Saturday, July 05, 2008

Airsoft: Bang-up good time

A hostage is being held at gunpoint in a windowless room. Do you kick the door down? Do you go in shooting, hoping you’ll hit the bad guy before he gets you or his captive? Remember that the game ends if the hostage dies.
Decisions, decisions.

And, ohhhh, dude, the adrenaline rush!

Scenarios such as this, enhanced by disorienting laser beams, strobe lights, smoke machines, booming music and other special effects, are enacted five days a week in the spirit of good, safe fun at Airsoft CQB (for “close-quarter battle”) Playground, a 20,200-square-foot converted warehouse in the southwest made to look like an urban airsoft combat zone.

“I’m trying to create a place where people come and respect the gun and have a safe place to play,” said owner Samsom.

Similar in size and weight to real guns, airsoft guns use motorized gear boxes with pressurized springs to shoot BBs. The models allowed at Samson's venue shoot pellets at no more than 350 FPS (Feet per second).

Samson claims the game is safer than paintball. “If you’re looking for injuries, it has a very low injury rate,” he said.

“Airsoft BBs are like an extension of your hand. It’s like playing tag.”

Albeit with a welt-raising punch: Goggles are a must and gloves are optional but highly advisable, as are vests.

Even Jarad Mann, host of the who wears a size 15 shoe, stands 6 feet 5 and weighs “370 on a good day” — “I’m a whole lot of man,” he likes to say — had an anthill-sized bump on his impressive belly after his first round of airsoft antics recently.

The stinging mishap, par for the course for both beginning and more experienced players, did not deter him: “I live three miles down the road, down in Silver Creek, so I’ll be here a lot,” he said.


Some might wonder whether those — especially kids — who play airsoft and other war-inspired games are being socialized to be violent.

“It’s not my place to say it’s right or wrong, but there would be competing arguments,” said CSUB sociology professor Rhonda Dugan.

“People on one side would say that this is socializing kids to solve problems through violent means instead of talking.”

The other side, she said, might say these games teach such positive values as respect for weapons, patriotism and competition — as well as teamwork, as games usually consist of teams fighting each other. A pellet hits you and you’re out.

Dugan said kids are exposed to various “agents of socialization”: family, school, peers, the mass media and other influences like video games or reality scenario re-enactments.

Ultimately, families that allow their children to participate in battle games should teach them that they are just games, she said. Which is why the idea of having kids shoot pellets at one another did not cause Dugan as much concern as the re-enactment of a hostage-taking. That made her “a little uncomfortable,” she said.


“We always treated guns like they were loaded,” he said. “We grew up that way. That’s how we were taught. We never messed around when our parents weren’t around.”

He used to run a local paintball field called Target Zone, he said, but closed it down about three years ago.

He opened his airsoft playground at the beginning of the year because he wanted to have “a controlled environment” where kids and other enthusiasts of simulated battle games could come and vent some energy, hone their skills or just plain have fun.

“Usually most of my customers are probably in their late teens up to 50,” he said.

One such customer is Donny Breedlove, 41. He’s been at Bakersfield Airsoft a few times, he said.

“Everyone really, really thinks about what it would be like to be on a SWAT team or police,” he said. “You get to play army like when we were kids. Everyone comes out laughing and saying how much fun we had.”

Dugan said reality games can create what sociologists call a “hyperreality.”

“It’s as real as you can get but it’s even better than reality because there is no risk involved.”

Kaytlin had not yet played airsoft. Her dad was just showing her the place.

“I would not let her go in by herself unless I went,” her father said. Watkins wouldn’t have it any other way when younger teens are involved.


“Just set up and let them do their own training,” he said. “It’s a safe and inexpensive way for law enforcement to train” using SWAT-like realistic scenarios.

And he’s not at all concerned that the war game experiences he sells might inspire real-life violence in the minds of his clients, either. He said he caters to “upstanding members of the community.”

“I want to have moms or dads, or both, bring their kids to come to a place where they’ll be safe and enjoy ‘family-oriented fun.’”

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