The Story behind Fun With Pinball!

Pinball Wizardry by Mark Gibson at the NoCo Mini Maker Faire, photo by Alanna Brake

Pinball Wizardry by Mark Gibson at the NoCo Mini Maker Faire, photo by Alanna Brake

Fun with Pinball is always one of the most popular hands-on exhibits at the Denver and NoCo Mini Maker Faires. Mark Gibson, who developed his skills restoring pinball machines as a hobby, branched out into creating mechanical models and games using old pinball machine parts. People of all ages love pushing the buttons and making noise – but beyond that there is a fascination with seeing how the mechanical pieces work. As Mark comments, “These days you have no idea what is going on inside your iphone – but with these you can mechanically see what is going on and you can see how to repair it. It is a lost art.”

The first Maker Faire we put on in Colorado was the catalyst for Mark’s creations. A friend suggested that he bring one of his restored pinball games to the Faire and Mark thought “well, just bringing a machine isn’t very maker.” And so he gave it some thought and came up with the idea of building game boards. Inspired by the Kinematic models of design and the concept of creating visible pinball, he set out to create games that reflect the creativity and ingenuity of the old, low-tech games. Part of the design challenge, he’s discovered, is to create something intuitive – where visitors can figure out in a visual and tactile way what is going on with the mechanics of the game.

Mark and Faire visitors alike have great fun with the pinball inspired games. . This will be the fourth Faire in Colorado in which Mark has exhibited and his games get bigger and more elaborate each time. “I’m just highlighting and celebrating the ingenuity of the original designers who retired long ago.  They designed most of the parts and assemblies; I’m just wiring them up in new ways so others can appreciate or learn something from their work.”

This work takes a lot of time and care and the Faires are long days as well.  So of course I asked “are you thanking us or cursing us now for getting you going on this?”

Mark had a great answer, that really expresses for us all one of the reasons we love the Faire.  “By the end of the (event) weekend you are drained and worn out.  What I get out of it? Someone took a photo at the first one and Dad was down on one knee explaining something and the kid is completely wide-eyed and engaged.  A few times at each faire I get that look – someone who has lost the rest of the world and is staring and learning and truly wrapped up in it.”

One response to “The Story behind Fun With Pinball!

  1. As a local Colorado collector and restorer, I can proudly say that the Maker Faire participants that get to see the fine work and explanations that Mark provides is an asset to us all. Not only is Mark gifted with the ability to restore and create interesting topics related to Pinball and arcade games, his ability to explain complex subjects to audiences of all ages and skills makes his projects fun and exciting to view. Thanks again Mark for your excellent dedication to this exciting venue.

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