RollerGames Pinball Machine, 1990

Rockin' with RollerGames

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by Jenny Cobb, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Texans have been roller skating since the 1880s, but the sport of roller derby did not begin until the 20th century. Originally founded in Chicago in the 1930s, roller derby grew over the decades from a marathon race to a hard-hitting, co-ed game with a national audience. Its rules and format evolved throughout that time, and popularity rose and fell in waves.

After roller derby’s decline in the 1970s, organizations including the cable networks ESPN and TNN attempted to revive the sport by adding more drama and extreme elements. RollerGames debuted on television in 1989 and featured a figure-eight track, a series of obstacles including an alligator pit and wall of death, and heavily-produced storylines.

Although RollerGames was extremely well-rated, financial issues doomed the show to an early death before a full season could be completed. Despite this, the show’s popularity spawned merchandise befitting of the show’s impact including an arcade game, Nintendo game, and pinball machine.

Endorsed by the fictitious World Alliance of Rollersports (WAR), RollerGames pinball advertises roller derby as “the sport of the future” and features righteous 80s music and artwork, flashing lights, and chanting sound effects. Players can compete in games with one to four players where the goal is to score points by frequently shooting the ball around the outside of the playfield before hitting the wall of death.

In 2001, a small group of women came together and formed Bad Girl, Good Woman Productions, Austin’s first roller derby league. Since it resurfaced, the sport has grown from a game with choreographed stunts and fake rivalries into a legitimate athletic competition. Today, Texas alone boasts approximately 47 leagues, and skilled skaters can be found on flat and banked tracks across the nation and around the world.

The RollerGames pinball machine is one of approximately 60 artifacts featured in the special exhibition, Roller Derby, on display in the Bullock Museum’s Third Floor Rotunda Gallery through August 9, 2015.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

RollerGames Pinball Machine, 1990 Artifact from Austin, Texas
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