Balls to the wall: Paintball
March 21, 2007
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In my first ever round of paintball, I was the last guy standing on my team. I know for a fact that I personally took two of the other guys out, and I think that I got a third. Then the final opposing team member made a mad dash up the left-hand side of the field and shot me in the chest and arm. I never saw him coming, and I dropped my gun in frustration. But at least the paintballs didn’t hurt as much as I thought they would.
What the guy that shot me did was called a run-through, and it is one of the craziest things that Michael Coyes sees when he comes and plays. Coyes, a junior high school teacher, has been playing for about three months. I pulled him aside when I first stepped on the field and confided in him that it was my first time playing, and I asked him for some advice.
“Keep everything close, don’t let anything stick out,” He illustrated by showing me how to tuck my gun close to my body and keep my legs underneath me.
I tried to keep my conversation with Coyes on the down low, because I didn’t want the other players to know I was new and single me out for a turkey shoot.
This was only one of the misconceptions I had about paintball, and it was rooted in another misconception: That the paintball rounds were going to be every man for himself. However, they split us up into teams, and this made my first time a lot easier. In order to clear up this and other ideas that I had about the sport, I went and spoke with one of the experts.
Gene Hanson, co-owner of Gorilla Paintball, says that the first paintball games were played over 25 years ago, by a bunch of guys with cattle-marking pistols. “They would argue about who could survive the longest in the wild, using wits, intelligence, strength, or natural ability.” He continued, noting that the first recorded game happened sometime in 1981, “they finally decided that whoever would win the paintball game would be the manliest survival man.”
His comments touched on something that I had been thinking about as I walked up to Gorilla Paintball. It had been pondering if when one strips away all the trappings and the jargon of the sport, is paintball is really just a bunch of people pretending to kill one another? I had been wondering if this was healthy at all, or were we just lying to ourselves if we didn’t try to confront these feelings of homicidal competition against our own species.
I’ve never had a lot of patience for philosophy, so instead I put this thought to the test, which was to go and try it for myself.When I stepped onto the paintball field, I had three distinct disadvantages: one logical, one physical, and one emotional.
The logical disadvantage was by far the strongest. Although I did have a bit of experience on the makeshift backyard BB gun battlefields of Shafter in the late 90’s, I had never played paintball before in my life. And in these BB gun wars, it was always a paranoia fueled every-man-for-himself mentality, played out by hiding behind trees and bushes trying to pump up my BB gun enough so I could make a nice welt on whoever I ran into.
My physical disadvantage was with my legs; I had been doing squats at the gym the day before, and my legs were very sore. This made crouching down and moving quickly a challenge. I tried to prepare by stretching, and doing some pushups to get my adrenaline going, but I was still at a disadvantage.
Finally, I was scared. No one wants to get shot. A person may opt to get shot at for the thrill, or to prove they are tough or whatever, but no one really craves getting shot. So again I admit, I was scared of getting shot.
Even though I knew that the paintballs probably didn’t hurt that much, I was still scared of getting shot. I knew that this psychological hindrance would be put to rest if I could just feel what the guns hit like. I thought about asking one of the guys there to shoot me, just so I knew what I was in for. This idea died in the same way that many ballsy ideas die; I ended up thinking about it too much.
When the first two rounds were over, I was shaking with adrenaline and could barely write down notes as I interviewed some of the players. I asked Philip Escalera, 16, who attends South High what kind of advice he gives to new players.
“Try to be faster than the other players, stay out of the open,” he tells me. This may seem like pretty obvious advice, but when I was out on the field it was very hard to keep both of these things in mind at the same time. The absolute hardest thing was trying to find the balance between being an offensive and a defensive player.
In the end, the game felt more like a sophisticated version of tag than a reenactment of “The Most Dangerous Game.” However, there was a moment during the final round I played when I was crouched behind a barricade, being barraged by four opponents that some of my earlier reservations about the game came about again.
I thought about how scared I was to get up and fire shots at my opponents at that moment, because all I could and feel were their rounds pummeling my barricade. I wanted to stand up and go all Rambo on them. But I also knew that it would suck to get shot, and that I didn’t want to get taken out. But I knew that no matter what way the game went, I would be alive afterwards.
Your mortality within the game is very fragile, and everyone gets shot out from time to time. Even the most experienced player gets capped by a newbie occasionally. So, I had a thought about real soldiers, in real situations similar to ours. Except in their situations, their life was on the line, and if they were not faster than the other team, if they did not stay out of the open, and if they did not keep everything close, then the mark on their shirt would not be a streak of paint.
But, the game is not war, and there are few hard feelings afterwards. Hanson went on to draw a contrast between real battle and a game of paintball, “One of the earliest things I noticed about this sport that set it apart from war games, is that it is such a social sport.” Hanson helped a customer fix his hopper (the magazine that holds the paintball rounds), then he continued, “You go out and play on the weekends, then you go to work and talk about how much fun you had with all of your buddies. You want to come back and work out new strategies and get better.”
The Gorilla Paintball Indoor field is located on 5421 Aldrin Court and is owned by Hanson and his business partner Jerry Ross. I would like to thank Hanson for his explanation of the sport, and a special thank you to all the players who did not take advantage and light me up like a Christmas tree.