It is a warm night as I walk briskly along Ste. Catherine and step under the neon “Laser Quest” sign. Upon ascending a flight of stairs I am greeted by a scene that reminds me simultaneously of King Arthur’s Court and the arcade of every teenage boy’s dreams. I spend fifteen minutes trying to decide on the name of my new alter ego. This was a crucial decision: what would make me into a lean, mean, laser-tagging machine? Finally, I give up and choose one of those suggested: “Nouille.” Versatile, elongated, limp, nondescript… perfect.
I and the ten others of team “Touchdown” step into the “airlock chamber” where the marshal explains the Code of Honour to us: there will be no vulgar language, coverage of our sensors, physical contact, and we will all play hard but fair. As the rest of the group charges into the maze, I tentatively enter this new world. The maze is a five level labyrinth of walls, mirrors, ramps, grates, and holes all shrouded in a hazy fog. Despite my excellent form – modeled after Hollywood secret agents – I find myself playing against my own terrible sense of direction for a good portion of the game, timidly walking around deserted areas of the maze. Although I only encounter team “Flush” a few times throughout the game, each occasion ends in confusion for me. Did I get tagged? Did I tag anyone? Was that actually an active member of the other team? When the game ends I am both dismayed that the game is already over and afraid to see the results. As expected I come in last place and apologize profusely to my teammates, all the while crying silent tears on the inside.
My laser tag experience is just one of many to be had. Andres Rodriguez, general manager of Laser Quest Montreal, explained to The Daily that the game never gets boring. Even if you play multiple times in the same arena, you can play a different game each time depending on your mood.
Additionally, there are several different game types, such as the team game I played, the more prevalent solo missions, “Queen Bee” – where teams must protect a certain player, and “Captain” missions where a certain player is able to heal others. Each game gives players a unique experience. Often, groups or companies will come in wanting to relieve stress or build better team work skills and these different game types cater to each group’s purpose, said Rodriguez. In addition, Rodriguez said that school groups will sometimes come in for workshops where they are able to closely examine the technology behind the lasers, maze construction, and other technical aspects of the game.
Taking into account the general public as well as these special groups, the overall age range for laser tag is between five and eighty-five. However, for a company situated in the midst of large population of young people and students, Rodriguez estimates that 60 per cent of Laser Quest’s clientele is under the age of thirty.
As a result of being open to such a wide range of people, Laser Quest inevitably receives a certain number of intoxicated clients. Rodriquez stresses that if he or other employees believe the Code of Honour will be violated, they will ask patrons to wait or refrain from playing. Ultimately, safety and fun for everyone come first.
Laser tag is not only a recreational activity to be enjoyed by all, but is also a competitive sport for some. In fact there are professional laser tag teams that will play weekly, even competing in regional, national, and international competitions.
Unlike traditional sports, however, laser tag invites an element of fantasy and creates an unconventional experience. Choosing a new name, entering a new realm, and playing a unique game all make laser tag an immersive experience for players from start to finish. For twenty minutes, I was not Jenny Lu, McGill student, but Nouille, world class master of hiding in vacant corners.
But this element of fantasy is not always met with approval, and many accuse laser tag of encouraging violence and evoking images of war. In response, Rodriguez asks us, “What shape is your hair dryer? What shape is a drill? They are shaped like guns but they are not guns.” He goes on to say that the Code of Honour ensures that the game is kept safe for everyone, and that packs can be shut down remotely if players are endangering others. He also says that at Laser Quest they make further efforts to dissociate laser tag from war connotations through word choices. Instead of “shooting” or “killing,” the terms “tagging” and “deactivating” are used, and names that involve death, war, or other words with potentially offensive connotations are forbidden. And while the nature of guns conjures thoughts of war and violence, they are ultimately just another piece of sporting equipment. Ice skates, baseball bats, fencing foils are all potentially deadly weapons, but when viewed in the context of their respective sports are and essential parts of the game.
Personally, though I will be retiring Nouille after her abysmal performance, I will not give up on laser tag entirely. Next time, a more intimidating name will definitely ensure my rightful place at the top of the scoreboard… or at least hopefully not at the bottom.