The advent of the affordable television set and the miracle of pizza delivery has kept gamers inside the last few decades, away from the former ritual of congregation at arcades, pizzerias and the like. But David Morris is on a one-man mission to get leisure enthusiasts off the couch and into the community once again.
“One thing that I think that pinball really does is it’s something real,” Morris says.
“Playing video games at home, it doesn’t give you the same thrill that getting out of the house and going to an establishment and playing pinball does.”
Morris is the commissioner and founder of the Manitoba Pinball League (MPL), established in 2017. It was a nostalgia trip seven years prior that renewed his passion for the game and launched him into fullfledged flipper fanaticism.
“I’m a big sound and music guy. I didn’t play a lot of pinball as a kid, but I went to a lot of places that had pinball machines,” he says.
“Around 2010, when I got into it, I started going to friends’ places that had games, and I heard these sounds I hadn’t heard in 20-something years. All these good memories that I had of being in those establishments watching those older people play pinball started flowing through. It brought a joy and happiness and passion, and I knew I had to have one (machine).”
From there, Morris’ personal collection grew, and MPL was born out of a desire to bring the local pinball community together.
“There was nothing in Manitoba to do if you enjoyed competitive pinball. There were no tournaments. There were no leagues. There was nothing like that,” he says. “One thing led to another, and we’re doing very well now.”
The league, whose yearly player count nears the triple digits and includes players from other provinces like Saskatchewan and Alberta, hosts a variety of gaming events and tournaments each month.
“We have three different leagues: open, women and casual. Open league is for everyone to play in. The women’s league is for women, and the casual league is for anybody that is new or curious about competitive pinball. For those just wanting to ease themselves into it, that’s what I would recommend them to start with,” Morris says.
Many of the MPL contestants have a story similar to Samara May, a former juvenile pinball wizard who experienced a long lapse in her pinball activity.
“I went many years without playing much at all because of a lack of machines in the area I lived and places I spent my time,” she says.
“I saw an MPL notice on Instagram regarding the very first women’s league event being held at The Good Will back in February of 2018, and the rest is history. Taking home the first-place plaque for the women’s league inaugural season was pretty dang sweet.” May says.
While many of the tournaments take place at Phantom Amusement at The Forks, which Morris co-owns, pinballers can find somewhere to connect and play all over the city and beyond, including Half Pints Brewing Co., Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club, Joe’s Pandora Inn and Skinner’s in Lockport.
And perhaps the MPL’s greatest singular draw, aside from the prospect of beer-fueled, good-natured competition, may be the accessibility inherent to the game.
“My favourite thing about the community is how inclusive and diverse it is. Pinball seems to welcome and inspire folks of all ages, genders, ethnicities, neurological backgrounds and skill levels,” May says.
“We try to make it inviting for new people to come out and try it,” Morris says.
The next MPL event, the 3 Strike Headto- Head September Brawl, takes place on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at Phantom Amusement in The Forks. The entry fee is $10. For more information, visit manitobapinball.com.
Published in Volume 78, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 21, 2023)