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‘Pinball: The Man Who Saved The Game’ – The True Story Behind Roger Sharpe, Explained

Roger Sharpe is the pinball historian, activist, writer, and gamer who became most famous for his work in legitimizing pinball by demonstrating a game in the city hall of New York City in the year 1976 and putting an end to a 35-year-old ban on the game. In the city hall courtroom, Sharpe testified that if he would pull back the plunger just the right amount, then the ball would follow a certain path and score the highest in the game. He demonstrated this in the courtroom on a pinball machine, and the ball hit right into the target, which was enough evidence for the council that it was a game of skill and no gambling was involved in the game.

Roger Sharpe had grown up in the city of Chicago, which was considered the mecca of the pinball industry, yet he first found the game when he went to college in Wisconsin. To his surprise, he found that the game was illegal in Chicago. He very soon became an expert at playing the game and found solace and confidence in it. He thought that pinball had taught him how to control life, and he called it a game of skills, without any gambling attached to it. Sharpe initially had no intentions of becoming obsessed with pinball in his life; he wanted to be a writer. Before he moved to New York City, he got married, divorced, and wanted a fresh start as a writer. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin and then worked in advertising in order to become a writer. He joined Gentlemen’s Quarterly, or GQ, in 1975 at the age of 25 and soon became the editor of the magazine. Back in the 1970s, GQ, as a men’s magazine, was just starting out, and they wanted someone who was predictable and had limited experience with life to join as an employee. From GQ, he started digging into the history of the pinball industry and decided to write a book called Pinball!, which was published in 1977. While at GQ, he started writing a series of articles and features for the magazine exploring the three-decade-long ban over the game, which can also be seen as an excuse for him to play a game on his own machine. He was a writer for The New York Times as well, and he served as the editor of the 1980s publication of Video Games Magazine.

Sharpe has always said that he never knew that pinball needed skills and that he could gain some control over his life as a person from the game. He was very selfish about the game, and while writing on the subject at GQ for research, he found nothing at the public library, no books or anything on the topic, and that surprised him. The book Pinball! was a comprehensive study of the history of the creators of the game, the mechanics behind the game, and the techniques and challenges involved with the game. Sharpe studied the game extensively and said that it looked like a random duel against gravity, but machines have been developed that require sharp nerves, fast hand-eye coordination, and careful planning and strategy. All these techniques can help build a man’s confidence, which has its own impact on life.

In the film ‘Pinball: The Man Who Saved The Game, details of Sharpe’s personal life are shown. He is shown to be falling in love with a woman named Ellen, who is a secretary and has an eleven-year-old son when they met for the first time. Sharpe had the courage to take chances with his life because of his understanding of the game of pinball, which taught him to take control of necessary things in life and be successful at it. He married Ellen in the film and had two more sons, Josh and Zach, who participated in competitive pinball. The trio works in the gaming and pinball industries, always working for advocacy and coordinating pinball competitions among the top competitors in the world.

In the historic event of overruling the ban on pinball in 1976, Sharpe went on to continue in the industry, and he designed a lot of pinball machines named Sharpshooter and Cyclopes. In the event, he played pinball inside the courtroom for the members of the Manhattan City Council and proved that pinball was a game of skill rather than a game of chance and hence did not qualify as gambling. He was appointed to testify by the Amusement and Music Operators Association and played the game according to his predicted method in front of the media and council present in the courtroom. With the correct pull of the plunger, the ball would follow a certain route, thus killing the idea of “chance,” which works in gambling. He got the unanimous vote that the game is based more on skill than on chance because of his correct plunger pull.


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