Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Let's rip

For a hackneyed cliché in corporate team building, paintball is a particularly lonely experience. I’ve been twice, both times on Stag dos. Whilst there is a camaraderie that surrounds a Stag party it is a brittle one. The party is made of a mix of work, university and school friends, each with their own histories and stories. To build a team through paintball means that you have to be a close knit team in the first place. Making it all rather pointless.

For those who have never been, a day of paintball involves joining a hybrid team of birthdays, stag dos, corporate team builders and most worrying, hobbyist paintball enthusiasts (serial killers in training). You take part in a series of set piece games with names like ‘defend and attack’, ‘take the flag’ and ‘total annihilation’. Paintball guns fire little pellets of paint that feel like you're being hit by a hailstone. When you’re hit you’re dead. In between each game you gather in a holding area where the general bonhomie of naive squaddies ensues, nonchalant marshals with heavy metal hair drift around waiting for the next game to start, when it does the anomie sets in.

Paintball companies are paranoid about safety, exiting the safety zone you put a full face mask on which makes you look like a Stormtrooper. With everyone wearing identical baggy fatigues you’re stripped of your identity, unable to separate friends from strangers. The walk to the battleground is usually made in near-silence. All you hear is the hiss of your own breathing. By the time you get there, the mask has usually misted up so you can’t see anything.

Once the game starts, hope of any kind of teamwork is instantly forgotten and you become an individual vigilante. The game is explained in about ten seconds and the opportunity for planning almost non-existent. There are two broad strategies you can employ. The first is ‘Hide in a Hole’. This involves finding a nook, or diving behind a bit of wood and randomly firing into the general area of your foe. The second strategy is ‘Run like a Loony’ This involves kamikaze runs at the enemy firing wildly. The first means you play for the whole game, but have no fun. The second means more fun, for about 30 seconds, then you get shot and it hurts.

When you are shot and therefore out of the game, you have no idea who shot you there’s a thud, a burst pain and it’s all over, you’re being bullied by a faceless aggressor. Usually after you’re shot you’re hit a couple more times as you head for the Dead Zone. This is exacerbated by the fact that you don’t know how successful you’ve been because you never see the people you’ve shot. You’re being bullied and you don’t know why, and you are stripped of your individuality and any affirmation of your own ability.

Even a victory is hollow, last Saturday we had a couple of girls in our team. Both were little over five foot tall. In the heat of the first battle a scream was heard behind…

“Are you alright”
“Shit I’ve been hit”
“Oh no, does it hurt”
“A little bit, I’m dead so I’ve got to go”
“I don’t want to get hit, I’m coming too”

We’re not dealing with trained killers, a victory is meaningless.

When the game is over everyone trudges back to base in silence. When the masks come off, everyone has a fictitious war story of taking a hail of paintballs for the team. Johnny had a good strategy, he bought 200 paintballs per game, suggesting he’d either seen some serious action, or was eating them.


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