Game On

The moment was so tender that it could rival the memories of the greatest lovers in the world. In that crowded, dusky room, an image of soft, flowing lines stood out in the distance, and we were so impressed that we overcame intimidation to take a better look. Once close enough and drawn into the beauty, we made eye contact, and heavenly blue globes of light stared us back in utter anticipation. We neared, our hands quivering before firmly gripping each side, and we softly lodged our fingers into the right little spots. Then, an inexplicable confidence arose, and with the nimblest flick of the wrist, we gave a sudden yet sweet tug. Of course, this got us nowhere, since we hadn't inserted a quarter: We were 6 years old and hadn't yet grasped the pay-for-play concept of pinball. Two minutes and some annoying begging later, we snared a few coins from dear Mom and thus began our love affair with cabinet art, bumpers, flippers and hopeless match-the-numbers-for-a-free-game attempts.

Unfortunately, we were a bit late to the pinball party. We showed up right when more advanced video games broke onto the scene, and, after a decade of decline, the graceful tables of tilt have now been crowded out of arcades to make room for Dance Dance Revolution cabinets and cow-milking simulators. No, really. Sure, we dig some of the newer games, and we can appreciate the joy in practicing Tae-Bo around a bunch of non-athletic nerds, but in general, pinball tables offer an elaborate, well-crafted game experience that a heartless PlayStation could never understand. Think we care too much about pinball? Well, we're not alone in our obsession, and proof doesn't come more blatantly than this weekend's 2003 Texas Pinball Festival, which collects more than 100 vintage pinball tables and an additional 22 classic arcade machines in the Holiday Inn Select in Irving. This second installment of the festival has grown, and its current table selection, spread thoroughly through the past 40 years, is no slouch. Highlights include early innovator Black Knight, introduced in 1980 and loved by collectors for its complex layout and combination of multilevel and multiball play, along with more recent fan favorites Pin-Bot and Terminator 2. The latter will be up for grabs in a raffle drawing, as will a tabletop edition of Ms. Pac Man. We figure either prize will be reason enough to throw out that stupid coffee table and spice up the living room, so don't forget to grab tickets at $4 a pop.

The gaggle of games, each set on free play, should be reason enough for even a pinball novice to make a visit, but in grandiose infomercial fashion, organizers have filled the fest with additional tidbits. Saturday features four seminar sessions that focus on various elements of pinball fanaticism such as the production, artistry and restoration of tables. Also, competitions will be strewn throughout the festival for both kids and adults, and Sunday will feature a gaming swap meet in the south parking lot. Insider tip: When perusing the many games, keep your eyes peeled for "MAME," short for Multi Arcade Machine Emulator. It's only one cabinet, but its memory is filled with more than 1,000 classic arcade titles, ranging from Asteroids to Street Fighter II. It's quite a treat, but don't expect to see an udder adapter included.