I have a love/hate relationship with paintball. I love running around in the woods, I love the game in principle and I love the largely harmless fun of shooting your friends. But, and this is a but big enough that Kim Kardashian would offer it an impressed whistle, I hate the execution. If you’ve ever been paintballing, especially if it was your first (and only) time, you’ll know what I mean. You go there thinking the only part you’re going to have a problem with is being shot with a paintball, but that’s the absolute last of it.
First of all, you walk a razor’s edge between vulnerable and cold, and safe and sweaty. Last time I played, I chose to wear my thickest, biggest coat as a kind of body armour. I didn’t get hit once, but I was grateful to finish a round if only to unbutton and vent some of the absurd amount of heat I was labouring under. My friends meanwhile were caught between the terror of being hit with only thin overalls to protect them, and feeling the biting wind the rest of the time. I’ve played the game a few times now and I really can’t see where the sweet spot is, but maybe it lies in shedding your fear of being shot at. Hard one to shake, of course.
The next problem comes with the gear you’re given. Paper-thin overalls aside, you generally get issued with a mask that seems designed to trap condensation inside whilst also letting in any stray paint that gets fired at your mouth and ears. You also get a gun that jams as often as not. These things I could work around, but where it gets sticky is when they conflict with the perfectly reasonable rules against taking off your mask at any time. So, this is how the course of a single game tends to go down:
- Put on your freshly cleaned mask and get out into the field.
- Attack the base/try to get the flag/achieve whatever the objective is.
- Realise that, as the two teams switch over for the second round of that particular game that your intense and warm breathing has turned everywhere apart from a corner of the mask’s visor into a cloudy screen of foggy plastic that you couldn’t possibly see through.
- Attempt to do something useful despite the impediment in that second round.
- Fail to achieve anything useful because you can’t see where anyone or anything is.
- Finish the round and return to the area where you can remove your mask, wipe it down and hope it won’t fog up again.
- Return to point 1.
Of course, they offer you a anti-mist wipe, but it’s as effective as a cloth dripping with detergent. So, your choice is wipe the visor with something dry that’ll let it fog up about ten minutes after you put it on, or try to peer through streaks of soapy whiteness. Obviously, you can’t take it off and I completely respect why taking the mask off would be foolish and dangerous, but there’s something disappointing about having half of a game be unplayable because you don’t have the use of your vision. The solution of course is to spend big on a fancy mask, but with the amount you’re already spending on the privilege, who’s going to buy one who isn’t about to join a team?
That’s the main thing, really; cost. The place I went to recently was a perfectly reasonable £10 entry, but you notice how quickly the other expenses add up. Paintballs, chief amongst those extra costs, came at £7.99 per 100 balls. To anyone who’s not played before, getting a sense of the value is a big ask; how do you know how many you’ll use? Well, truthfully, you’d be lucky to finish a game without firing more than a hundred. Over the four/five/six games you’d likely play, you can see how many you’d use and do the maths accordingly. You also don’t get gloves as part of the basic fee, and no-one likes to be shot in the hand. So, there’s another tenner or thereabouts. Obviously you need to eat on the day and, since you’re in the woods and not in easy reach of a food outlet, you either bring your own or pay there, which you’d better believe comes with its own price of convenience. So, when you start to add it all up, it’s a pricey day out which is a bit galling when half of your games are almost written off because you still can’t see.
All of this aside, the main thing I hear from people who decide not to play when the stag-do/company-away-day comes up and someone suggests paintball is that completely normal wish for self-preservation: “doesn’t it hurt?” Well, they’re right, it does, and you can’t get away from that fact. I’ve heard friends say they’d rather do something like Laser Tag for that very reason. I have to say I’m not the greatest fan of Laser Tag; if your paintball gun isn’t working you only have to fire off a shot at a tree trunk to find that out; if your gun isn’t working in Laser Tag, you may have no idea that you’re walking around with a heavy, two-handed torch. But maybe I just suck at Laster Tag and I’ve been losing badly every time with a perfectly functional set of gear. I like to think that paintballers and Laser Tag operators have a bitter rivalry, like Star Trek and Star Wars: paintballers are Call of Duty-obsessed army rejects and Laser Taggers are a bunch of nerds hanging out in a dark room. I’m being unfair, both are fun at the right time and in the right place, I just wish there weren’t so many little things getting in the way of really enjoying paintballing.
Paintballing – 59 paintballs out of 100. At least this review didn’t cost me £7.99. Probably could’ve been worth 60 paintballs out of 100 if the gloves were free.