Serif in Education

A game of chance or skill?

It is by no means a new invention.  The pinball machine has been gracing the floors of amusement arcades, bowling alleys and more since many of our childhoods.  But the history of the pinball machine is perhaps a little more complex and interesting than first thought.

Due to the cheap cost of entertainment, and the apparently simple-to-use design nature, the machines grew in popularity from their first introduction in around 1930.  But as popular as they were, the pinball machine was soon to create a frenzy across the world for other reasons.

Officially banned across New York and many of the American States between 1942 until the late 1970s, the game was originally viewed as a game of luck rather than a game of skill, and therefore a form of gambling.  This was not helped by its highly addictive nature.

Originally when the pinball machine was first designed, players pulled a plunger to shoot balls onto the playing field, aiming for holes that were worth various point values – a game that could be played by anybody right?  But behind the supposedly ‘simple’ interface of the playfield, pinball machines were full of electronics, bumpers, lamps, targets, metal gates, and of course logic and circuits. It appeared there was a big difference between simply taking part in the game and winning!

But alone that wasn’t enough to convince people that this was a game of skill.  And this got us thinking.

When given a brief, product designers, engineers, and everyone involved in the design process must keep in mind restrictions associated with their work, and how their work will be perceived.  Indeed, we can imagine the pinball machine would never have been made as a gambling product, as manufacturers would have understood this was not commercially viable.  However, somewhere throughout the design process this possible obstacle may have been overlooked.

This is something that students must also be mindful of in the classroom – how will their designs be perceived by their audience and is their work fit for purpose?  In real life this type of mistake can be costly.

Luckily in this case, design innovation and the introduction of new technological advances led to a rebirth of the pinball machine. After the introduction of solid-state technology and new circuit boards and digital displays during the 1970s, New Yorklifted its ban after it was proven the game really was a game of skill and not chance.

And according to BMI Gaming (the world’s largest gaming superstore) this isn’t the last we will see of the pinball machine!  Pinball has come a long way in the last ten years or so, particularly in complexity, rulesets and game quality.   BMI Gaming believes it will continue to advance with the introduction of high-tech devices and advances incorporated into machine, such as LED’s, LCD’s, colour dot-matrix displays, and new LCD and plasma flat panel monitors replacing the traditional pinball playfield.

With this in mind, a great project for pupils could be to design a simple pinball machine, incorporating designs for layout and circuits using the library and auto-connectors in DrawPlus X8. Additional Bumpers and objects can be made also using CAD/CAM. Or, they could create and ‘virtual pinball game’ in Scratch,  using DrawPlus to draw elements of the gaming machine.

These ideas in Computing could then be transferred into the Design and Technology classroom and can actually be made in real life, to introduce welding skills and also help students when turning their computer-made designs into reality.

For more ideas and inspiration on similar projects visit the Internet Pinball database:

Or for KS3 visit: