The Night I Returned To Laser Tag
Ever since I was young I've had a fascination with laser tag. I was a child of the 80s and my first exposure to the sport wasn't actually in an arena. Instead I became familiar with it by watching a children's TV show based on the original laser tag game, Photon. And while this show took lots of space themed twists and turns with plots that some might argue have little to do with laser tag itself, the point is that it succeeded in peaking my interest. Now, at the time I was too young to play and there was no center at which to play nearby anyway (at least not to my knowledge) even if I could, but there was home game gear and for a kid that seemed cool enough to suffice. Later on I developed an enthusiasm for the sport when I was in my early twenties. I took to it immediately and would go out to play every week or so. At the center where I played the system that was used for players to track their scores and their progress required an electronic key attached to a unique player identity. As a nod to the TV series that sparked my interest so many years earlier I adopted the player alias of Tivia2 naming myself after the lead female character (she rocked as a role model for girls on a show that seemed predominantly geared towards young boys). For awhile the name Tivia was one that I used exclusively for laser tag. Then in time it spilled over into other areas of my life and became my online handle. And as I was the "chick" who played as "Tivia" the variation evolved...so now you know the origins of the name Tiviachick. I remember when I first began playing laser tag I was very interested in it for a few reasons. First, it was a sport at which I could do well and play at my own pace. That's a big deal for a non-athlete. I've never been particularly inclined towards sports and as such have never sought to be involved with many athletic pursuits. However, this was a good workout...and only lasted about 15 minutes, so you got some good, short bursts of endorphins. Second, I am a highly competitive person, but due to my lack of athletic ability I have never been much for team sports. And while laser tag does generally involve team play it is also something where high points garner individual success. It's entirely possible for the player with the highest point total to not be on the winning team, so for me I saw it as a chance to strive to compete against myself and to come out ahead with points while hoping that any individual success I had would benefit my team, though I honestly didn't put team play as my top priority. Finally, I found the adrenaline and feeling of success after a good round to be intoxicating. There is nothing quite like the feeling of playing hard, knowing you are on your game and coming out of the arena to find your name at the top of the ranking chart. I loved that! The last game I played years ago I topped out at over 15,000 points (a number that was impressive in this arena, though could be totally arbitrary depending on what system you are playing) and I left feeling great...until I was involved in a minor fender bender upon leaving that night which soured my experience and left me feeling irrationally like the two things were somehow connected. I had a little bit of fear that going back would bring up bad feelings about the accident. And if I'm being totally honest I also felt like after hitting my all time high score that I probably had nowhere to go but down. So I didn't go back the next week, or the week after, or the week after that. In fact, I couldn't believe it when I realized that over six years had suddenly gone by and I hadn't been back to play even once in all that time. How could that have happened? Well, there's no sense analyzing why I got away from laser tag for all those years. I could blame the distance (the arena is about an hour and a half away from my home, so I have to REALLY want to go in order to make the effort) or the lack of free time on the weekends as my work schedule got busier or even just the way life sometimes just points you in other directions. No matter the reason, I let a good chunk of time slip by before it occurred to me to want to go back. Then something happened... While randomly exploring some key words on the internet I discovered a link to a video about an upcoming event. PhoCon, a 30th anniversary/birthday celebration of laser tag and specifically of the original game, Photon! It was scheduled for the summer of 2014 and I had found this information in time to make plans a few months out. It was billed as a last chance to play Photon using original equipment that was being rebuilt for the occasion. Now, I had been watching the Photon TV show in the eighties as a child, but really missed out on playing and having the actual Photon experience, so this was my opportunity. I immediately signed up for both Paul and I to go down to Laurel, MD and participate in the event. Then I realized that I would likely be playing against people who were hard core players (after all, you must be serious to show up at something like this 30 years after the fact) so I decided I had better get serious too. So off I went to the laser tag arena, vowing to play every weekend until I was decent enough to hold my own at PhoCon. Sidebar...I got back into the swing of laser tag very quickly, but I was NOT in any way competitive when it came to playing actual Photon. The equipment was heavy and I was not as familiar as I thought I was when it came to the game itself. It was a blast and I'm glad I went, but it was incredibly different from what I was accustomed to, so my idea that I was going to get good at Photon by playing laser tag at home was well...silly of me. Back to the story... So I drove out to the same arena where I had played laser tag so many times all those years before. The aesthetic was similar to what I remembered, but they had updated their gaming system and key tags and unique player identities were now a thing of the past. Sigh...I miss seeing the name Tivia on the board. Instead your pack was synched up to the system with a pre-designated name and you simply had to remember it at the end, therefore your playing identity would be different every time. I hadn't done this in ages...I just hoped I'd be decent so it wouldn't be an embarrassment to report the outcome to Paul later that night. The first game I did well, but to be honest I was really just getting my bearings back. Exploring the nooks, crannies and hidey-holes of the terrain while getting the feel again of my two-handed phaser (meaning the "gun" you shoot at light sensors on an opponent's vest) was the focus of that first game back. I didn't pressure myself for anything beyond getting familiar with everything all over again. But right away I could tell it was like riding a bike or slipping your hand into a custom fitting glove. Ah, then it was time for the second game and I was ready to get serious. I felt a confidence that was beyond anything reasonable as I entered the briefing area before the next round. I don't know quite where that feeling came from, but without more than a perfunctory game for practice I felt like I was ready to conquer...and miraculously that is exactly what happened! Everything clicked and I was maneuvering and aiming and strategizing my way through what felt like a perfect game. It was like no time had passed and it felt great! I had no idea what my scores would be like at the end of that round, but I figured I had to be doing pretty well. What a rush! At the end of the game all the players (and there were a LOT) exited the arena. I didn't realize until counting up the maximum number of packs in the vesting room, but that game I was playing against the maximum number of people that could play at any one time...40 players. I was playing that round with the pack connected with the name Marine. We all funneled out into the hallway where a large monitor displayed the rankings for our position and scores. I looked at the list and there at the top...
Unbelievably, I had achieved the top score in a packed arena on my first night back! Even though there was no longer a need for personal aliases while playing, that night I felt like I had done the name "Tivia" proud. Even more so when I played a follow-up game after that and for the second time that night my name appeared in the top spot on the ranking display. I don't share this story with the intention of sounding arrogant, but rather to illustrate the excitement of that first taste of victory that led me back to being a frequent player of the sport I have such an enthusiasm for...laser tag. For the better part of this past year I have been back to playing almost every week and a few amazing encounters with people who played a part in my early connections to the sport have made it all the more important in my life. I will explain more about these experiences in the future, but for now I am just going to take a moment to be grateful that laser tag is currently a part of my life that gives me a feeling of fulfillment and achievement whenever I get the chance to play. I am also thoroughly amazed that my appreciation for Photon not only led me back, but that it continues to play a role in my life 30 years later.
FYI, if you have questions or comments for me I invite you to visit my website at www.tiviachickloveslasertag.com or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.