Before video games were invented, people initially played coin-op games like skeeball. The most prominent coin-op game was pinball, and its appeal endures to this day. However, the arcade and coin-op scene, including pinball, has a relative lack of women players. This is why Jessica Kent, one of the founders of Down to Flip, has such an interesting story. Her push for diversity and encouragement for female players is making significant changes to the pinball and coin-op community, and her work will continue to make these changes.
Jessica Kent is the creator of the Down to Flip pinball group, an all women pinball group. Down to Flip started as a Facebook page but has now grown into a group with over 100 members, and over twenty-five active pinball players. Her inspiration for the group came from observing women groups like LA Bell and Chimes in Los Angeles. From a young age, she was involved in the arcade scene, and she rediscovered her love for arcade gaming during college. Jessica has been an avid gamer for most of her life; before rediscovering her love of arcade games and coin-op games, she was a big at-home gamer. She started playing pinball regularly about two-and-a-half years ago, initially on a laundry room pinball table. She prefers the feel of real life tables over digital ones due to her love of other hands-on arcade games like skeeball. Currently, Jessica plays pinball one night a week, but she travels extensively checking out different arcades and other places with coin-op games. Jessica has done a substantial amount of research on pinball and arcade games. Currently, her favorite pinball table is Attack from Mars. Her favorite arcade is Logan Arcade, and her Down to Flip meetings take place there. Jessica’s favorite parts of pinball is that she can track her progress regularly, the randomness of the game, competing against her personal best scores, and the level of hand-eye coordination required. Additionally, Jessica gets a sense of nostalgia from playing pinball and other arcade games. One of Jessica’s goals for Down To Flip is to promote pinball and arcade games to the younger generation and others who aren’t big gamers themselves. She also feels that Down to Flip as a group promotes pinball and coin-op games to people of all backgrounds, especially women, and wishes to use the reach of the group and her own interests to promote causes she believes in to others.
Down to Flip and pinball ties into coin-op and video gaming as a whole since it shows a revival in the coin-op and arcade scene that is especially prominent amongst young adult in their twenties and thirties. Recently, numerous arcades and bars such as Galloping Ghost, Logan Arcade, Headquarters, and Level 257 have opened up and are thriving. Coin-op and arcade gaming can be considered to be the true beginning of the gaming community, and these sort of games have been around since the 1930s. However, in the subculture, there has been a relatively lack in diversity; female players were not very prominent, for instance. Jessica Kent’s group Down to Flip encourages greater player diversity by promoting pinball and arcade gaming for women and attempts to encourage younger children of all sexes and demographics to play pinball and other arcade games, thus promoting a more diverse and varied pinball and gaming community. During the interview, Jessica mentions one interaction in the pinball community where she was competing and one of the male pinball players ridiculed female pinball players. According to Jessica, upon getting a very good high score, the person ridiculing her stopped his actions. Groups and people like this break the stereotypes of gamers, and allow females and minorities as a whole to gain equal respect and opportunity.
Interview with Jessica Kent completed by Tony Vadakumchery and Daniel Wojtowicz on October 1st, 2015. Photographs by Daniel Wojtowicz. Transcription by Tamia Polk, DennisToppel, and Daniel Wojtowicz. The full archive of the interview, including the complete audio file, full transcription, and additional photographs, is available through the IIT Institutional Repository.