My plan was to fart. I ate a shitload of Chinese for lunch and five slices of pizza for dinner (CRUSHED those slices), and so I figured that if I farted long and hard enough, I would inflict damage upon my co-workers, regardless of my actual marksmanship. SHUT UP AND FART SMOG SOMEONE. That was my laser tag strategy.
The Deadspin staff played laser tag last night. It was sweaty, and gross, and surprisingly intense. My name was Doc Holiday. I know that's a misspelling, but that's what it said on the gun, anyway: a little blue strip of tape with the nickname printed out to match the nickname on my vest. I didn't give a shit that they got the name wrong. They were assigning nicknames to everyone at Indoor Extreme Sports in Queens, and DOC HOLIDAY was pretty badass. Poor Burneko got DOUGHBOY. He is no daisy.
Indoor Extreme Sports is a big warehouse off of Van Dam Street in Queens with no other active storefronts around it. Inside is a kind of wonderland of pretend kiddie warfare: laser tag, paintball, and arrow tag. Yes, arrow tag, where you shoot arrows at one another. I was told the arrows were padded. Normally, this place is used for birthday parties. I saw a bunch of tables with the requisite paper tablecloths, all ready to be littered with crumbs. But we were not there for a birthday. We were a group of sweaty men filled with pizza and beer hellbent on subjecting one another to abject humiliation.
We had the home Lazer Tag when I was a kid: the original set, with a clunky silver sensor you strapped to your chest with the five light diodes. It was like wearing a baby monitor. Most of the time, the sensor would start beeping even though you didn't know who shot you or if they shot you at all. I think they cycled through 50 AA batteries every 12 minutes.
This was not that Laser Tag. This was some heavy duty shit. They brought us to the front table and had all the guns laid out for us. Real rifles, made of steel and declawed with laser magazines and a cylindrical pad on the barrel to ensure we didn't poke each other's eye out. I pretended it was my silencer. NO ONE WILL SEE DOC HOLIDAY COMING.
"Keep your rifles pointed down when you're not shooting," our instructor told us, "Otherwise you'll poke each other with the guns and it'll hurt. I personally think it would be funny as shit, but don't do it."
We split into two teams—blue and red—and toured the course. There was a replica tank in the center.
"Do not climb onto the tank!"
There was also a bridge.
"Don't jump off the bridge, or you'll bump your head!"
There was a replica base featuring a file cabinet and a PC—I wanted to hop onto it and upload all of Osama bin Laden's contacts to a thumb drive. There were also teddy bears hanging from the ceiling, which was weird! Plus a couch with three mannequins draped atop it. They didn't have forelegs. They were amputee mannequins. One had a beard. It was fucked up.
There were also lots of tactical barriers to hide behind: boxes, stacks of tires, pillars, etc. I watched half a minute of a training video before I came to the arena. In the video, a dude who looks EXACTLY like Jonah Hill takes you through an empty warehouse filled with cardboard boxes (really looked like a rape barn) and explained that you should peek around corners exposing as little of the body as possible. Peek, then draw your gun. Don't lead with the gun, or else you'll get hit. Jonah Hill knew his shit.
At long last, we got our guns and our vests.
"The straps are adjusted for kids," said the instructor. "You'll have to let them out." And I did. All the way. It wasn't so much as vest as a lobster bib with straps now, but I still felt like a member of Seal Team Six.
Finally, they handed us each a rifle, and we were all happy. Gun control or not, holding a gun feels INCREDIBLE. It just nuzzles right into you. Even a fake gun feels great. I wanted to take the gun home. Guns are so cool. Unlike the old Lazer Tag guns, which looked like discarded props from a Battlestar Galactica fan film, these guns felt real and had real sights and made real firing sounds. We even had "ammo," 150 shots per clip. Every time you squeezed the trigger, you felt a pop, which was satisfying. That's all I want. I want to feel like I'm killing people without killing them. Then I want to brag to them about killing them.
They led our team to our headquarters. We were at the far end of the arena; the Red Team was at the front. There was a screen in the hideout listing our Blue Team names: DOC HOLIDAY, STRYDER, CELL, JAGO, DJANGO (sure, why not), DOUGHBOY, etc. Like a real army platoon. Make sure there's a wisecrackin' kid from Brooklyn in yours—they always round out the group. Next to your name on the screen was your number of kills, the number of times you got hit, and how much ammo you had left. The siren blasted, and the battle was on. A smoke machine whirred to life, and all I could see were shadowy figures skittering in the distance. THE FOG OF WAR. We were technically unable to kill our own team members, which is good, because I shot at my own men a lot.
We learned enough from Fake Jonah Hill and regular movies to know that, in an urban combat scenario, you take cover behind an obstruction and try to get a favorable sightline on the enemy. We crouched and ducked and slithered from one stack of boxes to the next. I screamed COVER ME and I'LL COVER YOU many times, because that's cool and awesome. When guys got hit, their vest would light up like a Christmas tree. Was that the enemy? Was that our guy? Did I successfully kill someone? I hope I did. Any time I got killed, I screamed out FUCK! real loud. I took it hard, brother.
We got through the first round of elimination games and beat the red team 3-1. Red Team Squad Leader Tim Marchman said we were all pussies for taking overtly defensive positions. SORE FUCKING LOSER. After every game, we got to check our kill stats on the monitor. One time I killed two guys. NICE. I think we lost that game, but I didn't give a shit. I was no team player. I wanted my kills. I was the Brandon Jennings of laser tag.
But that was just the warmup. After that, we had two 15-minute matches where you could come back 15 seconds after dying, just like that Tom Cruise movie no one will go see. Our team made a point of mixing up our strategies: Never give them the same look twice. The first time, we bullrushed in a single group on the opposing compound. Even though my handle was Doc Holiday, I channeled Wyatt Earp shouting NO and just walking right up to people and shooting them. No fear. All confidence. And a couple of times, it worked! I held my rifle up, marched straight through, and lit a couple guys up before going down myself. God, it felt great. I felt invincible, which is technically true when people are firing pretend guns at you that cannot possibly harm you. GODLIKE.
I got really into it. We all did. I started shouting SHOW YOUR FACES, COWARDS! and asking fallen comrades where their assailants were hiding so that I could exact vengeance for them (I failed). Ley and I held two sides of a doorway.
"What do you see, Drew?"
"We're clear! Let's roll!"
And we moved in. I think we both got shot five seconds later. But it was worth it, dammit. We conferred like football players on the sideline after a tough offensive series. That slant route is there all day, guys! A bunch of guys staked out sniper posts and picked the enemy off one by one. I hope they were all reciting Bible verses like Barry Pepper when they were doing it. You could see a little light from the sniper rifle just before you went down. Like looking the Grim Reaper in the eye, I tell you. This was a pathetic facsimile of war. But if you used your imagination—and you're kind of a dick if you don't—you could really put yourself in the shit.
Men love to simulate war. Actually, we like to wage real wars as well. But when we aren't busy killing each other for real, we like to spend our off hours simulating mass conflict: through football and playing Call of Duty and paintball and all that other stuff. I once read an article in a kiddie magazine saying it was okay to let your sons play with pretend weapons to work out their aggression and learn to work together. I guess we only bond when we're beating the shit out of each other. But whatever. All I know is that I don't do this sort of thing enough. I don't set aside enough time away from my family and my responsibilities to safely shoot other men and scream obscenities at them. It's cleansing, really. I'm your huckleberry.
By the way, the Blue Team had more kills at the end of the match. I wanted a stat sheet to take home and frame for posterity, but no such luck—a grainy iPhone pic will have to do. Either way, Marchman can eat a dick.
Photos by Tommy Craggs.
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