Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lego and Paintball

I had a book when I was a young lad.  Forty-some years after first getting the book, I can still picture the cover perfectly.  The cover was a picture of a young boy looking out a window, with his arms crossed leaning on the window sill.  The window was covered in rain splatter and therefore the outside world was not recognizable.  The boy had a very sad and disappointed look on his face; he was obviously not going to be able to go outside and play today.  The book was printed for Lego.  The cover did not have any Lego pieces pictured on it nor did it even have the word Lego on it, if I remember correctly.  But inside was a world full of imagination; all sorts of projects that could be built using basic Lego pieces.  This book was not like the little instruction pamphlets that are now included in Lego kits designed around a specific model to be built with the pieces contained inside.  No, this book was designed to get your imagination flowing.  It was obviously also designed to be used inside on days when kids couldn’t go outside, judging by its cover, and those were the days I would bring it out.

What does this have to do with paintball?  Nothing... and everything.  The discussion on why paintball has lost some of its popularity compared to early days often pops up.  I think one of the main reason is a cultural change in our society that has taken place.  The book I described was probably published in the mid 1960’s.  It was published during a time when kids spent much of their free time playing outside.  I was born in 1961 and spent many, many hours from about 8 years old to mid teens outside, oftentimes miles and miles (yeah we measured distance in miles then, not kilometers) away from home, with my parents having no idea where I was.  So did all my friends.  We built forts in the forest, played Cops and Robbers on roads, Cowboys and Indians wherever we felt like it, explored old abandoned buildings, went swimming in muddy rivers, played hockey on barely frozen ponds and rivers, and did wonderful things that most of today’s parents would probably think was dangerous and reckless.  And we survived.  Sure there was the odd broken arm and bruised tailbone and sometimes when the ice cracked the adrenaline would speed through your veins at the speed of light, but it was a great childhood and I have many great memories.

You’re still wondering what this has to do with paintball, aren’t you?  Well paintball was first invented in 1981 and the players during that first decade were mostly in the 20’s and 30’s.  I would have been 20 in 1981.  Unfortunately, I didn’t hear about paintball until several years later, towards the end of the 1980’s.  But other people my age did and those people grew up in the same type of environment that I grew up in.  The wild outdoors were our playground.  For us, to have a game akin to playing soldiers or Cops & Robbers, or Cowboys and Indians, with “real” guns that actually shot someone to mark them, was like a dream come true.  As my generation discovered paintball, we flocked to it.  I remember playing my first game and feeling like my life was finally complete.  At the end of the day there were a few guys limping and sore and the odd fat lip (this was before full face masks), but we all survived and we were all ecstatic.  Life had come full circle.

Time went on, as time does, and our society slowly changed.  Some interesting things were happening.  In the 1980’s, School Boards and Municipalities, as well as a few Corporations were getting sued.  They were getting sued by parents whose children had been hurt on playgrounds and the parents were winning those lawsuits.  Municipalities may have thought they were doing a good thing to provide kids with swings and carousels and teeter totters, but apparently they were in fact hurting kids.  Playgrounds got revamped and everything was made “safer”.  Parents hearing of the horror stories of kids getting hurt playing at playgrounds unattended wouldn’t allow their kids to go unless Mommy or Daddy was there to supervise.  Playing anywhere unsupervised where kids might hurt themselves was becoming taboo.  Kids no longer hung out at parks and played games of pickup baseball, basketball, or soccer.  Kids were signed up for organized sports where they could be supervised at all times, driven back and forth to venues so they wouldn’t get hurt or god help, abducted along the way.  The media was reporting more and more incidents where kids were being abducted and molested.  I don’t know if the statistics for that type of thing are any higher today than they were 40 years ago, but the fear is definitely, infinitely higher which of course affects everyone, not just the very small percentile actually affected.

Another big change were toys and games.  Marketers were bringing out more and more addictive toys designed to be played with indoors.  Most parents didn’t object too much, as it meant their kids were “safe” inside, on the couch, instead of out in the terrible unknown world filled with all sorts of dangerous things where their little darlings might get hurt.  It’s much better to keep them within earshot at all times.  Safe.

We started raising a society full of paranoid people, afraid to venture outside and use their imaginations.  If they went on a hike, it was along well groomed trails, preferably with handrails so there was no chance of slipping and getting a bruise or scrape.  If they went skating, it was at a supervised rink, preferably indoors.  Swimming was done at a pool with lifeguards.  If swimming was allowed outside, it was only where there were 100’s of other people that would notice if something was wrong and not without parents present until kids were at least 14 or so (they might get abducted by a candy bearing stranger).  Imagination and adventure was slowly being lost in our youth.  Paintball was being converted (or at least trying to be) to a game much more like the other organized sports kids were being raised on.  Running around in the woods playing politically incorrect games was something that shouldn’t be done anymore and kids that were replacing the aging paintball players who were leaving to raise families didn’t grow up with that adventurous attitude anyway.  The new game was designed to be played at a much faster pace, much closer to the fast moving video games kids were used to.

Less and less time was being spent outside by youths in the 1980’s and onward.  Indoor activities were taking over.  Eventually,  most organized sports were seeing declines n participation.  More and more, youth were choosing to stay inside.  These young people were growing into young adults, still choosing to stay inside.  Addictive computer games were the name of the game.  Socializing could be done through the internet.  Kids growing up today have less and less reason to venture out into the dangerous outdoors.  They are growing up, accustomed to spending most of their time indoors.  Given a choice on spending a day at a paintball field and getting dirty or spending a day inside socializing on their computers or Smart phones, most are choosing to stay home.  It’s what they know.  The picture of the little boy looking longingly at the outside world wouldn’t have nearly the same effect today.  People are content to stay inside today, rain or shine.

Is it any wonder we have less people playing paintball today?