Making Pinball More Welcoming (AKA #PinballSoWhite)

Laughable even…


You guys are lucky I don’t live down there because you’d have to throw me out at closing every night. Keep up the awesome work.


I’ve been to 82 twice this year already and love it. I’m making a third trip to LA in October, but don’t think I’ll have time to stop in. Great selection and excellent crowd of people. You all have a real nice place there.


Huh, I see. I wonder if that means I’m one of the people who aren’t really contributing, as I’m a teetotaler and so I don’t buy any drinks if I go to these places. (I do not mind other people drinking though, at least as long as they don’t intend to drive drunk, and I’ll buy drinks for other people I’m with if they want me to.)

A direct result of this is that when I play on location, they tend not to be bars, and instead are venues like movie theaters, bowling alleys, pizza restaurants, modern-style arcades, and, on rare occasions, laundromats.

What you said though–I wonder if that’s why Round 1’s pinball machines are located way over next to their bar rather than with the other arcade machines.

Do you think so? Every time I’ve been to 82, I hardly ever see anyone from the nearby Asian communities there. It’s like with Philippe’s in Chinatown: The people who come in are a completely different crowd than any of the businesses around it.

Maybe I’m coming in at the wrong times…? I usually come in during the afternoons on weekends, as I don’t like playing at night when it’s harder to see and it’s more crowded.

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I can’t speak for the cultural component of it given things are mostly the same here in Australia (perhaps the age group is a bit older, but the general demographic is essentially identical) but I think the most obvious beginnings of spreading the word is to put machines in the periphery of people who wouldn’t normally see them.

For example, I have a friend who owns a T2 and I keep begging him to put it in a local comic/pop culture store. Maybe Stern could give discounts to similar types of stores or sponsor some kind of routing program where their titles could be least for small periods of time (months here or there) at appropriate locations.

Have a comic store? Drop in a TWD and Spidey. Hipstery/rock music outlet? Put in Metallica. Then give them the option of buying it outright or something. Or set them up in malls like you see with those little popup stalls.

But maybe avoid doing anything with WNBJM anywhere :wink:

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Hm. Not sure. It’s in the Arts District and seems to host the same diverse crowd as the rest of the Arts District? Really surprised to hear someone so assuredly claiming it to be homogenous and white, as most pinheads who come in swear the opposite to be the case? I read through a good bit of your posting history though and don’t care to argue over it :slight_smile:


Fair enough. I’ll take a better look at the makeup of its visitorship the next time I’m there. (I was also comparing it to Little Tokyo, as usually, I stop on by because there’s something in Little Tokyo I want to pick up.)

I don’t really consider it to be homogenous and white, just not as many Asians in there as I would have expected being across the street from Little Tokyo is all.

We are in the process of designing a couple of pinball machines based on Chinese traditional themes for sale within China. Pinball machines have never been sited here and we believe that the right themed machine will attract a lot of interest from the younger generation that frequent the video parlors.

Time will tell if the idea takes off I guess?


Is pachinko big in China? If so, perhaps you could inspire the same feelings people get from those in a pinball machine. You might just crack open a new market over there.

I can’t speak for China, but in Japan, pachinko is strictly a gambling game. People don’t really play them with any sort of strategy. Or at all sometimes. They just put the coins in and watch the balls go flying. Pachinko is also associated with the Yakuza, as Japan has very strict gambling laws that pachinko parlors are effectively loopholing left and right (and it’s said that the government doesn’t close these loopholes due to Yakuza power).

As a result, pinball and pachinko may be close cousins, but the way they’re played and their public image are very different. From what I hear, the pachinko market in Japan is also diminishing. The people who play pachinko are growing older and older with comparatively few young people getting into it.

Gambling machines are still quite popular in China though, to the point where large amounts of Chinese tourists come to Las Vegas solely to play the slot machines and poker machines. Circus Circus even has bilingual signs, in English and Chinese, and many casinos on the Strip nowadays sell authentic Chinese food somewhere on the premises.


Well put.

In light of the recent announcement of IFPA’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement, I engaged in a discussion about building a more diverse pinball community. Well, to be fair, I kind of took the IFPA to task a bit out of frustration. I don’t feel that our little micro-culture is progressing fast enough, and I have become a bit disenfranchised with competitive pinball at large. Some folks in the discussion said that I should bring my thoughts over here to Tilt, and provide some real strategies for change instead of just complaining… so here I am.

I tend to keep my head down and my mouth shut in the broader competitive pinball scene. Oh boy I hate putting myself out here like this, but I feel this is an important topic and I am trying to eep the conversation going here. For those that don’t know me, I am an active tournament director and help run leagues in the Baltimore region. I also moderate the local pinball map, am founder / director of programming for PinBaltimore, and moderate some pinball communities…. Plus a bunch of random other outreach and events. I work really hard to create diverse and accepting spaces for the community (to varying degrees of success). Here are some strategies I have employed and thoughts I have on how we can do better.

Disclaimer: I’m just a dumb white dude. I couldn’t have done all this work without the countless other talented and thoughtful folks that I have as collaborators (many of which are NOT dumb white dudes). I am not taking credit for the items below. I am simply sharing strategies that have worked and things I want to see changed. Additionally, white people (especially white men) need to start having their own conversations about race, equality, and inclusion and stop relying on black and brown people to perform their trauma by explaining everything to us. You with me? Let’s get into it.

Creating Access and Safety
For the tournament and event directors out there, the core of building a more diverse community is creating access. You must set an environment that makes people feel welcome, safe, and is accessible. You must be patient and keep doing good work as positive growth takes a lot of time. Though our events could technically be characterized as more diverse than most, there is still a ton of work to do. I’ll go over some strategies below.

Communicate simple messages of safety and inclusion. Make them highly visible. Here is a sign I commissioned for PinBaltimore last year from Tony Levan @shakystripes. We looked to the independent music scene in Baltimore for guidance as amazing inclusivity projects are happening in that space. This is modeled after a sign developed by HollarBack Baltimore! It clearly states that all are welcome and tells you how to take action if you feel unwelcome.

Cross Pollinate
If you have friends that are running more diverse non-pinball events or just know of events that attract a broad cross-section of people that might benefit from the joy of pinball, reach out. Ask them if you can set up some pinball machines at the event, then do your outreach. Don’t push competition. Don’t be overzealous or “pinsplain” to them. Just let them have fun, and invite them to your next casual event. Build bridges and slowly wear them down until they feel included.

Put Machines Where There Are None
Creating access is the most essential step. Operator or not, if you have a machine sitting around that isn’t being played, find a way to get it out into the public. Try to find spaces that attract diverse communities and set the pin on freeplay. Put a flyer up for your league or tournament, and then be present in that space when you can. See cross pollination advice above. Hold a workshop or mini-tournament in the space. Give away free league dues to anyone that can put their name on the board.

Code of conduct

You need a clear code of conduct. This should be a living, evolving document that is separate from your competition rules. Feel free to use ours if you like. We worked really hard on it.

Your code of conduct should be omnipresent at events. It should always be out and visible as a subtle reminder to those participating in your event that you’re not going to tolerate any nonsense.

All players and guests must read and agree to the code of conduct, including guests. If a player brings a guest, they are responsible for that guest’s conduct.

Make sure you include a clause that states you can ban someone for their behavior at other events or locations.

You MUST enforce your rules. This is the toughest part. Nobody gets a pass, no special treatment.

Conflict Resolution
Explore more effective forms of conflict resolution and make it known that there are people at your league or tournament that are safe to come to with any problems. If there are major issues, have an impartial third party arbitrate and attempt to resolve the conflict. Communicate with all affected parties throughout the process, and give them all space to speak and express themselves. I am guilty of failing on this one a couple times. I have bounced people for being shitty without keeping my cool. Not a good look and not good leadership.

Community Outreach
Find ways to engage with charities or good causes and be very thoughtful about the causes you support. At our league, we hold a non-sanctioned after-tournament every week. You must donate $1 to participate. Our current charity is House of Ruth, which provides shelter and resources to female identifying victims of intimate partner violence. This helps a great cause and sends a clear message to your league members about your league culture. Prior to lockdown, we were discussing shifting charities to the Public Justice Center of Baltimore, which uses legal tools to challenge poverty and racial inequity. Looks like that was a good instinct and we will likely pursue that when we start back up. We raised $1000 last year.

After you establish your cause, speak clearly and make it known to members why you are supporting them. Do it over and over again. Try to partner with the cause to cross-promote your group.

Not Everything Has to be for WPPR Points
Non-sanctioned, informal events are so much more effective at building bridges and creating access. I have been running more informal tournaments and it really helps our growth. Serious tournaments are probably normalized for you if you are reading this. However, they can be incredibly intimidating spaces, especially if the people competing don’t look like you. Keep it casual and fun. Spend extra time with new players. Get to know them and make them feel welcome.

Put Pressure on Manufactures
Demand that they stop making pinball machines by, for and about white men. Demand they create opportunities for BIPOC and women on their creative teams. Demand that they promote their pinball machines at a more diverse selection of events. The IFPA has the power to do this as well. I would like to see that happen. The notion that pinball’s target demo is middle aged white men, and therefore, pins should exclusively be made with themes that interest them is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hold manufacturers accountable as they are more culpable than anyone for the current state of pinball culture.

Make your tournaments affordable, or even free! At PinBaltimore there is a box office where you can buy tickets, but there aren’t any gates, fences, or other restrictions preventing people from walking right in and playing pinball. We have a floor manager that may approach someone after playing a few games if they don’t have a wrist band. The floor manager asks them if they would like to buy a ticket, as it is incredibly expensive to run the event. If they say no, we ask if they would be willing to make a donation of some sort. If they say no, they still get a wrist band.

Have we pissed off some paying ticket holders because of this policy? Yep! Is that more important than creating access? Nope!

If you are holding a larger event, book diverse acts and entertainment to supplement the event. If you hold a smaller event, even things like the music being played should be taken into consideration. Create a welcoming environment and focus on fun.

Lift People Up
If you have successfully started to broaden the culture of your league, present opportunities for people who aren’t white men to help run your league or future events. For a minority in a group, it can be intimidating and challenging to take a leadership role. Make the extra effort to create a platform for them. We don’t just want a diverse group of competitors. We want a diverse group of leaders.


Making Spaces Safer: A Guide to Giving Harassment the Boot Wherever You Work, Play, and Gather

By Shawna Potter, lead singer for Baltimore Feminist Punk Band War on Women. A must read for TDs. There is also a pocket guide that is handy to share with folks running your events.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson

If you don’t feel comfortable talking about race and you are white, read this book. It’s a great start. I couldn’t find a local bookseller with this in stock so here is the amazon link, but please support your local booksellers if possible.

I could go on and on, but this is a good start for conversation. I look forward to hearing from others.


I saw your comment on fb that led to this, and I’m happy to see this post. This is all such great information and I thank you for sharing. I’ve ordered Making Spaces Safer and am looking forward to reading through this and sharing it with my fellow TDs and league runners.

You’ve provided a great roadmap here, and I appreciate your sharing that code of conduct, because it’s tough to know where to start, what’s too much, what’s not enough, when working to create those. As I prepare to get these kinds of discussions started in my local pinball community, I’m really looking forward to taking this weekend to write out talking points and utilize some of the information you outlined above to help format lend focus to those conversations.

I’m curious to know, ballpark, how many TDs and league runners in your area are utilizing similar, if not the same, codes of conduct, and what change you’ve seen in the local community since you’ve put more clear and vocal standards in place?


So glad it was helpful!! I’m typically pretty timid about sharing these kinds of things so I was really on the fence per whether to comment or not. I appreciate that it is helping and it doesn’t just come off like I am performing.

Glad you scored the book! Shawna is awesome a force to be reckoned with.

I have had several other folks say they were going to adopt the code of conduct. I don’t know how many have actually put it in place as I haven’t really shared it publicly. I know the IFPA looked at it when writing their COC because the person I wrote it with is on the Women’s Advisory Board. When I have shared it privately, I have been adamant that anyone who uses it has to fully commit. A COC is only as good as the TD enforcing it.

Regarding changes in the community, all of these items came into place at different times. I can say that the catalyst from our entire community was “Put Machines Where There Are None”. I held several tournaments in queer / alternative spaces in Bmore city, which led me to meeting a local collector / restaurateur in the city along with many others in our community, which led them to engaging in the competitive scene, which lead to the restaurateur putting machine in his restaurant, which lead to a new league, etc. It took years, but ended in a really great community popping up.

The space we play in is fantastic and the owner is a huge part of the community now. His bar restaurant attracts people from all walks of life and he is very supportive of our shared vision. That being said, we still have tons of white dudes in league, which is fine… but there are also a considerable amount of queer, POC, BIPOC, non-conforming folks too. As my co-author on the COC has hilariously said, there are still nights when you get more people named David than you do people of color, but it just happens that way sometimes and you have to be patient. However, many of the people we attract have said over and over that they have tried playing at other locations and the don’t feel safe / welcome. We attract a gentler, more social type of player which is a great thing to strive for.

If you are looking to implement some of these things and you ever want to talk, just hit me up. Happy to provide support.


Do you have any objection with using some of the language in your code of conduct in my own code of conduct? In particular, I’d like to steal your description of harassment as it’s much more specific then mine is currently.

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I don’t have any problems with that. Would you consider sharing your code of conduct as well in exchange? It would be rad to share ideas.

I was one of the people on FB hoping you would bring this here, so I should also say a huge thanks for sharing this. There are some solid ideas here and I’m looking forward to getting things going again (post Covid-19) to put some of this into action.

Really appreciated

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Awesome, thanks @Wizcat. I have a whole different set of wants, thoughts and concerns for the IFPA that I am working on. If anyone has anything for that list, please holler here or dm me.

I listened to the Backbox podcast on diversity yesterday, and Josh stated that the IFPA has no plans to offer any real time training sessions or anything of that nature to TDs, so we are on our own in that department. If anyone ever wants to get together (via zoom, etc.) for an equal exchange of ideas, hit me up. The more we talk about these things, the easier it gets.

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The context of that response was making something like that MANDATORY.

If we have volunteers willing to do that on our behalf (and we have already received messages about help in that area), then i’m all for using our platform to leverage the impact of that.


That’s really awesome to hear. Thank you for clarifying Josh!