Ordinarily I write about role-playing games, but today I’m making an exception. Strangely one of the grandest nerdfests takes place every year on a mock battlefield in a tiny town in pennsylvania. Skirmish USA annually holds the largest paintball game in the world, and the last game took place just last weekend. There are thousands of participants, and a surprising number coming from abroad. Now I don’t know a ton about paintball, honestly I’m not that great at it. Im actually more of an airsoft guy. But I don’t think any other paintball experience could even compare to the absolute madness of this particular weekend.

Sure you’ll see plenty of bare-chested heroes with mohawks, scowls, and bruises. Give those kids a wide birth. But the real treat, and the reason I go every year, is because it’s sort of difficult to distinguish this experience from a massive LARP (live action role play) experience. As soon as the Dday boats drop, you are no longer Jerry Johnson whose behind in high-school calculus, you’ve suddenly become a second lieutenant barking orders as though you’ve got a whole platoon at your back. Oh wait you actually do, these woods are insane. Combat is a constant, and when it isn’t thick it usually means you’re about to walk into an ambush. You half expect Martin Sheen to walk out of the brush with a SAW machine-gun at any moment. Not convinced? You might just have to see it for yourself. Real military camouflage and gear is sold at extremely reasonable prices. Much of it actually comes from the countries represented in the mock battle.

[photo courtesy of Daniel Wald]

I had to talk my way out of getting shot multiple times by my own Ally teammates this year who pointed out that my camouflage was German. I actually had no idea. The second time someone brought it up I explained that I always play team USA. Their faces unmoved, I tried to make a joke of it. It turned out these guys didn’t find it so funny when I said I was a spy. A couple of years ago my buddy, his cousin, and I snuck behind enemy lines. We never expected the front line to break, but when it did the Germans forces swept past en masse. Without exaggerating in the least, there must have been a hundred of them just twenty feet from the bush I was hiding behind. I didn’t get legitimately scared, until I heard some of them speaking fluent German…

But off the field there usually isn’t any hostility between the Axis and Allies. Everyone is simply too exhausted to carry on with any bickering, though there are definite exceptions. A group of about ten long island buddies playing for the Axis apologized to me after a night of raucous rambunctiousness that apparently lasted till four in the morning a foot from my tent. Honestly I was so exhausted I had no idea. I can’t recommend this experience enough. But if you come next year, you better be playing as an Ally, or else I’ll be coming at you.