Pinball Wizard | 2228

Pinball Wizard is the name for a 1970’s cyborg. People who merged with a world inside a machine and first ‘touched’ the metaverse.

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Permanently moved is a personal podcast 301 seconds in length, written and recorded by @thejaymo

Pinball Wizard

I know some of you have deduced that I’m writing something about the metaverse, dungeons and dragons, and computing.

All the world’s chat has been extending thinking. Sketches, arguments, and other ideas. I don’t have a title or a strong sense of what the text I am writing will be yet. But I do have an idea tone.

This week I’ve been addressing the pre-history of the metaverse. I’ve been deeply immersed in mechanical games. I’ve just finished up researching and writing about the development, cultural impact, and legacy of Pinball. 

Today’s episode doesn’t fit the tone of the ‘maybe’ book, but it’s perfect for this podcast.

Who or what, is a Pinball Wizard? 

The phrase began in the 1960’s but was made famous in 1969 by The Who. Pinball being the discovered interest of the character Tommy. The main character in their fourth studio album and concept rock opera of the same name. The song was catapulted to new heights by Elton John with his performance in movie in 1975. Released at the height of the so-called Pinball Craze.

He stands like a statue, becomes part of the machine
Feelin’ all the bumpers, always playin’ clean
Plays by intuition, the digit counters fall
That deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball

Pinball Wizard – The Who (Tommy – 1969)

We’ll come back to Pete Townsend in a bit. But let;s talk about the first line of that second verse of the song. β€œBecomes part of the machine’

All four definitions of Donna Haraway’s cyborg are useful here. But β€œa hybrid system comprising both living and inanimate material” relates to Townsend’s lyrics. Haraway tells us that: “The machine is us, (..) an aspect of our embodiment.” 

Pinball, is a mechanical world that can be totally understood.

The body of the machine, or the playfield, has its bumpers, bash toy’s and various lanes can be completely held in mind. The worlds physics is our physics. Gravity. 

Above the world is the back box. The score lives here – the transcendent glowing consequences of your actions.

Pinball is a wind-up world that you have agency inside. Set in motion by firing of the plunger, then influenced by the flipper buttons as the world unfolds.

Pinball wizards are cyborgs of the 1970’s. They are people who physically merged with a world inside a machine. 

One reading of pinball is that the pinball is you – your character inside the mechanical world. A perfect sphere, a symbol of human existence. Launched by choice into a chaotic environment where you have limited control. Then eventually we all share the same fate. It all goes down the drain in the end. 

We never see a pinball die tho, it merely disappears from sight. The player puts another karmic quarter in the machine and reincarnates. Another spin around the world again.

For Pinball wizards, consciousness extends beyond their body into the mechanical world of the machine. Pinball is the cyborg’s mantra.

The ‘mind’ migrates and merges with the machine for the duration of play. 

But what’s the point of play? What’s the win condition? For the duration of a players’ mind meld with the machine, they are rewarded with points tallied in bright lights on the back box. 

The point of Pinball is that β€˜number goes up’. 

You do things in the world, and that has an effect in the related, but abstracted world of the ledger. In the metaverse, in the neoliberal economy or wherever. The layout of a pinball machine is literally,  As above, so below.

Over the years, I’ve talked about how software makes you feel, the topology of transcendental objects, about wind-up worlds, metaverse as medium.

The commonality that all these topics share is that a world is a place. For the Pinball Wizard, that place, that metaverse is the playfield and the score.

The lyrics to The Who’s Pinball Wizard – are not wrong or metaphorical.

The 1960’s were a heady time, Ravi Shanker and The Beatles. Satchidananda at Woodstock etc. Their influence flowed right though into the 1970’s.

Townsend was deeply influenced by Meher Baba.

Who described the phenomenal world as illusory. And taught that the Universe is pure imagination. God alone exists, and each soul is God passing through imagination in order to realise its own divinity.

Pinball Wizard, or Tommy, both the concept album and film are entirely about this.

Here’s a quote from Townsend speaking to Rolling Stone in 1969:

β€œPinball Wizard” is about life’s games, playing the machine – the boy and his machine, the disciples with theirs, the scores, results, colours, vibrations and action. (…) Tommy’s games aren’t games. They’re the first real thing he’s done in his life.β€œ Both ‘Pinball Wizard’ and β€˜I’m Free’ he says, are songs about the β€˜quiet explosion of divinity’.

So yeah anyways;

A Pinball Wizard is the name for someone who first touched the metaverse. These days however out consciousness drifts into codespaces, games, worlds, social media all the time. And in those places: number goes up too. 

It’s interesting that 10 years after the height of the pinball craze another game came along – this one fully digital. A game also easily understood; a world where you have agency. A wide open vessel for human machine mind meld.

It’s also a β€˜number gos up game’ too.

So effective is this game’s ability to contain peoples consciousnesses, that playing it after experiencing trauma verifiably reduces long term PTSD.

It was also the first game I ever played on a Game Boy, and the first game I ever played in VR. 

That game, the game for Pinball Wizards of the digital era,

Is Tetris.


The script above is the original script written for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the edit.

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