, full:true”]While I always hesitate to equate struggles with racism and sexism, I will say that, especially in light of the sexism thread, this line of thought is very similar to “girls don’t game,” “girls just don’t like pinball” and I would encourage people away from it. I appreciate @ErinK bringing this up, as it’s pretty front of mind for me, as someone who is very vocal about inclusion and yet organizes tournaments in basically the whitest metropolitan area in the US. I don’t want to put the burden on people of color to tell a bunch of white nerds how to be better, but I also don’t want to assume I know the best way forward. In any case, I am curious if there’s anything constructive event organizers as well as participants can do other than be welcoming, be friendly, and try not be racist.

As one such “person of color,” I can say this: Just do what you’ve always been doing. If you are aiming to be as inclusive as possible, aiming for an ethnically diverse player base, it will eventually happen. It might take many years, but it will happen. The problem currently is lack of familiarity by these other cultures.

That being said, bars tend to serve a specific group of people. The nearest bar to where I live, for instance, is targeted squarely at local Hispanics, with Spanish-language sports on the TVs (especially fútbol) while serving Modelo and Corona. I have never seen a general all-inclusive bar that isn’t also something else, a la Buffalo Wild Wings or Dave & Buster’s. (That bar’s location is across the street from a taquería that has a World Cup Soccer (1994) inside of it that earns well though.)

Putting them in diverse neighborhoods, or in neighborhoods with a non-western community, doesn’t always work. 82, Los Angeles’s biggest pinball place, is across the street from Little Tokyo, but the locals ignore and avoid it.

I think a better solution, actually, is to put pinball in places other than bars. Each individual bar has a very specific clientele, typically consisting of middle-aged people or older (and mostly men). Odds are if there are people from other cultures, they’re not likely to try something new. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Rather, I would suggest putting these machines up in places where kids hang out. They are far more receptive to unfamiliar things, far more curious about unfamiliar things, and, if they are the children of immigrant parents (or children of parents who stay within their cultural bubble their whole lives), are far more in tune with western culture than their parents are.

These kids are an audience right here, and if you can get ethnically diverse children playing pinball, they will become an ethnically diverse community of adults before long. It will definitely be hard to pry them from the myriad of entertainment options they already have, but personally, it’s still easier than trying to pry attention from someone who grew up having never heard of pinball.

My personal thoughts: The local communities are welcoming. The fellow local players are not the problem though. I cannot sustain a conversation about pinball with anyone else of my parents’ culture regardless of their age because I will just confuse them. I cannot bring them to any pinball location because the lack of familiarity with pinball intimidates them. (You know, the invent-an-excuse-to-not-go kind of response.)


I happen to work and hang out at a non-bar pinball place. I’m lucky that there are a few in the area, actually! In the place I’m specifically talking about, the people coming in are incredibly varied. It gives me so much joy to see a child’s first game of pinball!

Like someone mentioned earlier, pinball used to just be everywhere. I think it might’ve been Steve Ritchie who said that he would go into the back of a cigar shop as a child to play the one in the smoking room. (Might’ve been someone else, I listened to a bunch of those interviews in a row.) Access is always, always the first thing you need to have to include an audience.

The next thing, availability might need improved upon. Some leagues by me have three or four days that you can participate in a week. Others may only have one or two. If the times are the same as well, there may be people that could never attend because of prior engagements. (Work, taking care of kin, maybe they sleep then, etc.)

Things like selfie leagues are a really laid back format. Come in whenever, play a game, snap your score. A bunch of people that would usually say no can find time in their schedule to play pinball for the afternoon.

Anyone can play pinball. Anyone can have a great or terrible game. Not everyone’s gonna get bit like most of us have. There’s plenty of room for the casual crowd, though…we just gotta show them there’s a space open.


In SoCal a significant number of players in my circle are Asian, it’s far from 95% white here. But that’s about as far as the diversity goes with that group. But I’m not playing on location much, this is all league at houses with private collections. We’re talking a sampling of maybe 65 people.

I don’t make it out to places like 82 often enough to feel like I could say what it’s typically like, but it sure felt like a more diverse crowd.

That’s one of the things I appreciate about the fighting game community, there’s a lot of diversity, and it came from arcades just like pinball.

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The money isn’t primarily in the games though as far as I’ve heard, it’s in the bar. That’s why there’s a barcade (Headquarters I think?) in Chicago that has their pins on free play, they just want you to stay and order drinks. The games are loss leaders for them, but it works out I guess. I know Emporium’s games are set to a single token, played there before. Same idea I guess.

Doesn’t mean you can’t earn. I hope Molly and Keith and 82 are doing well off their pins. But without the bar synergy I think it’s probably a lot harder.

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Care to elaborate on what you mean when you say everyone local “ignores and avoids 82” lol? That’s a rather odd mischaracterization in my opinion.

Maybe they meant everyone ignores downtown LA, especially after dark. Freaks come out at night and all of that jazz.

Just confusing because we take pride in the diversity of our clientele, seemed like an odd if not slightly stabby example to use especially considering ummm every other pinball place. When pinheads come to 82 they are usually like “wow I’ve never seen anything like this at a pinball spot!” and comments of that nature – never heard anyone claiming it was a bastion of whiteness before! And to suggest Asian people don’t come in is…it’s just very odd.