On my way to the British Museum to do some research for my novel, I think of pinball, and despair. Once thought of, the temptation cannot be resisted. I turn off and head for a pub a block to the south of New Oxford Street. It has a pinball machine which I have been playing a lot in the last few weeks. This particular model is called 'Bram Stoker's Dracula'. Its slogan is 'Love never dies.' All these machines have storylines, most often based on the imagery of science fiction or of games of chance. A pinball machine's story is graphically spread across both the playfield and the backglass, while the game's bumpers, rollovers, gates and so on are customised to fit in with the theme. In 'Bram Stoker's Dracula', the silver ball hurtles along dark, stone-flagged corridors and up cobwebbed ramps, bounces off battlements and disappears from time to time into catacombs. An odd feature is an additional ball which is occasionally released, seemingly at random, and which wobbles somnambulistically across the playfield from left to right before disappearing again. The effect is eerie and puts me off my game, so that the ball I am playing with often slips away between the two lower flippers and is lost. The backglass features Transylvanian beauties. An electronic voice issues what are probably challenges laced with menace, but, being slightly deaf, I cannot hear them.
LRB 7 July 1994 | PDF Download