Life is Like a Pachinko Machine

A pachinko machine is a flipper-less Asian pinball machine, smaller than the ones in the United States and played vertically. The playing surface is round at the top and covered with glass to keep the ball in play and to protect the intricate array of flashing lights and small metal pins sticking out from the surface of the board. At the bottom, below the lever, there is a container holding a large number of small steel balls.

You flip the lever and one of the balls flies up the right side, pressed outward by centrifugal force until gravity begins to affect it. Just past top center there is a rubber knob designed to stop the ball and set it in play. The ball strikes the knob, reverses direction, and then it pauses – momentarily reflecting the scene below – before bearing downward to encounter the first pin. Now firmly in command, gravity insists that the ball bounce off the pin, either to the right or left. Obviously, the ball cannot choose its own way. That choice is made on its behalf by the physical laws of nature and the other mystical powers that be.

Unlike the ball, people have the power, perhaps even the obligation, to make choices. It is said that only two things are certain in life: death and taxes. I think it should be death, taxes and choices. Remember: If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice. Whether you are a steel ball or a person, choice is inevitable.

That brings me to my point. Life is like a pachinko machine. Rushing in from where I was before, thrust in perhaps, I am born into the world. At first I am controlled by outside forces, but as I grow older I am confronted with a choice – my first choice. Perhaps it is something simple like: Do I choose to get the toy for myself or cry until mommy gets it for me?

As inconsequential as that decision may seem it is really a fork in the road, a metal pin under the sheet of glass. If I choose to get the toy myself, that decision leads me here. If I choose to cry until mommy gets it for me, that decision leads me there. Soon, other choices lead to other decisions as the ball relentlessly percolates down the board.

In a pachinko machine, sometimes the ball finds a way to score a million points before getting to the bottom. Sometimes the ball doesn’t score a lot of points as it finds a less-traveled path from pin to pin. Sometimes the ball falls through a trap door in the playing surface, wins the jackpot, and goes back to the container – bypassing the rest of the board. There are an infinite number of paths, each with a promise of its own. That is the nature of pachinko and of life.

But no matter what path you take, you always end up back in the container – waiting for another play, another chance to choose.

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2 Responses to “Life is Like a Pachinko Machine”

  1. Mish Says:

    Nice comparison. The pegs bring to mind, “Every time you interact with another life, you alter it no matter your intentions.”

    Used to love stepping into the pachinko parlors and taking in the players, balls, lights, bells and whistles.

  2. imabbb Says:

    Cool. If I allow for the pins themselves to move around in response to the ball, that puts even more life into this analogy.

    I have never been to a pachinko parlor, but my dad brought home a machine from Korea when I was a child. Loved it.

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