I’m going to have to admit, this article is very dear to my heart.
That’s because I first cut my teeth on combat sports playing laser tag some 30 years ago, before “graduating” to airsoft and paintball.
We all have to start somewhere, don’t we?
And if you’re looking for your next children’s party idea, business team building session, or bitter rivalry face-off with your spouse, you might well be considering laser tag vs paintball.
But what’s the difference? Which is more suitable for kids? What actually are they? Which is better for revenge?
Read on to find out, all while I take a nostalgic trip down memory lane…
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Paintball vs Laser Tag – Too Long, Didn’t Read
I’m sure there are many readers who don’t wish to hear my old war stories, and so with that in mind, here’s the answer in a nutshell.
Laser tag is nearly always played in an indoor arena, and utilizes battery-powered “guns” that fire harmless infrared beams at electronic receiver vests worn by every player.
Once hit, a player’s vest will vibrate and flash, and will either shut down for a while, or tell the player they need to return to base.
Paintball can be played indoors or out, but is more commonly enjoyed outside.
Players wear protective masks and clothing, while carrying a paintball “marker,” which fires high-powered paint pellets at opposing players using canisters of Co2 or compressed air.
Once hit, a paintball will explode on the body, and everyone will be able to see you’ve been “shot.” Depending on the type of game, you are either eliminated, or you need to return to base for a respawn.
Of course, there’s much more to both than that, so please continue to read on to find out which is right for you and your event.
What is Laser Tag?
Laser tag was invented back in 1979, although the US military had been experimenting with laser combat technology in the years prior.
The first commercially available laser gun set was fittingly produced to accompany Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Coupled with the wake of the Star Wars phenomenon, it was only a matter of time before battle arenas were in development.
Laser tag enjoyed its heyday in the years that followed.
In the late 80s and early 90s, I attended games like it was a religion, and while the technology has improved, the typical arena and gameplay are very much the same.
Two teams face off against each other in a large, darkly-lit space, commonly decorated with a space-age theme and paraphernalia. I remember running down gangplanks and mesh walkways while the Star Wars theme blasted out on loudspeakers.
Those were the days…
Every player is kitted out with an electronic vest, with a laser gun attached to it, although it doesn’t actually fire a real laser, at all. Nobody wants children’s faces melting off, after all.
Technology and operating software varies in quality and from arena to arena, so too the types of games available.
In its most basic form, the objective of laser tag is to hit your opponent’s light-up vest by firing a harmless infrared beam from your gun, thus eliminating them, or knocking them out of play for a short time in order to complete an objective.
Depending on the set-up, you can hit the front and back of the vest, and possibly the shoulders and sides of the gun itself, with a highly accurate, long-range beam.
Objectives vary from attacking an enemy base, to capturing the flag, to simply wiping out all your opponents. Other variants can be played at the discretion of the arena or the group attending.
In some games it’s every person for themselves (a particular favorite of mine), where you have to survive for as long as you can against everyone else in the room.
As mentioned, arenas are usually decorated with fluorescent paint, themed obstacles, and with smoke and mirrors often employed to add to the atmosphere and challenge.
While some outdoor arenas are available (I’ve personally never played such a venue), laser tag operators are more commonly found running indoor, close quarter battle (CQB) games.
Arenas are regularly more than one level, offering multi-faceted gameplay, with maze-like obstacles, cover, and hidden shooting locations.
At the end of the match (again, depending on the quality of the provider and the equipment they’re running) you can usually get a complete readout of your score.
This is an exciting, tactical analysis of every time you pulled the trigger, including how many shots, overall accuracy, which players you hit, where you hit them, and how often.
At-a-glance, you can instantly see who you’ve had a grudge against – or who had a grudge against you!
Plus, it will tell you where you came overall in the match, and – in my experience – the results are usually posted on a big screen for all to see.
I have fond memories of taking all my printed readouts home – particularly when I came in first place!
Games are typically short and fast-paced, and in the space of an afternoon, you will likely play several, 15-20-minute matches, depending on the arena.
Outdoor games, where available, often last longer.
Both indoor and outdoor play should come with an umpire or game official, but they commonly don’t have as much input or importance as paintball officials, instead ensuring everyone stays safe and has fun.
Laser Tag Advantages
There are several advantages in this corner when it comes to laser tag vs paintball.
- It’s much, much cheaper. A single game is often under $10, but all-day and multi-game packages are available.
- It doesn’t hurt – laser tag is painless, although shining the light in people’s eyes isn’t recommended.
- More suitable for younger players, with a lower age limit. Kids as young as five can play.
- More accessible – easy to reach local laser tag arenas than paintball fields.
- You don’t need any special protection or clothing. Just turn up and play.
- You never run out of ammunition.
- It’s (usually) more lighthearted and fun.
- Full read out and score information is available after the game – prove that you’re Han Solo.
- Minimal cleanup and environmental impact – less laundry to do.
- More accurate shots with a greater range.
- Ideal date night with a loved one – in general, you can see who you’re up against in the arena and identify all players.
Laser Tag Disadvantages
In the interests of playing fair, let’s include some downsides to laser tag.
- Older kids and some adults often think it’s for babies (a crime – in my opinion).
- Paintball and airsoft are more tactical and advanced.
- Younger children can get scared in the dark arena.
- Likewise, it can be difficult to see – leading to collisions with walls and people when charging around. Slipping and tripping are also common.
- Even “harmless” lasers can damage eyesight when shone directly into the eyes. Everyone must be made aware of this.
- You might often inherit packs and guns from someone very sweaty in a previous game.
- See the point above.
When I was a kid, the only downside to laser tag was when I put on a communal vest, and it was covered in smelly sweat from someone’s dad playing the game before.
Perhaps times have changed and this isn’t such an issue – or maybe I’ve simply become the smelly, sweaty dude?
What is Paintball?
Paintball has roots back to the early 80s, when two buddies, arguing over if a city dweller could survive in the woods against a hunter, decided to put it to the test.
They purchased some agricultural paint guns – and the rest is history. Imagine being there at that moment and realizing what you’d discovered?!
These days, paintball has developed into a fast-growing, competitive sport. The two most popular types are speedball and woodsball, with the former more synonymous with tournament play.
Players are kitted out with a paintball gun – often called a “marker.” This uses Co2 or compressed air canisters to fire water-soluble, vegetable-based “paint” pellets at around 300 fps.
Take a look at this article on the best paintball guns for some great examples.
The pellets break upon impact, marking the target with a stain that is initially difficult to remove. The players – and the referee – can see when someone has been shot and thus eliminated, or sent to the “dead box.”
As paintball utilizes ballistics fired at a fairly peppy rate, protection is essential. Players must wear paintball masks (follow that link for more), as well as overalls, and paintball pants with knee pads.
Masks must never be removed for the duration of the game, otherwise you face serious injury, as well as getting ejected and banned from play.
Take a look at this article on what to wear for paintball, to get more of an idea what you should be turning up in.
There’s a more extensive list of game variants in paintball compared to laser tag. These include capture the flag, run-the-gauntlet, hostages, kill the president/assassination, and zombies – among many others.
Simply eliminating the other team is the most common, however, usually pitting the reds against the blues. Players wear colored armbands to identify which side they’re on.
Paintball can be played outdoors or indoors, although outdoors is more popular. Playing fields can vary dramatically in size, although they are significantly larger than laser tag arenas.
If you’re playing woodsball, the field might be littered with bunkers, forts, obstacles, pill boxes, tanks, cars, scrap buses, and other such cover and hazards.
Paintball sniper rifles are often employed when playing MilSim games (Military Simulation) over such distance, and you can follow that link for some long-distance action.
For speedball, cover is usually inflatable shapes placed strategically around a smaller, more compact arena to encourage faster gameplay.
Both games will have dedicated umpires, clearly identifiable, in case there are any altercations, rule infringements, or neutral decisions to be made.
Paintball would not have become as popular as it has without something going for it, right?
- Thrilling, realistic combat experience.
- Excellent way to keep fit.
- Detailed tactics and strategy.
- Hundreds of scenarios available.
- Extensive community and retail stores. Check out the best paintball brands in the business as just the tip of the iceberg.
- World-class products available.
- Highly competitive.
- Longer games with more value and substance.
- Larger playing fields and arenas.
- Unbeatable adrenaline rush.
- Arguably more suitable for team building and corporate entertainment.
Naturally, paintball does have some downsides, particularly when compared to laser tag.
- It hurts. Let’s not sugar coat it – getting hit with a paintball is gonna leave a mark.
- Can get messy – more clean up, more laundry, more environmental impact.
- It’s expensive. Guns, gear, and ammo can add up very quickly, although quality cheap paintball guns are available.
- Ammunition is limited, and gung-ho, trigger-happy players might find themselves running dry regularly, and spending a fortune to top back up.
- Things can get aggressive. While healthy competition is encouraged, paintball (and airsoft) players can get heated – which isn’t fun for anyone – particularly the younger crowd.
- It’s easier to cheat.
- Players need to be at least 10-years-old (in the US).
- Wearing masks can be uncomfortable, and restrictive for some.
- It’s more dangerous than laser tag, and injuries are common – although mostly benign.
While these two combat sports share some initial similarities, in the end, they’re vastly different, largely thanks to the logistics of the weaponry, and the size of the playing arenas.
The game you choose will depend on what you’re looking for, the goal you’re hoping to achieve, the ages of the players involved, your time and budget.
For a younger crowd, fast-paced games, and a cheaper, more cost-effective experience – choose laser tag.
For older players, a day-long event, extreme adrenaline, and where money isn’t going to be an issue – go with paintball.
And you can check out this article on the differences between paintball and airsoft – to bring a third player into the ring.
That’s it broken down as simply as possible, but to be honest, I highly recommend getting involved in all of them.
Paintball, laser tag, and airsoft share a lot of awesome benefits to children and adults alike, including healthy exercise, team-building, social interaction, cognitive development, stress relief, and simply getting out of the house.
And anyone who says laser tag is for kids needs to have a word with me.
For a bit of fun, check out the video below, which pits an elite military squad against a laser tag team.
In the battle between laser tag vs paintball, in my mind, there is no clear winner – I love them both!
Let me know in the comments which sport you prefer and why, or if you have anything further to add to this interesting discussion.
In the meantime, stay safe out there, no matter what game you’re playing!