Friday, December 16, 2005

"paintball" begins with "pain"

There were a couple of years back in Tucson when I used to go paintballing a lot. We didn't have a dedicated facility; just me and a few guys would get together out in the desert or occasionally in the woods up on Mt. Lemon. We would break up into two teams and play last man standing or capture the flag. It was a blast. Not only was it a lot of fun, it was a great way to get outdoors and get some exercise.

I always had trouble with my goggles. I wore glasses, and that gave three internal glass surfaces to fog up soy the end of a game, I was usually blind. That's why I eventually gave up paintballing in Arizona.

But I wear contacts now, so I was really looking forward to paintballing with a group of friends last weekend. About 14 of us went to ... well I don't know what you would call it, maybe a "paintball place".

The paintball place is just a shop that rents paintball equipment and has a couple of big open rooms in it with inflated barriers. The paintball place supplies the gun, the paint, the room and the referees, and you supply the murderous intent.

I talked three women into going by promising that the paintballs don't hurt that much. I'm a ba-a-a-ad boy. But I wasn't really lying; I was mistaken. The painful memories had faded into the mists of time; I had just forgotten how much it hurts. And anyway, when you are crawling through cactus to sneak up on someone, the snap of a paintball is relatively not all that painful.

So anyway, paintball guns hurt. At close range (like two or three feet) they can draw blood. But what difference does that make? After all, the goal is to not get shot. You don't go into a game expecting to get shot, you go into a game expecting to win. Only the other guys get shot. If you let someone shoot you, you LOSE. Of what significance is that little snapping pain compared to the humiliation, the agony of inglorious defeat?

I tried to explain this to Sarika and Shreya but they weren't buying it. All three of the women were out by the end of the third game.


You usually get hit on your way back to the safety area. Those are the hits that really hurt. It sort of works like this: you charge forward, your adrenalin pumping, firing high-volume paint at the enemy, looking for an opening, then THWAP, THWAP. You get stung by one to three balls. You go "nuts". Being out of the game is the bad part; you hardly notice the pain.

Then you turn around to trudge disconsolately back to the safety area, your head down, your shoulders slumped in defeat. Then THWAP. A paintball hits you in the back. You go, "OWW! Gosh, durn it, I'm out. Quit shooting!" And you decide that instead of retiring from the field in a slow walk, you should be retreating in a jog. Then THWAP. THWAP. THWAP. And one hits you in the rump where it really stings. "OWW. I'm %#*% OUT! QUIT %%*# SHOOTING AT ME." Of course you are yelling as you convert your jogging retreat into a full sprinting rout.

Frankly, indoor paintball isn't much fun. As I said, you get hit more after you are out than you do during the game. And there isn't any strategy or woodcraft involved. It's just: get behind a barrier and poke your head out as little as possible while you try to hit the little bit of someone else that is poking out from behind a barrier. Bo-o-oring.

That said, it's still something I'd encourage everyone to do once, especially if you can do it outdoors.

This particular session had another problem: the referees. One referee especially, kept yelling at us like a camp counselor at a camp for wayward high schoolers. This guy also gave us the orientation and he immediately got my hackles up with his attitude. I don't have any trouble taking instruction. Really. But this guy was just obnoxious about it.

If it had been just me, I probably would have laid into him right then, but there were the other people in the group and I didn't want to ruin things for everyone so I just kept quiet. I told myself that I could kick his butt later if need be. No, that's not really true. I was really thinking to myself, "This guy is probably really good with high schoolers and that's who he is used to dealing with. I'm sure they don't get a lot of adults in there. He just doesn't know how to adjust his orientation for adults; he's not deliberately trying to provoke us. He may live for now."

Well, that held out for two games. This guy spent the first two games screaming at people for safety infractions. Now, I don't mind the fact that he was just yelling. But you can yell relatively politely, or you can yell with an angry, aggressive voice. And that's what this guy was doing. Fortunately, I followed instructions so the guy didn't have any cause to yell at me directly. Unfortunately, Sarika didn't follow instructions. The guy started screaming at her as she stood right next to me.

I couldn't put up with that. I mean this guy was probably over six feet and close to three hundred pounds, screaming at a slight woman of 5' 2". Not that he intimidated her at all; she just ignored him, but I couldn't ignore it. So I yelled back at him to stop screaming at us like we were a bunch of high schoolers. That led some other referees to gang up on me. If I had known where they were, there would have been a huge fight, but I couldn't see them. I just looked around in bewilderment as these two knew voices joined in the argument. Where the heck were they? It turned out they were right above me on this catwalk, but I couldn't see them because the goggles restrict vision so much.

After that game we had another orientation. This time the guy used a less aggressive tone of voice. He explained again how important the rules are and that they were just trying to protect us. I told him I had no problem with them enforcing the rules but I expected them to do so with courtesy.

There was no more screaming after that, but it may be in part because the people who provoked the screaming didn't play any more.


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