Sunday, April 11, 2010

Paintball, Part the Fourth - Standing My Ground

Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.
- Winston Churchill

Game Three: Civil War
Venue: some open field

After completing the VIP games, we moved to an open field next to the field where we played VIP and started a game that the referees refer to as 'Civil War'. The game consists of dividing into two teams. Each team then lines up on one side of the field, with the two lines anywhere from 100 to 150 feet apart, and each player in each line standing at least arm's length apart from the next player in line.

Each player on one line then fires a single shot at any player they choose in the other line. Anyone hit is eliminated, and any survivors get to return fire, again firing only a single shot. Any survivors after the exchange of fire take two large steps toward each other, then the process repeats until one team is entirely eliminated.

I discovered that the game isn't called 'Civil War' because the actual American Civil War was fought this way; this Napoleonic-era 'let's all stand in long lines and shoot each other' was used early, as part of the 'state of the art' in warfare, but was slowly abandoned after Gettysburg. The game is called Civil War because playing it reminds you of reading Civil War-era diaries and letters written by men describing what it felt like to have iron balls whizzing past their heads, and feeling as if you understand their sentiment.

Also, because both you and your target are stationary, Civil War is an ideal game to observe the aiming characteristics of your air-powered gun -- or, to be more accurate, the lack of aiming characteristics of most paintball guns. Begin with the ammunition: a small, hard pellet filled with liquid paint. There seem to be many ways for a paintball pellet to be unbalanced or lopsided in some way, even as the surface of the pellet is a uniform spheroid. For starters, the paint may not completely fill the interior of the pellet, resulting in an air pocket that leaves the pellet not of uniform density and weight. Or even if pellets without air pockets, tiny cracks can form that allow small amounts of air into the liquid center and cause some of the paint near the crack to congeal into semi-hard latex, also resulting in a lopsided interior. (Cracks don't appear to be terribly common, but are common enough that severe cracks can even cause a ball to break in its storage bag during shipping; the experienced paint-ballers among us warned that if we noticed a broken ball among our ammo, to simply throw out the ammo from that bag, as it would be difficult to determine which balls had been adulterated by having paint from the broken ball leak on them and thus become lopsided externally rather than internally. The guys running the paintball field took that opportunity to remind us that they didn't take exchanges on ammo.)

To the vagaries of the ammunition, then add the characteristics of the weapon. The standard rental paintball gun, as noted above, was something of the size of a submachinegun, having a barrel about two feet long or perhaps slightly longer. Unlike the barrels of actual guns, paintball gun barrels are not 'rifled'; that is, almost all guns made today have grooves cut into the barrels in a helical manner, so that the bullet traveling along the barrel is induced to spin, which provides something of a gyroscopic stability during flight and allows the bullet to stay on a true line longer, making it more accurate. I suspect paintball gun barrels are not rifled for two main reasons: first, since the ammunition is round, like a Civil War-era Minie ball, the rifling would have far less impact on the paintball than it would on a projectile shaped more like a bullet. (You can apparently purchase both rifled paintball gun barrels and vaguely bullet-shaped ammo to go with them, but these things are described as 'ridiculously expensive' even by the guys so much into paintball that they have their own guns, ammo with different colored paint, and camouflage clothing; i.e.: the guys who've clearly already invested hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars into this hobby.) Second, on the rare occasion that a paintball pellet does burst in the barrel, having a rifled barrel would make the gun far more difficult to clean, and refusing to clean your own gun is tantamount to throwing it away; even a fairly tiny imperfection in the barrel can make it so that instead of firing high-velocity balls of paint at your enemies, you are instead firing a vague pink mist with virtually no effective range.

All this is a long-winded way of explaining why, when I fire a round during this game, I can watch it curve and curl off the path I intend for it to take. I am on a team that is eliminated once and is victorious once (though I am 'killed' in both games), and I can't be certain that any of the shots I fired in this game actually hit a target. The good news is that I fire barely over half a dozen rounds myself, and thus have still barely scratched my allotment of ammunition for the day.

Before moving on to the next game, I should also point out that this is the game that features the strangest of all injuries that happens today. Ed, an older fellow who is something of the designated 'sad sack' in any group he happens to be in, is hit in the throat by a ball during this game (which also points out the relative inadequacy of the safety equipment being used; everyone, including the veterans, is surprised at the location of the injury, as if nobody noticed that the facemasks provided by the paintball groundskeepers barely cover our jaws much less our throats). The injury provokes some concern at first -- I myself have visions of being hit in the Adam's apple, which then fractures and strangles me from within my own throat, slowly and horribly -- but once it's clear that only Ed's pride is seriously hurt, his wound, which has produced an angry red welt which, once cleared of paint, strangely resembles a livid vagina, is mockingly commented upon for the remainder of the day.

After the Civil War game, we pack up again and once more take the looooong hike back to the picnic tables, the compressor, and our stored gear. We are the only customers on the range today, so we're taking very casual care of our snacks and spare ammunition and other stuff, just leaving it all setting out at the tables while we're gone at one battleground or another. It makes us almost feel as though we own the place, which in a sense, we sort of do, at least for the next hour and a half.

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