Sat, Mar 02, 2002 - Page 11 News List

Cheating deathfor the fun of it

What could be more fun than rolling around in the dirt on a sunny afternoon dodging paint balls that inflict searing pain?

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

Maybe it has something to do with our ancestry as hunter-gatherers, when the men stepped out and killed things and the women were back in the village doing whatever it is they did, but there is something primal and viscerally satisfying about dodging death as an afternoon activity.

It is the thrill of throwing caution to the wind and putting oneself in situations where one in all likelihood will experience searing pain. On top of this, the brave few who take part and survive can swap bond-strengthening accounts of boundless courage over the fire afterward.

Few activities indulge this base urge for alpha bravado more fully than paintball and Taipei County has two spots to truly unleash your warrior soul.

Extreme sports, like big-wave surfing, freestyle rock climbing and downhill ski racing provide a guaranteed lethal conclusion if one makes a mistake, but the psychology of paintball is far more complex, which makes it somehow more gratifying. Besides, no one really wants to die during an afternoon of what should be fun.

Most male members of society fondly recall playing with toy soldiers and acting out scenes from D-Day in the sandbox. This is how we were socialized -- surely some girls enjoyed these games too, but probably not many -- so paintball strikes a chord that resonates to the farthest reaches of men's childhood memories.

Being handed a gun that propels marble-size balls of paint at speeds up to 300kph is a boy's most extravagant Christmas fantasy come true. We are going to be allowed, indeed encouraged, to shoot these guns at our friends for the next several hours and they will be doing the same. And this time, unlike the snowball fights and sock fights of childhood, the stakes are raised considerably by the fact that paint balls sting like a scorpion bite.

Compounding the whole evocation of unfulfilled childhood wishes to be a warrior hero is the mildly fetishistic aspect of the full battle fatigues players are required to wear. The elaborate gear, in particular the many-pocketed vest and the storm trooper protective masks, makes the game ritualistic in the extreme. It's clear that the camouflage is primarily to enhance the illusion of being in battle. But we're thankful for the organizers' thoughtfulness because it just wouldn't be the same in a beat-up old sweat suit.

And then there is the sheer thrill of the game.

At both paintball sites in Taipei County -- one, named T Base Paintball, is in Chungho and the other is at Eight Immortals Theme Park in Pali -- two teams can face off at either ends of an obstacle course about 50m in length which is dotted with 55-gallon drums and plywood walls. A referee watching from the sidelines blows a whistle and everyone dives for cover to avoid the opening hail of random paintball fire. Assuming that you survive the opening blast the rest of the round hinges on aim, strategy and patience, all of which novices tend to have in short supply.

In the obstacle course, most players know where the opposing team members are hidden, so the losers are usually the ones who change locations or at the wrong moment stick their heads out from behind the barrels and into the crosshairs of someone's gun.

For a more genuine battlefield experience, both sites also have large overgrown areas that teams crawl through using the foliage and trees as cover. This is perhaps even more harrowing than the obstacle course because the hiding spots of the enemy are generally unknown until opposing players stumble upon each other or someone walks into an ambush.

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