Paint the Town Day-Glo Pink!

Really, I like getting shot by assholes recreationally.

No matter what anyone tells you, anything that is accelerated to several hundred feet per second and propelled into your body is going to hurt.

Paintball has always been one of those things I meant to try and just never really got around to. Back when I was in high school, there was a small corps of people really dedicated to the sport, and while they made it sound pretty fun and interesting, they were also the people that walked around in camouflage and shouted things like “Real tough guy!” seemingly at random. Thus, my urge to run out and play abated. If I was going to do any pseudo-strategic activity that would label me a nerd or geek or whatever, it was going to involve padded swords, and that was that.

Jump forward six or seven years, and I had still never gotten around to doing it. Somewhere in between, though, my sister got married, and my brother-in-law turns out to be quite the avid paintballer. He seems normal enough — works in an office, doesn’t own any camo as far as I know, and has never shouted the phrase “Come get some!” outside of proper context.

So, with some back-up sanity provided by a friend, the three of us took off for beautiful Taneytown, MD, one late August day so I could try my hand on the field of paint battle for the first time.

Here’s a little hint for those trying out paintball for the first time: make sure to go with someone who knows what the hell is going on. Trust me. Paintball is not something where someone is going to hand you an instruction manual or explain what’s going on to you when you rent your equipment. No, they just kind of hand you the gun and send you on your merry way.

Granted, if you pay attention, you can probably figure out the concept on your own. It’s a little tricky, though, because there are actually several different types of paintball games. You may be playing airball, you may be playing speedball, or maybe you’ll be in the woods or something. A little trick to help you sort them all out: They’re all the same. They just have different obstacles.

The first game I played was a round of airball. They lined us up at one end of the field and the opponents at the other end, counted to three, and off we went. I didn’t really know what the overall game plan was. I thought maybe my team and I would get a second to talk it over. No such luck. As soon as the game started, it was every man for himself.

I managed to dive for cover behind a large inflated barrier, and could hear the rapid thumping of paintballs smashing into the other side. I paused for a moment, trying to assess the situation. My teammates didn’t seem interested in forming a coherent strategy, so the obvious course of action was to crouch down, peek around the corner, and fire wildly down the field. This worked pretty well for about a minute, until I accidentally stuck my leg out a little too far.


That’s what you hear when a paintball hits you. What you feel depends entirely on what part of your body was hit. It stings pretty much anywhere, but a hit on bare flesh can be extra intense. Fortunately, I was wearing jeans, so the sensation was unpleasant, but not eye-wincingly bad.

Regardless, being hit usually means game over for that round. But not always. Let me clarify: At many paintball arenas, a hit only counts as a hit if the paintball actually explodes. Sometimes a ball will just smash into you and not break, meaning that although you’ve been shot, you’re still in the game. Obviously, this reflects upon how, in a real field of battle, sometimes bullets hit people and bounce off, meaning they can continue warring.

That happens, right?

Sure, I may be copping a little attitude there, but it all relates to how you view the sport itself. There are basically three types of people you’ll run into at any given paintball field:

  • People who are looking at it as a semi-realistic representation of an actual battle, including tactics and communication with teammates.
  • People who look at it as a fun outdoor sport, cognizant of the fact that you can break the laws of “real” battle but still enjoy yourself.
  • Assholes.

I’m willing to wager that you can guess which group of people tends to show up the most.

Yes, there are a lot of assholes playing paintball. The type of assholery these people practice can vary widely, but they share many characteristics with each other. Often, they have very expensive equipment and talk about it constantly. They may be wearing camo, and have extra padding stuffed in their clothes to decrease the chance a paintball will break when it hits them.

They are usually in groups, and don’t wish to talk to anyone else. In fact, they will usually challenge anyone who will listen to take them and their friends on. They will probably win this challenge, because they know the layout of the arena by heart, have their very expensive equipment, and take advantage of the fact that newer players probably don’t have a clue what’s going on because the refs won’t tell them.

Did I mention that all paintball refs are assholes? Oh, and they’re all 13 years old and can’t be bothered to answer questions. I seriously had a ref on her cell phone in the middle of a match, and she refused to check if a hit had been scored on a player. It suddenly strikes me now as I’m writing this that refs never wear masks onto the playing field like everyone else. Are they really that sure a stray shot won’t hit them in the face? If you happen to be a paintball ref, and not an asshole, I’d love to hear an explanation.

At this point, you may be getting the impression that I hate paintball and everyone involved in it. I can understand why you might think that, but I must correct you: I actually enjoy it quite a bit. It’s good exercise, it’s a fun group activity, and you can sometimes manage to find some pretty nice people out there who make the whole thing worthwhile.

Oh, and sneaking up behind some asshole with six hundred bucks worth of equipment and plugging him in the back two or three times with your $15 rental is immensely satisfying.


Article © 2003 by Joel Haddock