I knew he loved it. It was wild, fast, exhilarating, and he got to show sides of himself I had probably never seen–and never would see, unless I did it too. An intense competition, a game with plenty of opportunity for strategy and plotting. And, at the heart of it, lots of yelling and shooting.
I needed to try this paintball thing.
Once the decision was made to try the game–after all, I loved laser tag, this was the same thing, just with pain, right?–I wanted to use all the knowledge I’d acquired so far and my own natural abilities to prove myself strong and able. I had already done the research. My insatiable curiosity and talent for listening to my boyfriend ramble the night after playing (and frankly, any other night I asked any questions) had yielded a great deal of insider information. I knew things that other newbies wouldn’t know. Such as what “newbies” meant (players new to the game, i.e., easy targets), and what newbies shouldn’t do (act like newbies). Looking back, I see I might have missed a few details. But there was at least one main point I actually processed and retained: you can gain a lot from being sneaky, from ambushes, but don’t sit around without some sort of plan. That’s not being aggressive, and being aggressive is usually what works. According to my inside track information, non-aggression seemed to either leave you bored and out of the game because it runs ahead of you, or bored and out of the game because it runs up on you and shoots you. So I knew I had one piece of strategy to cling to.
The set-up was simple. My boyfriend and his friends played at another friend’s house, so there was a lot of land, but not a lot of people and no pesky entry fees or overpriced paint. It would be a nurturing environment for my first try at this. Well, at least no strangers that he couldn’t fuss at if they hurt me. Not that I was worried about that of course. Simply taking stock of all the advantages.
The next step was finding something to wear. I scrounged around for good clothes, clothes that would let me be comfortable and not too visible, yet still look cool and not show how nervous I was, that is, in the unlikely event that I might get that way. I had a muted green sweatshirt, and gray sweatpants. I got to the field and looked around. It was spring, and the field was mostly brown grass and brown trees. No green whatsoever. Oops, I thought. But there were plenty of shadows, so the green shirt wouldn’t stand out too much. Then I noticed that the guys kept pointing at my pants and giggling. I looked down and saw that heather gray becomes quite bright white in sunlight, especially against all the drab brown of our surroundings. Ok, well I’ll just borrow my boyfriend’s camo pants. That done, I was ready. No, you need to cover your hair, I was told. Oh. Lacking one of those French foreign legion-looking caps with the draping cloth down the back, I tied (well, with some help) a t-shirt around my head. Ok, now I’m cool. Give me a gun, please. Now I have a weapon! I’m ready! No, no. I had to take it to the chrono and see what speed it was shooting (that is, chronometer, it makes sure no one gets hit too hard, a nice safety device). This was way more complicated than I thought. It was taking an hour just to get ready to play…
Finally we start. I walk out with the guys to hide in the woods. I sit behind a tree. The others would come up on us from, well, any direction. I search for signs of movement. I could feel the adrenaline rush. If I get this tense over some guys shooting colored balls at me, I can only imagine what it might feel like to be in a real life and death defensive position. Scary.
So, in the inordinate amount of time I have to wait, I continue to ponder the complexities of war and peace and other philosophical questions. And then I wait a bit more. Finally I get restless and begin to move. I thought this showed my fighting instinct, and how I was already showing great potential at the game, and I was using my “be aggressive” strategy. Then I see people! I start shooting, knowing I’m going to get them because I had moved to intercept, and I was doing great. But nothing happened. The gun isn’t firing. Stubbornly, I keep trying, until it occurs to me that stubbornness is usually a fault and then I turn around to run and get somewhere where I can examine the gun. Of course I get hit. By the twelve-year-old who happened to be playing with us. The only guy I actually towered over (at 5’3″ I don’t get to tower much) and he’s the one that got me. After the initial shock, I had another revelation–the safety. Check the safety. Oh look, it’s on. Damn! Dammitdammitdammit (well those were some of the words I was thinking at the time). It was only after the frustration wore off that I had time to think, ow, that hurt.
But not too badly. It was reassuring to discover I could definitely handle the pain, which was a bit of a concern, and now that I was familiar with the gun’s safety, I was anxious to actually do something useful in a game.
We start again. I’m on the team moving on the others who’ve hidden in the woods. We get close and someone tries to run at a teammate and I enthusiastically shoot buckets at them, missing completely but successfully forcing them back into the woods. I start to feel cool again.
I walk around some more, looking for people (there’s a great deal more down time in this “exhilarating” game than I anticipated) and I see someone so I hide behind a tree and wait for them to get closer so I can kill them! I mean, shoot them! When I begin my little battle, I realize trees are often smaller than they look. Or maybe they just start to feel rather small when someone is shooting at you. It happened quickly. My tree took a couple of hits, and I felt paint splatter on my fingers. Ewww, that’s icky. I ask if fingers count. ‘Cause it was such a little bit of paint. Yes, the guys around me call out. Ok, I’m out. I start to walk off the field, I run into someone doing the same. I excitedly describe in graphic detail my first real skirmish (proving that the play by play rambling that occurs in discussions of paintball games is indeed compulsive and involuntary) and I mention the way I got hit. “The ball hit the tree and splattered on you?” he asks.
“Yep. It sucks, ’cause…”
“Splatter doesn’t count.”
“You weren’t out.”
How nice that these things were so NOT clearly explained to me before the game. Next game, I’ll be ready, really. How much is left that can go suprisingly wrong, anyway?
Well I can tilt the gun back and the ammo box can fall off. That was walking around, and therefore not disastrous, but a bit goofy nonetheless. I pick up the loose paintballs. And for others of you getting your first account of the game from me (cool, hope I’m influencing you) an ammo box isn’t a box. It’s not even like an ammo clip. It’s a sort of oval-shaped thing that holds the balls and sits on top of the gun. The little balls filter out the bottom of it into the gun barrel. Not exactly streamlined, but it works.
I try to improve. I spend one game wandering along the outside of the field, I see no one and the game is called ’cause the 12 year old gets hurt. He’s a great kid, but I was understandably disappointed that my flanking maneuver was thwarted.
Ok, one more try. This time I creep along with some teammates, and I see the enemy ahead. The terminology is impossible not to pick up once you start playing. So the enemy is up ahead, and we sort of spread apart. I’m a bit more hidden, and the other guy gets hit. I see someone shooting away from me and I sneak up to get a clear shot. I miss, but I have a tree ready for the expected retaliation. The tree is my friend. Camaraderie is supposedly one of the major rewards of paintball, you know. So my tree is taking the shots like a trooper, I peek around and shoot, and duck back. I can hear the paint smack the tree, I can practically feel the impact, probably because my face is right next to the tree. So I shoot again, I duck again, I’m doing well. I keep aiming for that little piece of cloth, it’s a shoulder, that I can see. I fire again. I hear, “I’m hit.”
“Really?” I yell. “I really hit you?” Hallelujah! I am so thrilled. I can do this! I stay hidden, ready to move on to my next victim, and then I hear, the game’s over. Aw shit, I was just getting started. Surely my time isn’t up yet. Perhaps there is treachery afoot.
“It’s really over?”
“Yeah,” I hear, and everyone walks past me, pretty nonchalantly considering the milestone that just occurred. Well, I’d noticed my progress at least. I reluctantly leave my tree and jog to catch up. By the time I reach the base and see my boyfriend, I’ve brightened up and I’m practically jumping up and down with the great news that I shot Neild! I really did! Um, sorry Neild, but isn’t that neat? Clearly such displays were not common among this bunch, but hey, I was new at this, and I’d finally managed to hit somebody, and it felt great. And then I remember, I’m just getting started.
Epilogue: We played a couple more woods games, which were fun but not so dramatic. We then went on to play speedball later that day, which is a game played on a very small field (the ends are just out of range of the guns, 20 yards, maybe?) with boards standing up to hide behind. We did mostly one-on-one. I won once or twice, and got hit several other times. The pain continued to be not a big deal, and I continued to have fun. It was great to finally be able to understand what my boyfriend had been talking about for years. So the moral of the story is, it is a pretty approachable sport, and there are a lot of different styles you can use to play. Look at me, and look at the rest of these guys that make up the website and absolutely love what they’re doing and would love you to love it (yes, like the song) too, and you’ll see that stereotypes don’t exist here–it’s really true, anybody can play. If you’re at all intrigued, you might as well try it. I was really glad I did.