AC/DC pinball has been so wildly popular since its release in 2012 that recently Stern re-launched it with new artwork and better gameplay. While many fans of the game were pleased to have an improved, fresh playfield, the added artwork might not be so popular amongst the ladies. The backglass translite features Luci, a character created specifically for this game, in a bikini posed by an electric guitar with devil horns and an AC/DC tattoo on her hip. But wait, there’s more! On the lower playfield, two scantily clad girls with bosoms prevalent flank the shots in Hell; to the far left, there’s a new insert featuring cleavage. Worst of all is the side art: Luci on her hands and knees looking back at you with a clear view of her barely covered nether regions. Thus I now dub thee T’n’AC/DC pinball.
This recent release is a stark representation of tasteless pin art featuring women, but this is in no way a new trend. Sometime in the 70’s there began a definitive shift in the portrayal of females on pins. I suspect it syncs up fairly well with Roger Sharpe’s demonstration of pinball as a skill-based game and not solely for gambling, which has its own negative connotations. At the time, pinball was thought to be seedy and tough. You’d find many tables in corners of sketchy dive bars with the promise of sexy women nearby; at the time, art was quite literally imitating life.
From my experience in the 7 years I’ve actively played pinball, I have run across very few tables that portray women in positive or powerful roles. Those on the short list that come to mind are The Flintstones, Tron, Monster Bash, Theater of Magic, Xenon, and Red and Ted’s Roadshow. Although Theater may be big in the cleavage department, like Xenon it puts a woman in charge of the entire game. Xenon was Bally’s first game to feature a voice, and the first pinball game ever with a female voice. Suzanne Ciani is responsible for composing and synthesizing every sound on the pin.
This got me thinking about women’s involvement in playfield development, concepts, music, art and design of pins. Unfortunately I have yet to find a game where anything other than the art or music is lady-made, making conceptual design of pins monopolized by men. Margaret Hudson created artwork for nearly 20 pins including popular titles like Spider-Man, The Simpsons, Eight Ball Deluxe, Wheel of Fortune, Spectrum and Time Machine (in which she drew herself into the backglass). She worked with a mix of licensed art and original work, all of which cast women in a positive or at least neutral light.
On the other side of the coin, there are alternative “Adult” or “Rated R” translites, one of
which briefly showed up on The Sopranos at Add-A-Ball. While the original translite showcases the Soprano family, this alternate translite prominently displays a stripper on a pole at the Bing. While stripper toys are included in the playfield of the game (kudos to Gameworks, who installed Troll dolls on the poles to make theirs kid-friendly), this translite is considerably racier. An eBay seller makes these and others, including some like World Poker Tour with straight-up naked girls pasted on a background of cards and chips. Stern’s new Mustang, which has yet to arrive on location, already has three alternative translites available. So if you get bored of looking at Ford’s logo, there’s always the ‘Mustang Sally’ version with girls in daisy dukes bending over the hood of the car. I can’t imagine pinball would be so male-dominated if the majority of games featured sweaty, hairy chests and bulging crotches.
When pin art is sexualized in a cartoonish way, it can distract and disconnect the player from the purpose of the game and its theme. But context is everything. Both Elvira pins are completely over the top with innuendos and cleavage, like the star herself. This seems acceptable since the Mistress of the Dark deliberately exists in an over-sexed world of double entendres — the Stiff in the Coffin is a rare close brush with risqué male pin art. Time Warp from 1979 is the only game I know of to show a naked guy’s bits and get away with it, simply because it’s da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Around the same time in Japan, Sega – while slightly lost in translation – made a pin called Woman Lib which features a backglass covered with women in protest waving flags and banners. I’m not saying we need more politically motivated game art, just less of the erotic female form, please! Or at least try to strike a gender balance. And I don’t mean games like Gorgar or Paragon with bare-chested men with female slaves at their feet.
This type of imagery against women does two things: it leaves very few female role models in this hobby, and continues to encourage questionable behavior from men.
Bowen Kerins, a well-known and longtime player / teacher of pinball, recently re-shared a photo of half-naked women originally posted on the Always Pinball group on Facebook with the caption “Interactive Pinball Toppers”. Bowen brought this up for discussion as he and many others believe it’s deplorable. In a one-on-one conversation, he expressed “This sort of garbage just segments everyone. The only thing I can do is tell people they’re being a-holes.”
When you see that kind of thing, know that some guy out there will think that it’s no
t only funny but that it’s also okay. This is not the way to encourage women to be a part of the culture. It’s perpetuated by things like a Pinball Pin-Up Calendar and The Girls of Pinball pageant shows, which a man from Spokane tried to gain momentum for in Seattle last month. These things simply have no purpose in pinball culture and promote women as accessories to the hobby rather than active participants.
In the Seattle area we have many women-centric events that foster a friendly, educational environment for pinball. FLiP (Fabulous Ladies in Pinball) and Babes in Pinland both meet monthly, for camaraderie and casual tournaments. The Northwest Pinball and Arcade show is featuring a women’s tournament for the first time ever this year and Shorty’s has now made their Powder Puff tournament an annual event. We have the opportunity to positively shape the direction of the pinball community. Let’s make sure we respect 50% of the potential pinball player population.
Originally published in Skill Shot 34 (May 2014)
Shorty’s Annual Powder Puff Tournament is Sunday May 25th. Details here.