Paintball began in the early 1980’s when a couple of people got the idea that it would be fun to shoot each other with guns made for the forestry industry. It was a natural extension of the “Cowboys and Indians” or “Army” games kids play. At commercial paintball facilities, the game usually involves the available players being divided into two teams. Within a time limit, and limited field of play, the teams will strive for some objective, such as capturing the flag. Game variations in paintball are as limitless as the imaginations of the players. Most games involve eliminating your opponents from the field of play by marking them with paint.
From a technical standpoint, paintball revolves around gas-powered guns which fire a gelatin capsule filled with paint. Although the original paint was oil based and tough to clean, for over a decade the industry has been using biodegradable, non-toxic, water-soluble paintball. The paint is fired from a variety of guns with a variety of capabilities, sold at a variety of prices. All are powered by compressed, inert (non-flammable) gasses. Early guns were single-shot, hand-cocked pistols with a magazine capacity of a only a handful of balls. Today’s most advanced guns are electronically controlled, have an ammo capacity of 200+ rounds, are programmable to fire a single shot, a multi-shot burst, or full-auto, and have a trigger pull as light as clicking a mouse.
I could spend a lot of space on the political arguments concerning the nature of the game we call paintball, but the fact is, you are either intrigued by the idea or not. If you don’t like the idea of shooting at people in what is basically a combat-like arena, then I don’t think there is much I can do to change your mind. Things like that come from your personal convictions, and you should stick to them. At the heart of it, despite whether some in the sport like it or not, paintball is a war game. However, the key word here is “game.” In that sense it’s no different than a board game or video game. I think if you ask any sensible person who has played paintball, they’ll be quick to tell you how actual combat is something they would rather not be involved in. If a paintball, which has a ridiculously short range and can be stopped by plywood, small twigs and tall weeds is still able to find its way to its target, how much easier would it be for a real bullet to do the same? Paintball players know as well as anyone (who hasn’t been there) that real war would be no game. We do this not because we are war mongers, not because we are somehow warped, not because we get some sadistic thrill from being violent — we do this simply because it’s fun.
That fun comes on a lot of different levels for different people. For me personally, I am a somewhat competitive person, I like the adventure I find in scenario games, I like the creative outlet of tinkering with the equipment, and most of all I enjoy the camaraderie with my friends. One of my closest friends is someone I met nearly a decade ago while playing paintball. Paintball is something at which anyone can be competitive, regardless of age, size, gender, shape, race, religion, etc. The way you play can be tailor made to your personality or physical abilities, and more often than not, it’s the brain that triumphs over brawn in this game.
The possibility of pain is a big issue to a lot of people who are considering playing paintball. The industry long ago set a standard maximum allowed muzzle velocity of 300 feet per second. With a standard .68 caliber paintball, this produces a point blank impact of somewhere around 9 foot pounds. That figure doesn’t mean much to me. It means even less when you consider few shots are actually taken at point blank range. So what does a paintball impact feel like? It’s similar to being hit by a large bug while doing about 80 miles per hour on a motorcycle — but again, that won’t mean much to a lot of people. To find a comparable feeling in everyday life is difficult. If you can imagine being hit by a baseball being thrown by a major league pitcher, then you have imagined far more than a paintball impact is capable of producing. Paintball impacts can hurt, or sting, while leaving bruises or welts, but do not always do even that. Sometimes, they are hardly even felt. A lot of it depends on the range at which you are hit, what part of your body is hit, and how much your adrenaline is working to cause you to ignore it until later. Some days I take the majority of hits on equipment and feel nothing. I have certainly been hurt a lot worse playing backyard football or falling off of a bicycle than I have ever been hurt playing paintball.
Paintball has an outstanding safety record. Do some searching and you’ll find according to insurance industry statistics, on a per capita basis paintball has less reported and treated injuries than many common activities, such as fishing, bowling, or golf. Most people balk when they hear such a thing, but the fact is, people incur serious muscle injuries during golfing or bowling (and being hit by one of those balls could really hurt!), and people have actually died while fishing. To my knowledge, in the nearly 20 year history of the game, no one has ever been killed while playing paintball. Part of the reason for the safety record is the industry’s near-paranoid approach to the issue. From the start, the industry and players alike have recognized that participating in such a potentially politically incorrect activity must be made safe for the game to survive. Safety issues only bring unwanted attention, and raise the spectre of government regulation. From demanding quality personal safety equipment, to regulating gun performance, the paintball industry, at least in my opinion, has done a very good job of policing itself. That’s not to say that injuries don’t occur — but the most serious of those could hardly be called accidental when they usually involve the lack of proper (and simple) safety procedures.
The most important safety procedures concern eye protection. A paintball can flat take your eye out — gone, good-bye.. see no more. That’s why at commercial facilities face and eye protection are mandatory — as they should be absolutely everywhere. There is no room for negotiation on this issue. I have personally taken many, many shots in the place that would have been my eye, if not for the eye protection. If you think you’ll be uncomfortable or not quite look cool enough wearing face and eye protection, then please move on to something else, because paintball is not for you. Most serious paintball-related injuries concern the loss of eyes by players who were either not wearing protection during the game, or were the victim of someone’s carelessness off the field.
The most important thing to take to your first game is a good attitude. Don’t forget it’s just a game and your main goal is to have a good time. It’s also important to realize that as a new player, you are probably not going to have an ultra-successful day competing against experienced players, but you can still have plenty of fun. There are a lot of “ins and outs” that take time to learn, but fortunately the learning process can be very entertaining. You will find that by the end of your first day, you will already have begun picking up valuable experience.
Also take the time to realize that not everything will go perfectly. You may experience equipment problems, or poor attitudes from other players, but these things can be overcome. Try to determine whether or not you enjoy the concept of the game itself, not just the particular game in which you are involved. If you like the concept, there are always ways to make it better.
If you are thinking of playing paintball, going to a commercial facility is the best way to find out if you’ll really like the game without making a major investment, because paintball is not for everyone. Commercial facilities will rent everything needed to play safely, while providing a place to do it and a staff to help and answer your questions. I strongly recommend doing this, at least the first time, even if it’s a long commute.
A lot of what I do is referred to as “renegade” play — that is, playing on noncommercial, privately owned land. I would not recommend anyone start this way on their own simply because of the initial investment required to do it safely. You would have to have proper face and eye protection, guns, supplies, and a chronograph to check the gun’s velocity. Anything less would be potentially dangerous. On the other hand, if you have friends who play in this manner, do it safely, and will allow you to borrow equipment, renegade ball can be a good introduction for a new player.
Another form of paintball is referred to as “outlaw” — that is, playing on land that neither you nor anyone you know owns. This is often done on public park land, or in rural areas by people who use their own equipment and feel they have few practical alternatives. I strongly recommend against it, as playing on someone else’s property can invite a world of legal troubles, and playing on public land could bring unaware victims into the field of play.