Why did people start running around wooded areas firing paintballs at their friends?
We live increasingly urban existences. Many people go days or even weeks without feeling the grass beneath their feet or walking between the trees. People like to talk about the obesity crisis and claim that “sitting is the new smoking”, that we are losing touch with the world that our hunter-gatherer ancestors inhabited.
You might think that our preoccupation with the past and the way that humans used to interact with nature is a new trend, something which started about the time that people began discussing the paleo diet on social media. But it’s actually an issue that has been bothering people for some time, at least as far back as the seventies.
It was a debate that two friends, Hayes Noel and Charles Gaines, often had with each other. They wanted to know if the average modern man would stand any kind of chance in some kind of survival-combat situation against a trained hunter, soldier or outdoorsman. Would the training and the practice of the ‘nature’ person given them an unsurpassable advantage, or would deep-rooted survival instincts enable the ‘city’ person to stand a chance of winning?
It wasn’t until they saw a paintball marker in an agricultural catalogue that they realised that they could put their argument to the test.
Up until that point, paintball markers were used as a tool by farmers and foresters to enable them to mark cattle and trees from a distance. Though we have rumours of ‘paintball games’ being played by ranchers and farmhands, no actual evidence of a game survives to this day. It was Bob Gurnsey, a friend of Charles and Hayes, who first thought to set up a paintball game which would enable them to test their longstanding argument.
They recruited twelve players to their game, half being ordinary city workers and the other half being experienced hunters. The winner would not only get the glory, but also a case of beer. They decided to play capture the flag. There were four outposts with twelve coloured flags each. The first player to retrieve all four flags of their colour would be declared the winner. Anyone who was hit by a paintball would be eliminated from the game.
The game was played on an 80-acre ski resort, which was clear as the snow had already melted. The firefights were intense. The paintball marker they used, the Nelspot 007, could fire just one shot before it needed to be reloaded, leaving the player agonizingly vulnerable.
When the battle was over a forester named Ritchie White emerged the winner. He didn’t fire his paintball marker even once but instead remained cool and quiet as he collected his flags undetected. We know about this game because one of the participants, Bob Jones, wrote about his experiences in a popular magazine. From this point on, paintball grew in strength until you could find paintball sites in countries around the world. If you want to learn more about the history of paintballing, check out the infographic provided by Paintballing Ltd.