SURVIVAL GAMES: MAKING WAR FUN
They're swarming the hills, charging down through the valleys, hiding behind trees, hideously masked in green face guards. It looks like the old news films of the Vietnam War, but the only noise heard is the popping of the paint guns, and the shouts from the victors fighting past their opponents, racing for the flag station. It's survival games, the new sport sweeping the country, and its supposed to be good, healthy fun. But is it promoting aggressive behavior, discreetly and purposely preparing this nation for actual combat?
Survival games are becoming popular among many Staten Islanders, who form teams, and charter buses to the games; others drive up in cars and join teams at the site. The nearest survival games are located in eastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York, each about an hour and a half drive from the Island. In New Jersey, however, the games are outlawed, because projectile weapons are illegal in that state.
The management team of The Ground Round, a well-known Staten Island restaurant, plays monthly games at The National Survival Game, held in Mount Kisco, New York, which has 300 acres and twelve different playing fields. The General Manager, Butch, feels the sport is an excellent management tool, releasing frustration, promoting teamwork and communication, and providing aggressiveness training. Butch is in his late forties, his teammates are in their twenties and thirties, but on the field they are equals, playing off each other's strengths and protecting individual weaknesses. "Our success in the field," Butch says," carries into our business world and breeds an aura of confidence; because we play well together, we work well together." Islander Mike Fox, a former marine, loves the game because it reminds him of the Marine Corp atmosphere, which he misses. He likes the strategy of the game, but dislikes the violence erupting from some games. He cited a game in which a player smashed his gun over the head of his opponent, causing police intervention. Fox says he can tell by facial expressions and body language when the game is about to turn violent. Some players, needing an outlet for suppressed aggression, use war games to fulfill that need. This type of player, Fox believes, might kill if the bullets were real. Fox and his teammates regard winning as the primary objective of the game, but prefer to play a tactical game with serious-minded players, and with stress on mental acuity, not with trigger-happy players out for a day of legalized violence.
The object of the game is to capture the flag of the opposing team and return it to home base without being shot. Once shot, the player surrenders his bandana and heads for the corral. for him, this particular game is over. The average game lasts forty-five minutes, with as many as six games played in the course of the day. Paint guns and ammunition can be rented and bought at the sites, but many players prefer to own their own equipment, including camouflage uniforms, goggles, masks, and walkie-talkies.
Aggression, deception, and winning is adamantly promoted by game operators and judges. One judge quotes Winston Churchill's "we shall never surrender", as a suitable motto for players. The most successful teams are the ones that make decisive, effective plays, even as paint pellets whizz by their heads at 300 feet per second, and the enemy descends upon them in droves. International tournaments are held periodically, where teams of fifteen combatants with fierce sounding names, such as Armageddon, Terminators, and Nuclear Waste, compete for cash prizes as high as $15,000.
Sport or no, a survival game is not a gentle pastime. At one site in Pennsylvania, a teenage boy lost an eye when he removed his mask during a game. A young girl, not wearing a face guard, had a patch of skin shot off her face while playing in upstate New York. Sprained ankles, knee injuries, pulled tendons, and welts and bruises from paint pellets are common survival game injuries, displayed by some players as merit badges. Vehement exchanges and hostile arguments between participating teams are not uncommon.
The original survival game was won by a woodsman in Connecticut, in 1981, who never upholstered his weapon; by stealth and savvy, he eluded the "enemy", and captured his target. This non-violent objective is not sustained in present-day games.
Some survival game sites in California are sophisticated to the point of transporting teams by helicopter. Weapons used can be as simple as ordinary paint guns, or as complicated as machine paint guns and paint hand grenades (outlawed at many sites).
On television's Nightline, Ted Koppel interviewed three people in an effort to evaluate the safety and aggressiveness of survival games. Pychologist Phillip Zimbardo felt that war games lower resistance to violence. He quoted a colleague (Professor Van Duren) as saying that when children are given a chance to be aggresive, they become aggresive; violence leads to violence. Zimabardo said that expression should be verbal, not physcial, citing G.I. Joe games and some video games as already promoting excessive violence. When children play army games, he said, and now adults play army games, the concept of war becomes acceptable. Rape and manslaughter, according to Zimbardo, may increase as a result of aggressiveness in sports such as survival games.
California war game operator, Doc James, disagreed with Zimbardo, disputing the idea that players connect survival games with war. He claimed that it's only a combat game that relieves anxiety in a safe way, adding that one has to play the game to understand it. Many players, especially those who initially felt the game was down right silly, express the same feelings.
Zimbardo pointed out that the army uses similiar "games", the purpose being to teach conquering and killing, but James insisted the only object of the game was to hit the target (another player) with paint. Yet James, a former Green Beret, would prefer, if there was a war, to fight side by side with people who participate in war games.
Diane Robbins, one of a fast growing number of female players, takes survival games seriously, but considers them mostly fun. She feels the games have taught her that war is useless, and if the games were real, she would be dead. She has seen all types of people playing war games, including Vietnamn verterans, and noted that many non-aggressive women have learned self-confidence from the games.
Zimbardo considered her views to be uniquely feminine, warning Koppel that while no research on survival games has been done to date, what little data is available seems to indicate that engaging in aggression promotes aggression.
The question is not solely whether war games are healthy outlets for stress, but whether aggression in any form is healthy or constructive. If a two-year-old smacks his peer for taking his toy, if a driver deliberately cuts off another driver in retalliation, or if adults shoot paint pellets at each other in a pseudo war, there is no important difference between them; they are all forms of aggression. What cannot be proven at this point is whether the aggressiveness of survival games is beneficial to participants or instigates a war-like society.
Mankind has been aggressive since early caveman killed the saber-tooth tiger and dragged his mate into the cave by her hair to admire his kill. Aggression is a human trait, and it would seem logical that any game encouraging "killing" would exemplify this baser facet of humanity. Down through the centuries man has waged terrible war on his fellow man, never learning from the experience. Roman society, enough like our own to be frightening, held combat sports, but death was real and frequent, enjoyed the more for it. Now in the twentieth century, we have simulated war games whose tenets are real, excitement surrealistic, and ammunition a placebo for man's killer instincts. Survival games might easily lay the foundation for an armed society.
The restaurant manager claims that during the games he can successfully quell tension, spilling over from his stressful managerial job, making it easier to cope with day to day anxiety. But some players, particularly young people, walk off the fields feeling powerful and invincible, possibly causing them to handle everyday issues in a more forceful way. Instead of confronting problems verbally, their "fight or flight" mechanisms have been geared for fight; except that real life altercations can result in more than a paint spot. War games may prove to be healthy physical activity for some people, but detrimental to society in general.
What makes an ordinary person, a lawyer, a bricklayer, teacher, or homemaker, delight in going off to the woods, garbed in camouflage clothing, and imitate the horrors of war? In a society where politics subtly manipulates the expectations of its people, survival games may have originated as a deliberate ploy to elevevate the nation's acceptance of war.
If the ferocity of the game could be ignored, the game itself encourages quick thinking, endorses physical fitness, and promotes creativity, as well as alleviates the intense stess of modern-day jobs that are no longer physical. It is the human factor causing the aggression, and in these games, winning is more important than playing, causing its own particular stress.
"War games are fun" say many Island players addicted to weekly or monthly contests. "Fun" does not seem appropriate terminology for even mock killing, and when accepted, can change societal attitudes toward violence.
In the event of war, the men drafted will be young men, knowing nothing of war in their lifetimes. Survival games have taught them that war is fun. How will this attitude help in actual battles, where the bullets are real and the splatters on young soldiers' clothing is red blood, not orange paint? Will survival game training aid or hinder if, or when, these make-believe warriors face the realities of war and death?
Perhaps war games are no more harmful than the suggestions of some psychologists to punch a pillow when tense or uptight. There are safe physical outlets for stress, and war games may be one of them. But if it's not, and if it does breed aggression and is preparing people for war, it is too late to stop it. Survival games, a trend that has steadily gained acceptance in the past few years, is here to stay; at least until the real thing comes along.
The very first essential for success is a
perpetually constant and regular employment
-Adolf Hitler - Mein Kampt