Paintball: it’s about freedom, not winning

Reporter captured by ‘irresistible’ excitement of inter-campus battle

Arriving at a place called Sgt. Splatters might not seem like the most glamorous  thing to do. Unlike Nathan Phillips Square, Casa Loma or eye-catching Toronto attractions, Sgt. Splatters is not particularly bright or shiny.

Located at 54 Wingold Ave. in North York, Sgt. Splatter’s is easy to overlook. But not on Friday Jan. 20, when the Student Association (SA), which funds the Dialog, organized paintball battle between the four George Brown College (GBC) campuses.

The first thing that caught my eye was the floor all covered in small turquoise balls. Looking like candies spilled on the ground, they were also on the walls and windows. White brick walls and wooden benches completed the street feel and industrial style.

Before joining a game, I decided to watch one first as the last time I took part in a paintball battle was many years ago and in a completely different setting. Although the war zone of the facility is, according to the official website, the largest in Canada, it did not seem that big from above. Nor did the crowd.

Divided into two groups (with or without a carroty ribbon on a forearm), GBC students spread around the area and disappeared. As an observer, I saw flashlights from the paintball guns imitating the fire from actual gunfire. Surprisingly enough, I did not see too many people on the field. In my eyes, there were 10 people at most.

Imagine my amazement when about 70 people came into a changing area for a break between the games. The room became crowded pretty quickly and with comments ranging from “did you see how I nailed it?” to “that was really unfair!”, there was a lot of excitement. I decided to go in.

What lasted five minutes when I was outside, felt like ages when I was holding a gun. The game catches you. Its spirit, race, sound. You cannot resist the excitement. And, of course, the closer to an enemy you get, the higher the risk.

Having seen people surrendering when things got risky, I promised myself I wouldn’t do that. I broke that promise.

When I was steps away from the enemy’s base, hiding in one of the buildings, somebody came from behind. He didn’t make a noise, and didn’t fire. He just put the muzzle to my neck – and I surrendered.

***

It goes without saying, victory was not the ultimate goal of that night. A few students were puzzled when I asked who won. Even Neil Cumberbatch, a senior coordinator of events and marketing at the SA, was taken by surprise.

I agree – it was not about the victory or St. James beating Casa Loma. It was about freedom. About the power you finally feel after messing up the first assignment of winter term.

Even though a few students went right to their phones in between games, the majority preferred talking to texting. If you know Toronto, and our obsession with phones, you would know that this means a lot.

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Paintball: it’s about freedom, not winning