I probably should have seen this and certain other signs of impending humiliation...
- David Foster Wallace, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again"
Game One: Elimination
Venue: Artillery Hill
There are a number of playing fields at the paintball grounds, though they generally break down into two types -- smaller, contained battlefields, and larger, more open battlefields. The open battlefields are more varied -- one is just an open field, while another is peppered with trees and the occasional foxhole or improvised embankment to hide in/behind -- while the closed fields tend toward relative sameness, measuring about 100 feet wide by anywhere from 150 to 200 feet long, and being littered with objects to use as cover, though the particular objects vary from field to field. (One field, which we don't play on all day, is being worked on by the people who aren't busy serving as our judges; they're inflating what look like seven-foot tall plastic-and-canvas cones, then filling the bases with water to create something like giant Weebles all over the field.)
Artillery Hill is the smallest fields we'll see today; it's called Artillery Hill because it's also one of the few fields with a pronounced slope.
The game is Elimination, and it's the simplest of all the games offered - divide into two teams, with each team taking one side of the field, then try to kill everybody on the other team.
We divide into two teams, and thus begin a trend that will last for most of the games we play that day -- the younger, more experienced players team up together, while the groom-to-be and his wedding party tend to team up on the other side. It doesn't take long until this is an official age-segregated division of sides, which the judges quickly simplify into 'Young Bucks' versus 'Elders'. I am chagrinned to note that there's no interpretation of my birthday that will allow me to finagle my way onto the Young Bucks, so I man-up and join the Elders. As the guest of honor (as well as probably the oldest person on the field), Senior is given the option of which side of the field to start on, and he, seemingly sensibly, chooses the higher ground, thinking to make the younger players have to come up the hill to engage us.
The judges call out the order to don our protective masks, then to remove the barrel bags from our weapons. Finally, they announce the game: "Starting a game of Elimination in 3...2...1..." Then a whistle is blown and the game officially begins.
Within what seems like 60 seconds, the whistle blows again and the Elders team is declared defeated. A brief post-mortem shows that we were unable to inflict even one casualty on our opponents.
It turns out that, on the upper slope, there is very little to hide behind, and almost nothing that a post-40-year old with a jumbo-sized ass and very little athleticism can hide behind, no matter how much he tries. Within a few seconds of the start of the game, I can hear the distinctive 'thump, thump' of the compressed air guns being fired. As I head toward a tree to hide behind, I hear a sharp crack and feel a jolt of pain on my right leg. When I look down, there's a blotch of orange paint there, and a judge who sees me immediately calls out, "Player is eliminated!" I haven't fired a single shot from my own weapon yet.
Once eliminated, you're supposed to raise your hand or make some other gesture to indicate to the other team that they shouldn't waste ammunition shooting at you while you make your way to the 'dead box', the imaginary zone in each battlefield where eliminated players wait for the game to end. It's not long before the game is called.
We decide to play another round, and this time the Elders are given the lower slope to defend. On the lower slope, there are barrels, a couple of concrete dividers like those used for highway construction, and even a half-buried sheet of plyboard that can be used as a makeshift fort.
In the second game, I also experience my first embarrassing moment of the day.
When the game begins, I quickly find my way to one of the concrete barriers, relieved that the sheer size of it is large enough to hide me from enemy fire. Peeking up over the top and around one side of the barrier (to avoid being a predictable target for enemies), I note that the Young Bucks are finding the upper slope as cover-bereft as we did in the first game, and that they're aggressively moving downslope trying to reach the better cover closer to us. I see someone trying to move in my direction, so I raise my weapon and fire.
The paintball ammunition provided to us is colored blaze orange, and thus it's not too difficult to pick up the ball as it leaves the barrel of the gun. The ball quickly passes out of sight, however, and it's impossible to see if my ball strikes home or not; I assume it doesn't, since the player doesn't stop moving until another volley of shots provokes a nearby judge into declaring him eliminated, and he walks toward the dead box to await the end of the game.
We seem to have an advantage, and I note that, if I can reach the other concrete barrier located closer to the center of the field, I can deny the other team access to a lot of cover they might otherwise try to occupy from upslope -- the angle of fire I can achieve from that barrier basically makes the other cover untenable, and though it would make my position untenable as well, at least I'd have the advantage of already being in position and being able, hopefully, to get off the first shots.
I fire off a few more rounds in the direction of what Young Bucks I can see, then lumber toward the next concrete barrier. As noted, I weigh over 300 pounds and am not athletic or 'in shape' by even a generously friendly definition, so perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that my speed isn't overwhelmingly quick. I do reach the barrier without being shot, however, but at that point find myself trying desperately to stop my lumbering advance, with the only object clearly available for the task being the concrete barrier in front of me. I hit it, and for a short, agonizing instant, it looks as though I'm about to knock it over, rendering my entire move pointless.
As it turns out, the thing that saves me is that my teammates have eviscerated the Young Bucks, and only one Buck remains on the field. He sees my predicament and sights his weapon to try to take me out, but the barrier mercifully rights itself and protects me from his fire. I sit behind the barrier, breathing heavily and not even venturing as much as a glance past the now-secure barrier until the judge blows the whistle and ends the game with our team of Elders victorious.
Though I've managed just a handful of shots, others have been firing much more freely, so we take a trip back to the compressor to recharge and allow people to access their stored supply of paintball ammo. One of the things I'd requested from the menu and wasn't denied was a belt containing three plastic containers in which ammo could be stored, in theory allowing for an empty weapon to be reloaded in the midst of battle. Sadly the belt is far too small for my Brobdingnagian frame, so the rental office gives me two belts which I snap together to make one gigantic belt, which is now just a bit too large to fit comfortably. I continue to try to wear it, though, since it has my spare ammo.
After reloading and recharging, we begin a long hike to the next field and the next game.
Game Two: VIP
I don't actually catch the name of the next field, which we reach after an almost agonizingly long walk, but it's one of the more open fields, large and not obviously bounded, with a makeshift castle constructed of painted plyboard situated on one side. The castle gets some excited chatter going about possible siege games, but it turns out that only the judges end up using the castle while we're out here.
Senior is named the VIP, and is asked to name two bodyguards before having the rules of the game explained. Senior decides to choose his best man, Bruce, and the goatee-sporting younger guy whose name I never did catch but who's clearly the most experienced paintballer present.
The object of the game, it turns out, is for the VIP's team to get him safely from one side of the field to the other; even a single hit on the VIP kills him. The bodyguards are nigh-invulnerable (only a head-shot will kill them; the only explicit suggestion all day that aiming at the head is allowable much less encouraged), but can't go too far from the VIP, lest someone sneaky get past them and assassinate their charge.
The castle is about mid-way between the two ends of the field where the VIP must travel, but the area around the castle is pretty clear of cover save for the castle itself, which isn't the VIP's destination. Instead, the VIP and his team, once the game begins, head up the more forested side of the field, the bodyguards fanning out ahead of the VIP to flush anyone trying to wait in ambush. That's what I attempt to do, angling my way over to find a tree to hide behind where I might get a long-distance shot on the VIP, but it ends up that I don't need to worry -- Victor has managed to sneak around the bodyguards and blows Senior away from point-blank range, giving the first game to the attackers.
Senior is allowed to choose two additional bodyguards and we start again.
I try the same tactic, this time joined by Brandon, a guy I know from playing 4th edition D&D at his place a few times. When the larger party of bodyguards arrives, following the same forested path as before, they quickly mass their fire to eliminate Brandon. Seeing the effect of their massed fire, I turn to find a better hiding place, and am again betrayed by my lack of physical condition -- I just fall over in mid-stride, my gun pinwheeling off into space to land about 15 feet away from me as I go down on my back. Realizing I'm alone and unarmed and not wanting to get savaged by massed volleys of paintball fire, I raise my hand and a nearby judge pronounces me out of the game.
Two fields, two embarrassments. Total number of shots fired in two games of VIP: zero.
As we head to a nearby field for the next game, I begin to wonder if I made a wise decision coming along for this.