I grew up in a rural area. I have always wished that it were otherwise, but its one of those things in which you really have no say. While I wouldn’t trade my family environment for anything, there were parts of growing up in the 80’s that I always wanted to experience, but was only able to experience from a sort of peripheral perspective…the outside looking in, if you will.
When Laser Tag exploded onto the scene in the mid-80’s, I wanted little else than to own a set of the equipment and play with friends. I even got a strategy book complete with exercises to improve your skills, and different games that you could play with different sizes of groups. Ultimately, however, none of my friends’ parents would invest in the equipment, so, no matter how many of us wanted to play, it just wasn’t an option.
I became acquainted with Photon through the short-lived television series (not really such a great piece of small screen history, but it remains supremely exciting in my memory as it was viewed through middle-school boy eyes), and was even more enamored by having a set of equipment for that game. I was attracted by the large arenas, complete with mazes, catwalks, smoke and lights in which teams played tournaments of Photon, and the rougher, more swashbuckling aesthetic of that game. No such arenas existed anywhere near me, though, and this game was a bit too geeky for the area. No one else was interested. So, I pined in secret, watched the television program, and even bought the book series to read further adventures. Playing “capture the flag” with friends and fully automatic water guns just wasn’t the same. It missed the essential geeky ingredient.
Ultimately, I did what I frequently did and still do: I imagined wild stories based around my dream, and I wrote them.
Of course, Photon no longer exists today, but Laser Tag does, in various iterations. When an arena arrived in my college town, I jumped on my first chance to play. Since then, I’ve played various times, and attempted to recognize that its a nostalgic wish of my childhood that I’m now getting to fulfill, and attempted to resist the urge to make it a full-blown hobby.
Honestly, though, there are times when its more difficult than others. Recently, while playing for the first time in months at a local arena, I listed my name for the scoreboard as Bhodi Li, and was simultaneously struck by how easily I could do this every weekend, and how no one else understood my reference.
What’s always been missing from the experience for me, though…either in childhood or in the years since college…is that, in these sporadic encounters, I’ve never been around a group of people interested enough to play with any degree of regularity. The game still attracts mostly teens, and showing up solo at an arena to play when nearly everyone else there is in high school…well, I’ve never done it, but I imagine it would be awkward.
Since our move, I’ve played at a local arena once, and then discovered that a family member here owns some equipment. Its not the original Lazer Tag or Photon equipment from the 80’s, but neither is the equipment at any arena in which I’ve ever played, and here’s the thing: once you’re playing, it doesn’t matter. It’s about the experience.
So, last night, we went to the park after nightfall with a group of four of us, and played several rounds. We won’t discuss how I fared in these rounds, but what’s important is that I had more fun than I’ve had in a long time. I’ve never played outside of an area, before. It was very different, challenging in a different way, and I love both equally.
And, I’m even more dangerously close to making it a hobby if I thought for a moment that there were enough adults around who loved it as much as I do. I see how easily it would be more about the camaraderie than the game, which is the case with much of what geeks like me love.
When I’ve played, I sometimes become the kid who wanted to play the game so badly for a few seconds (this usually occurs in the briefing room as everyone is putting their gear on and getting ready to enter the arena). I wonder if, had I lived near an arena and played Photon seriously then, would I love it as much now? Would I love it in a different way? Is there a difference between re-living a nostalgic love and experiencing a childhood desire for the first time? I’m not sure what that difference would be, but I love every second of the random occasions when I get to play this game.
The light shines.