September 19, 2005

Gratuitous Domestic Posting (TM) - Part 1

Yesterday I took the seven year old to a laser tag birthday party. Although I have absolutely no evidence to back it up, I am reasonably certain that the Dad turnout was rather higher for this party than it is for the average birthday gig in my neck of the woods. (Concurrently, the Missus took the other two Llama-ettes to a Gymboree birthday party. Put yourself in my shoes and think about which one you would have chosen.) There were maybe six or seven of us there and I couldn't help noticing each one sidle up to the birthday kids' parents soon after their arrival and say something like, " it okay if I play too?"

The party was held at a place called Ultrazone in Bailey's Crossroads, one of the seedier areas of the NoVA suburbs. The place is tucked down a side street next to an auto parts store and a gym. Let's just say I wouldn't especially want to be there after dark.

Inside, though, was okay. The whole thing is decked out in a kind of Futuro Apocalypse combo of black paint, faux ruins and flourescent light. The main arena is a giant room filled up by a maze of passages, corners and recesses. There are three "bases" scattered throughout the room - red, yellow and blue, corresponding with the teams into which everyone is divided. Each base has a target that, if blasted by an enemy, gives that enemy umpteen extra points. So in addition to plugging members of the other teams, part of the strategy is to attack their bases. The play area is very dark, very noisy and very disorienting.

Each player wears what amount to a pair of shoulder pads with lots of lights on them. Target sensors are set in the chest and back, and on the shoulders. The player also is equipped with a laser gun that requires two hands to fire. If you get hit in the chest or back, you're dead for ten seconds. A shoulder hit is a wound, keeping you out for five seconds. If your gun takes a hit, it also gets knocked out for a few seconds.

The Llama-ette and I were on the Red team together. She was a little unnerved by the dark and the noise the first time in - justifiably so for somebody not used to it - and when we accidentally got separated for a few seconds, she almost lost it. Fortunately, I found her again in time to avert disaster. And just to parry any accusasions that I only went to this party so that I could play, I will say that I knew perfectly well that she would have had a miserable time if she'd been there all by herself and that this was one of those situations where having Dad at her side to hold her hand and give her a boost of confidence was exactly what the doctor ordered.

But that didn't mean that I couldn't get into the game, too. I found that I had two main problems playing: the first was that the Dads, being so much taller than the kids, made natural priority targets. The second was that I could never remember that once one scored a kill on somebody, the victim was only out of the game for ten seconds - several times I popped a bad guy and passed on, only to get shot in the back a few seconds later because I'd forgotten about them. For some reason or other, the smaller boys seemed especially adept at this mode of warfare.

We played two rounds. You can imagine what the first round was like: Pandemonium, with lots and lots of friendly-fire incidents as everybody pretty much shot at anything that moved. The Llama-ette and I spent a lot of time apparently running around in aimless circles. As we moved about, several of her friends on the Red Team attached themselves to us, so that in the end we made a pretty impressive strike force when we came rolling around a corner. We even took out one of the other team's bases. However, as it was dark as hell in there and I have rather poor night-vision, I spent most of my concentration and energy just trying to keep track of the gel.

The second round, the Llama-ette and I decided we were going to be a little more organized and play some defense. So we stationed ourselves around a corner from each other on the two approaches to the Red Base, covering the fronts and watching each other's back. As before, every now and again one of our team members would come along and join us, so that we eventually had quite the little garrison. This worked out just fine. Instead of constantly having to ask where the gel was, I found myself saying soldier stuff picked up from the movies like, "Red Team! Red Team! Regroup! Three bandits coming this way! Get ready!" Occasionally, the gel would poke her head around the corner to make sure that I was still holding my position. Sometimes she also charged forward down her hall, but always fell back after snapping off some shots.

I should have mentioned that one could climb up on to platforms in various parts of the maze. Towards the end, I found myself in something of a grudge match with somebody else's Dad who was sniping at my position from a parapet about half way down the hall I was covering. I suppose I was on the verge of the old Viking berserker state, because at that point, all I was concerned about was getting him, coupled with the hope that the Llama-ette's flank wouldn't cave in behind me.

The whole game was computerized, so that after a round was over each person got a score card with a very detailed printout of hits for and against, number of shots fired, percentages of hits and so on. I will say that in the second round, I came out ranked sixth of twenty five players. Considering that I was only playing defense and did not go after any of the big-ticket points items, and also that this was my very first time trying this kind of thing, I don't think that's too shabby.

It probably would make a pacifist cringe (unless they were also a grrrl-power feminist, in which case I suppose they would be pretty conflicted), but I can also report that the Llama-ette came out well, obtaining something akin to Junior Eowyn status by the end. In the first round, she couldn't quite figure out the scoring system and got very frustrated when her gun kept cutting out. However, by the time we finished the second round, she'd gotten the hang of it, and was rightly proud of her defense of our base. "I got them, Dad! I hit those guys!" she said, eyes blazing, "That was so cool!"

Yes, I have to admit that it was.

Posted by Robert at September 19, 2005 10:07 AM | TrackBack

Laser tag is fun. I've played it with my second son under very similar circumstances. Usually it's just chaos, until a small group learns squad-level tactics and then dominates the game.

Incidentally, that "seedy" part of town is just a short way down the street from THE Super Giant (at S. Jefferson and Leesburg Pike) that we shopped at all three years we lived in NoVA. We lived about a mile east of there, in Shirlington Village.

Posted by: JohnL at September 19, 2005 10:21 AM

Probably the single biggest thing I miss about the Army is doing squad lane training; where a squad gets to practice its skills in the woods. As a lieutenant, I always got tasked with running it and managing the OPFOR -- usually two or three guys to act as snipers, prisoners, etc. When I was not evaulating, and my platoon sergeant was (we alternated), I would go play sniper. I always took the time to properly zero the MILES gear (the army's laser system, in my day). Nothing in the world more fun that whacking a squad's point man, taking off while they reacted, then circling back around them and whacking their rear security while they were still searching for me up front.

Posted by: The Colossus at September 19, 2005 10:55 AM

Colossus, never to late to dust off your gear and saddle up. One of the effects of GWOT is the Army is making training as realistic as possible so get out of your POV, put on your IBA, and get in formation!

Posted by: LMC at September 19, 2005 11:17 AM

On a similar note, you could buy a much less complicated system [gun and chest target] when I was in college. Lots of interesting hiding places in old buildings.

Posted by: owlish at September 19, 2005 11:28 AM


I am actually working on getting back in good enough condition to join the reserves. Age 40, and right now about 50 lbs over my screening weight, but I'm hopeful that by next spring, I'll be in decent enough condition to ask ARPERCEN to dust off my 'fiche.

I miss it.

Posted by: The Colossus at September 19, 2005 01:50 PM

Oh, I meant to mention that Shirlington, where JohnL lived for a while, is supposed to be nice - not at all like Bailey's, even though only a short distance away. Or so I'm told.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at September 20, 2005 09:06 AM