by Leigh Macfarlane
Originally published in Off-Centre Magazine October 2009
You slither, belly low to the dirt. The skeletal projections of overhanging branches snag at your shirt; their cover minimizes your exposure to the enemy. Stretched out flat on the ground you brace yourself on your elbows and site down the scope of your Elite Marksman Alpha 9. The Target is there, to your right, crouching behind the tumbled down wall of a long abandoned home. You have him in your sights.
He hasn’t seen you; he doesn’t yet know his moments on this earth are limited. Slowly, the barrel of your rifle tracks his shadow, waiting for the perfect shot, and then... there. You squeeze the trigger and feel power exploding from the muzzle of your gun, reverberating into the coiled muscles of your forearms. But the Target has ducked away at the last second! Answering fire sprays shrapnel and slivers of wood to the right of your head! The toes of your boots dig into the earth as your calves flex and you sprint, then duck your shoulder and barrel-roll behind the shelter of an old rotting log. You are behind him now, and even as he spins you shoot. Colour explodes on the Target’s chest. It is a clean kill.
“I’m dead!” shouts your adversary. He stands with his gun hand lowered, his other arm raised in the universal signal of surrender as he walks off the paintball field. You are already scoping out the terrain for your next Target.
There is more than one way to participate in the sport of paintball. The game can be played solo or as a member of a team, in or out of doors, and on a variety of types of playing fields. Bushwacker’s Paintball in Vernon, for example, has two outdoor fields -- both a small grass field (bare except for a sequence of constructed wooden obstacles) and a treed, brush and obstacle covered large field. Penticton’s Action and Adventure Paintball, on the other hand, advertises a field of artificial turf and ‘safety first’ overstuffed vinyl obstacle bags which players alternatively vault over or rush behind. On all fields, the game can be enjoyed in varying forms, such as capture the flag or simple elimination by ‘death,’ but in all styles of play, the object of the game is simple -- stay alive. The team with the greatest number of players still alive when the clock runs out wins.
Paintball is a fairly new sport, originally designed by a group of enthusiastic hunters looking for a way to export the adrenaline rush of the hunt into a game where they could hunt and stalk -- each other. Evolving from there, some players now take the sport seriously and compete in tournament play, but paintball is also still a great game for rookies who simply show up at the field. Equipment including the mandatory face mask and guns which shoot gelatine-covered balls of water-based paint at average speeds of 80-100 m/sec can be rented at most paintball centres or can be purchased from a variety of retailers, although guns alone run anywhere from one hundred to one thousand dollars. Some fairly universal safety rules, such as the mandatory wearing of long sleeves and pants and also safety masks have been developed, keeping paintball one of the statistically safest sports played. Being shot, particularly at close-range, does hurt, however, and most centres require competitors to sign a play-at-own-risk waiver.
The sport of paintball tends to be largely dominated by mid to younger aged males, but it is also fantastic fun for both genders and for older age groups. Playing paintball provides a cardiovascular workout as competitors sprint both defensively and offensively across uneven playing fields. Large muscles groups in the legs are worked when players crouch behind low-lying protective barriers and in the arms through supporting the weight of the weapon.
Not only is paintball physically beneficial to participants, the game is also both socially and mentally invigorating. The sport provides the great mental stimuli of evading opponents and strategizing for the win. Playing paintball cannot help but engage the imagination, as winning provides both victory and life, and losing means not only are you defeated – you are dead. The paintball field is one place where gun aggression is legally sanctioned, and you can shoot to kill without actual lethal consequence just for the thrill of domination. The sport also lends a sense of camaraderie both on and off the field, since the game is often played by the formation of impromptu teams and therefore requires a group effort while not being limited by the exclusivity of a formal team roster.
Combat on the paintball field provides a cathartic outlet for stress. This is a sport that can improve relationships between teens and their parents, possibly even save marriages. Once the game is over, the dead rise. All are friends once more, hanging out while cooking over the charcoal grill, waiting for war to break out yet again.