Mechanical Bride of Pinbot: A Second Take




Ron Brooks
Oklahoma State University

A few years ago, Geof Carter approached a group of us about putting together an MLA panel on the history, artwork, and play of pinball. I had recently written published a piece for Enculturation (http://www.enculturation.net/the-mechanical-bride-of-pinbot) that dealt with the thematic relations between the early work of Marshall McLuhan and Python Anghelo’s Bride of Pinbot. In this piece, I had argued that Python’s piece could be read as a material representation of McLuhan’s early work and that pinball itself might have something to teach us about reading textual rhetoric in a digital age.

Excited that this piece had led someone to extending an invitation for further discussion (that was a first for me!), I said yes. Then, I panicked, and my panic (spread over the course of days and/or weeks) looked something like this: These folks are experts in the field of digital rhetoric and production. I might know a little bit about rhetoric and writing, but when it comes to digital rhetoric, I’m just a kid. What am I going to do? I worried. I fretted. And somewhere along the way I got the idea to make an actual pinball machine that folks attending the installation could play.

So even if the idea came to me as a defense mechanism, the idea started to make more and more sense. My Enculturation article had been precisely about what happens when you take something like Ian Bogost’s argument about procedural rhetoric and games and retrofit that theory to something analog. What happens, as Jody Shipka had taught me to ask, when you do the reverse? What kind of argument emerges when you create a game from the ground up?

I learned two things. First, one comes to different conclusions depending on what one makes. Writing is a form of making, certainly, but building a game is another. For this project, I saw a different take on material limitations. The object had to fit into carry on luggage, so it had to be 14 X 22 or smaller. It had to be made of a material I could work with and also heavy enough to play, so I chose wood for the frame and melamine for the playing surface. I wanted the game to be challenging for a player, but not so difficult that it would make the player simply walk away. This thought shaped the space between the flippers, the location of the multiball section and various other targets that the player could engage.

Second, the process of composition is just as collaborative as any other. I made my machine by looking on youtube at how other people had constructed simple wooden pinball machines. I approximated what those makers had done based on my own skills and time limitations. I asked others to play the machine, give feedback, and I made adjustments based on watching them play. This led me to a deeper appreciation of what pinball makers must do, and I started to understand how machines like The Bride of Pinbot are truly masterpieces of art and design. It is one thing to critique the narrative that these machine create (as I had done in my Enculturation article), but the process of creating some of the mechanisms proves to me that shaping these creations is another.

So this video is about that, illustrates some of the challenges I faced throughout when trying to create my own machine. Enjoy!