When I was 11 years old or so, I have a vivid memory of being presented with a copy of Halo: Combat Evolved for the original Xbox. More familiar with platformers and RPGs, the idea of direct, first-person combat was an immersive challenge the like of which I hadn’t really experienced before. I was terrible at it, but still loved it, which was a novelty in itself.
I grew up playing these games, never really getting any better at them, especially enjoying playing local split-screen with friends. I spent many weekends of my youth in the binary red vs. blue battleground of first-person shooters.
From my experiences in these games, and a supremely inaccurate experience at a firing range in Amsterdam, I did not have high ambitions for our paint-balling excursion at The Manchester Paintball Arena. Being the sort of person who is happy to self-deprecate in the name of fun (see also: laser-tag) I gamely signed up anyway.
We were met by our Chief Marshall, Wayne, a man with the rare ability to be amicable and friendly, yet strangely terrifying at the same time. Wayne briefed us on the rules of engagement, of which there were thankfully quite a lot. Deliberate headshots and close range shooting are prohibited, news that caused a sigh of relief to ripple through the assembled crowd of Webbies.
Jockstrap snugly applied, overalls buttoned up, and tactical vest Velcroed tightly around my waist, I was given an armband identifying me as BLUE 3. It was a comforting sensation to slip the surly bonds of personal identity, and become BLUE 3, the warrior, the enigma. Who is this man/woman in the ill-fitting jumpsuit pointing an air-powered semi-automatic rifle at me? This question sailed contemplatively through my mind many times over the evening, usually shortly before a short, sharp, pain.
The first game mode we played, ominously entitled Team Deathmatch, involved shooting at each other in order to score strictly theoretical kills. Having said that, when a paintball hits you in the grill, splattering paint – which, side note, didn’t actually taste that bad – all over your gritted teeth, you do start to wonder whether your adversaries are actively shooting to kill.
BLUE 1, formerly known as Jeff, taking cover in a suitably dystopian car wreckage.
So commenced an evening in which I experienced the full spectrum of human emotion.
Trepidation – trying to make yourself as small as possible as four different people rain primary-coloured hell upon your hidey-hole; Exhilaration – darting behind enemy lines to hoist your colours in the enemy’s sector, dodging everything from sniper fire to rugby tackles; Surprise – when a paintball explodes upon your visor, causing your field of vision to be lost completely as you flail around madly whilst being shot in your thigh, chest and arm. Finally, elation – seeing a comrade complete a mad run, returning the sabotage barrel to the opposing side of the field, with all the grace and candour of a hall-of-fame running back.
After an initial wobble, we stopped ‘Team Deadpool’ in their tracks in a variety of game modes, including one incredibly fast-paced game of Sabination, a combination between the already hectic games Domination and Sabotage, which culminated in an emotional Mexican stand-off as two opponents came face-to-face.
I looked on, mesmerised, from the wrecked car in which I was taking cover, as the two opponents hesitated to shoot each other at close range. They backed away, a rare moment of compassion in an unforgiving world, before I came to my senses and emptied my gravity fed paint gun on the unsuspecting RED. In the world of paintball, one must give no quarter.
A member of ‘Team Deadpool’ doing what they do best…
The day was won by BLUE squad, who were so busy being tactically superior we didn’t stop to give ourselves a fancy team name, but it can be said that we were all winners. Perhaps more accurately, it can be that said victory tastes pretty much the same as defeat when you’ve shot each other to pieces all afternoon.
Seeing Shaun take one bravely to the back of the head from a stray paintball, and hearing Joel shriek in agony as his own team-mate, who will remain nameless (not really, it was Steph), mistakenly shot him in the hindquarters, gave me an undying affinity for my compatriots, BLUE and RED alike.
Unlike in the video games of my youth, the battle seems to have taken a physical toll on the participants, with more than a few Webbies spotted limping to their desks this morning.
For me, today has mostly been spent pulling woodchips out of my hair and regaling my colleagues with grossly inflated tales of my own bravery, and that of my comrades.
Paint-ball was an excellent and action-packed evening that was fully worth the bruises. Massive shout-out to the staff at Manchester Paintball Arena for their hospitality – and naturally, their pizza – paintballing with these guys is an experience that we highly recommend.
Feature img: shutterstock_381381700 used under standard license from shutterstock.com
All other media courtesy of Manchester Paintball Arena