Feeling as though we deserved a break from our hard work, Justin and I decided to join some friends for paintball last weekend. Neither of us had ever played paintball before, but it sounded like a lot of fun. And, since Sundays are now football-deprived, it was a perfect time to go.
Little did we know that we'd be stepping into something that turned out to be more like one of those Black Ops video games.
I wasn't sure what to wear or what the rules were, although I had a pretty good idea in my mind of how the game was supposed to go. You fire your paint marker (FYI - it is NOT called a "gun") at other players to splatter them with paint. Maybe in my mind I thought it was going to feel sort of like getting hit with pudding or something gooey, because, you know, paint is runny. That was my first mistake.
My second mistake was failure to have proper clothing for paintball. The facility where we played were out of jumpsuits and gloves (which I'm pretty sure "out of" really meant "we never had them in the first place"). We wore old clothes that we wouldn't mind getting paint on, and I pulled back my hair and sported a bandanna. Since some of the veteran players at the facility warned us getting hit in the hands would sting, I decided to wear my own black driving gloves. And since the helmets we were given didn't really protect our necks, Justin found a scarf in his trunk that I could tie around my neck, while he layered up in another hoodie. I'm pretty convinced that we could have put on enough layers of clothing to rival the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and we still wouldn't have had enough padding.
Our afternoon began with a safety video that was basically meant to terrify you into leaving your helmet on at all times. We were told we'd be blinded forever if an errant paintball, travelling at 200 mph, were to hit us in the eye - that's some scary stuff and almost made me want to turn around and run out. So in an effort to keep my eyes nice and vision-full, I listened in while the man behind the counter started explaining how to use the marker. Except... he didn't have the best speaking voice. He spoke a bit too softly and had a slight speech impediment that made him difficult to understand.
You'd think demonstrating proper fit of the mask would be a point of emphasis since they were all, "You'll shoot your eye out" two minutes ago, but he seemed a bit blase about this part. He demonstrated tightening and untightening the mask so quickly that I couldn't follow along. And when I got my mask, I stared at it until Justin suggested I just put it on my head to test the fit before I started fidgeting with it.
"It's squishing my cheekbones," I informed Justin, my voice sounding like Darth Vader through the open slots of the mask.
Justin helped me adjust my straps - evidently he was able to understand the inaudible instructions. I looked around and realized we all looked rather silly in our masks. I felt like we were all ready to go fight off germs in the next pandemic, minus the matching jumpers (since, you know, they were out of those).
The other thing I noticed was a group of "professional" paintballers - ones with their own camo gear, masks, headwear and markers. There seemed to be almost as many of the veterans as there were beginners. One of the older kids started up a conversation with me and my friend Sarah about how to hold and fire our markers. He was actually quite helpful. On the other hand, he kept talking about his own marker, showing us all these fancy contraptions and compartments for extra ammo - not to mention the tubes of paintballs he had strapped to his back. It was interesting the first time he talked about it, but then every time after that when he'd speak to me, he started retelling me the same story about his marker, as if I hadn't heard it seven times.
Regardless of his annoying obsession with his marker, I shadowed this kid during the first game, and I actually felt pretty confident going in the second time. The group, which consisted of me and my friends and the random veterans that were present, was divided up into teams. Justin loudly announced that he was going to shoot me.
"What if I'm on your team?" I asked him.
"I'll still shoot you," he grinned.
The truth is, however, that the indoor warehouse was pretty dark, and once the game started and you got out on the course, you had no idea who you were shooting at or who was shooting at you. I could have shot Justin several times, and vice versa, but I had no clue.
I learned something important while out on the course. Paintballs hurt. I've heard people liken it to a rubber band sting. That's somewhat accurate, but if you get shot from close range or with one of those automatic markers like the pros were carrying, it feels more like getting shot with a BB gun - with quarter-sized round bullets.
I didn't get shot in my first game. In the second game, I got nailed in the side of the knee, but the paintball must not have broken because I didn't see any paint. However, while I was checking for paint, I felt something splatter on top of my head. Oddly, that one didn't hurt. I checked myself out the way we were instructed - raise both arms in the air and yell, "I'm out! Don't shoot!" - although, someone next to me could have been reciting haiku poetry in my ear and I wouldn't have heard it. And any time I saw movement, my first instinct was to shoot at it, regardless of which team the person was part of or whether or not he or she had both arms raised. It's easy to get trigger happy.
Things got progressively worse for me. Some of the veterans on the team, who were taking the game way too seriously, lectured some of the beginners about how we were holding our markers. We were also accosted for standing still or standing in the back. "Did you get hit with one of those paintballs?" I wondered to myself. "They hurt!" Why would I willingly rush out into the middle of the battlefield? You couldn't even brace yourself because you didn't know where shots were coming from.
Still, feeling brave, I took the bull by the horns and charged out of the gate. I ran upstairs to the second level and hung out for a bit, until I decided to cross the bridge in the middle. Splat! Right in the leg. Um, ow.
The next game, I didn't want to expose myself on the bridge, so I stayed low, only to get picked off from someone on the second level. The shot hit me right in my face. I felt a pellet hit my lip. I was crouching and the force of the shot knocked me on my rear. Once I checked out of the game and entered the safe room, I started wiping myself off. My mask was splattered with paint - no wonder I couldn't see - and once Sarah came out, she informed me I had orange paint on my nose.
I was pretty gun shy at this point, but we all went back in for another game. This time, I got blasted in the back three times from about 10 yards away. It hurt so much that it momentarily stunned me and actually brought tears to my eyes - sort of like if you fall on your tail bone and stun yourself. I literally couldn't move for a minute. Once I finally scraped myself up, I stumbled towards the exit with my arms in the air, only to get pelted in the stomach by an errant paintball. Ouch!
After that, I really didn't want to go back in. Justin checked my back and I had two pretty large red welts with lovely bruises forming around the edges. Fantastic. I'm not sure who enjoys this sort of punishment. Between this and the people who were playing like they were in a combat zone, I was more than ready to call it a day.
A group of us left, but some of our friends stayed behind. They told us later that some of the vets started a fight with a group of new beginners who arrived after we left. He was swearing up a storm until one of my friends reminded him about the number of children present, after which the guy backed down. The new beginners were immediately turned off. One of them, apparently, remarked that they "didn't come for Fight Club."
My first foray into paintball will probably also be my last. I don't think there will be a sequel, unless we gather a large group of novices playing only for fun.
Sorry, gamers. There won't be a Paint Ops 2 set for release anytime soon.