Design and Construction of Modern University of Virginia Themed Pinball Machine; Analysis of Pinball’s Purpose Surrounding and During NYC’s Pinball Prohibition Using the Social Construction of Technology Framework

Green, Ethan, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Laugelli, Benjamin, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Garner, Gavin, EN-Mech & Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia

My technical project and STS research paper are connected by the technology they both revolve around—pinball. Through my technical work, I explored what goes into designing and constructing a pinball machine to maximize fun and excitement. I used various thematic elements to accomplish this. For my STS paper, I looked at the history of pinball and its role as a gambling device. Through both projects, I learned about the inner workings of a pinball machine. This is where the scope of the technical project ended. However, the STS paper further examined the meaning behind those inner workings. Together, both projects offer a holistic view of pinball technology.

For my technical project, our team drew from Mechatronics, which combines electronics and mechanical engineering, to develop visual, playable, and sensing mechanisms with the goal of constructing a handmade UVA-themed pinball machine. We used computer-automated design, 3D printing, laser cutting acrylic, machining, and metalworking to build these parts. We felt that existing pinball machines did not connect with UVA students sufficiently, so we planned a game that takes players through the life of a UVA student, measuring points in credit hours and following them all the way from 1st year to alumni to a job on the Board of Visitors, for example. Our game’s UVA-themed features include a light-up lawn, a rotating Rotunda, and a spinning Cavman target. We intended for the game to be installed at 1515, a student study space on “the corner.”

For my STS paper, I researched the history of pinball from the years 1930 to 2000, focusing on pre-war and post-war sentiment. I looked at how pinball technology developed over time in response to social influences, such as political pressure from Mayor LaGuardia and pinball enthusiasts like Roger Sharpe. While pinball was initially created to be a simple game, it was adopted as a gambling instrument and was persecuted in response. After World War II, America’s attitude changed, and it gained more traction as a game of amusement only. The perception and use of pinball fluctuated throughout the 20th century. I pulled from the Social Construction of Technology Framework to assert that pinball was simultaneously a gambling and amusement machine. The concept of Interpretive Flexibility was applied to explain how a single technological artifact can hold multiple meanings depending on the relevant social groups.

By studying the historical context of pinball’s role in society, my technical work was better informed. Understanding that pinball had once been used to tempt gamblers was important since the goal of the technical project was to create a pinball game that would entice students to play; we had to walk a fine line. Although the game needed to be stimulating, alluring, and enjoyable, we had to be sure it would not be addicting. As I researched for the STS paper, I learned that a key element of the argument that pinball was a gambling device was that it was a game of chance. Therefore, when designing our UVA-themed game, we had to ensure that the game was playable, controllable, and required more skill than luck. Also, learning about the components of a pinball machine helped me to understand how that technology was adapted for gambling use. In summary, working on these two projects provided a greater insight into the technology and societal role of pinball.

BS (Bachelor of Science)

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering

Technical Advisor: Gavin Garner

STS Advisor: Benjamin Laugelli

Technical Team Members: Mina Ansari, Olivia Bearman, Phillip Bongiorno, Adam Centanni, Ian Chang, Thomas Cook, Benen Crombie, Scott Durkin, Tom Habron, Matthew Leclair, Isaac Leshok, Jacob Leynes, Gabriel Lu, Will McClung, Patrick Nguyen, Keith Tam

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: