In 1976, Sharpe was working as a writer and editor for publications such as GQ and The New York Times when he was called to appear in a courtoom in Manhattan. The Music & Amusement Association was attempting to overturn New York City's thirty-four-year ban on pinball machines,note and Sharpe — one of the nation's top players at the time — was their star witness. Under scrutiny by the city council and local media, he eloquently argued that the ban should be overturned on the grounds that pinball was not a game of chance, but required patience, reflexes, and skill.
Sharpe began to prove his assertion by playing a demonstration game on a tablenote provided by the MAA. The Chairman, suspicious of tampering by "the pinballers", demanded that he use a backup machinenote instead. Although he had never played it before, Sharpe proceeded to do so, pointing out the strategies a player would need to maximize the score, while showing off his ball control and aiming skills. However, despite this demonstration, the council remained skeptical.
In a desperate move, Sharpe allowed the current ball to drain, then declared that he would prove pinball was a game of skill by launching his next ball through the lit center lanenote at the top of the playfield. He then gently launched the ball, which flew straight into the lane he called. The Chairman immediately declared that he had seen enough; New York City's ban was quickly lifted, prompting other municipalities to drop their bans as well.
Sharpe's involvement with pinball did not end there. In 1977 he wrote Pinball!, an illustrated history of the game that is still considered the Bible of the field. He went on to design several pinball machines for Game Plan, Stern, and Williams Electronics, and later became head of marketing at Williams. In the late Seventies, Sharpe, Steve Epstein, and Lionel Martinez started the Professional Amateur Pinball Association to rank players and their best scores.
Sharpe served as the Licensing Manager for WMS Gaming through 2014, when he left to become the chief executive of Sharpe Communications, a creative services company based in Chicago. He remains active in the arcade industry as a hobbyist, collector, and speaker, and consults for pinball companies on licensing issues.
The 2022 comedy film Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game is based on Roger Sharpe.
Pinball games designed by Roger Sharpe include:
- Stingray (Stern, 1977)
- Sharpshooter (Game Plan, 1979)
- Old Coney Island (Game Plan, 1979)
- Barracora (Williams, 1981)
- Sharpshooter II (Game Plan, 1981)
- Cyclopes (Game Plan, 1985)
Roger Sharpe's life and works demonstrate the following tropes:
- Promoted Fanboy
- Signature Style: Sharpe's three rules of a good pinball table design:
- The game should give the player a good idea of what is going on, or what they should be doing.
- The ball should be visible at all times while on the playfield. If the ball leaves the playfield, the player should know where and when it will reappear.
- The player must have a good chance of making each shot.