Shortly after I radioed, Ginger found me sitting by the side of the road and sat down next to me. I drank his water while we waited.
“What the hell happened to you?” he asked.
“It’s a little hot today,” I replied.
“You look like shit.”
“Feel about the same,” I said. “Do anything cool?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said with a smile. “I wound up with some people and we were up in the Embassy…”
“What’s that?” I had asked, cutting him off.
“Well on the map over here,” he pointed a short distance away, towards the blue entryway, “There’s like a city, and at the top of the hill is this building. We were in there. It was awesome, since you can see soooo much. So we were up there just,” and he mimed firing his paintball gun while making whispered thwi thwi thwi thwi noises. “Then they brought a mech.”
“A mech? Seriously?” I said.
I should probably take this moment and explain what a mech actually is. At Decay of Nations there are a collection of special rules involving armored combatants. Tanks are one kind of special vehicle, as are mechs. When it comes to scenario play, a mech is a player that is covered in armor. Much like a tank, the trick is that the only way to eliminate them is with a grenade or a rocket. Paint grenades are special items that aren’t exactly cheap at $5 a pop. “Rockets” are basically Nerf launchers that were only allowed to be carried by specialized units. Mechs do carry around a full assortment of paintball weaponry, and if you end up facing one down without the special equipment you’re, for lack of a better word – screwed.
When I asked about that, knowing full well that Ginger didn’t carry grenades nor have a hidden rocket launcher stashed somewhere on his person, he replied with, “No I didn’t get him out.”
“So what did you do?” I asked.
Ginger smiled at me wolfishly. “They’re don’t have armor everywhere,” he said.
“But you can’t get him out.”
“Well yeah, I know I can’t get him out. So I shot him a whole bunch of times in the armpit. Let me tell you, that hurts like hell. I figured that’d make him move.”
“Did he move?”
“Fuck yeah he moved. If you’re gonna come out and wear a bunch of armor, you should know that I will shoot you in the armpit. I am coming for you.”
Once Ghost had picked us up, we enjoyed lunch and they went back out again. They were both intent on getting the most out of their day, no matter what and I was happy for them. I slurped Gatorade and watched cars begin to leave. It was 5 hours into a 2 day event and already people were leaving. Their tires cast dust clouds into the blazing sunlight that, like their original hopes for the day, shrank ever smaller the further they got from the battle of Red versus Blue. If I listened closely enough, I would have sworn I heard the sounds of their air conditioners working overtime. I imagine that those were the people I had seen on the sides of the road – the exhausted and the sunburned with the vacant stares. In the game players could respawn, but looking around at the slowly emptying parking lot, the unoccupied spaces felt a lot like casualties.
I’m not going to lie to you – I wished at that moment that I was leaving too. With how I felt I didn’t know if I would be able to legitimately play again that day. But I was there as a reporter for NitWitty, dammit. So I figured I should report and take pictures. For you curious readers at home, our camp looked like this:
Eventually, I strapped my boots on over my blistered feet (because I like my blisters like I like my defense – layered and overlapping), prepared a load out with double the amount of water and half the paint and went to go meet up with my squad. The details are odd and strange, and involved a troop transport truck. The highlight, if you could call it that, was the opening way from back at the beginning of Part 1 where Red Team brought a goddamned tank.
Later on the schedule that day something called the Bloodbath. Basically, the entire remaining Blue and Red teams were going to line up across from each other on the same field. At the center was a massive Taz doll and the mission for both sides was to claim it and bring it back like a Looney Tunes themed capture the flag. Of course it wound up in the Dead Zone between the 2 fronts.
When I had heard about Decay of Nations being the largest paintball event on the West Coast the Bloodbath was exactly the sort of thing I was looking forward to. It was, for lack of a better term, a massive speedball game. Everybody on my team knew what we had to do, and for the first time every single person on both sides had a singular, clear and plush objective.
As I looked around, the number of players on both sides was a fraction of what it had been during that sun drenched pep rally from hours ago. There were some familiar faces, like the I assume Ex-Boyfriend, who was now without his rookie former Girlfriend. In bands people asked the questions of, “Which way are we going?” and “Where’s the good cover at?” These were questions that I comfortably understood. After all the stuff in the woods and the tanks and whatever else, we were going to play us some paintball.
As soon as the whistle blew my plans, my confidence and my small world exploded into chaos. All around me was probably the most insane paintball I have ever seen let alone been a part of. I raised my gun intent on making the most of it. Nothing else so far that day was like it was supposed to be, but while I was just a single fish in the ocean, I still knew how to swim.
I smiled, pulled the trigger and…nothing. Not a thing. Turned out that my hopper was shot, and refused to feed like an obstinate child.
Quickly, I threw myself down behind some cover. The fact that I was effectively unarmed was meaningless. If anybody on Blue saw me, they would not hesitate to wreck me. Meanwhile, as I could feel the shots reverberate through the wall to my back I frantically tried to get my gun to work. Instead everything I tried basically told me to take my ingenuity and place it gently, if firmly, up myself.
In a rage, I smacked my hand on the ground. I could feel the disappointment roil within me. Not this too. I pleaded with my equipment to function, just for a little bit, just for now. Yet my pleas meant nothing in the end, and my frantic workings slowly sank into self pity. I figured I could just get out of the zone and call it a day. Slowly, because walking hurt, I got up, kept low and moved for the exits.
Halfway there I remember that I stopped dead. Something inside me snapped – I was not about to let my day go down that easily. No, instead a mad idea came into my head. The sun must have finally baked me through, because I laughed and for the life of me I could not tell you what was so funny. I jogged to the corner, time was short now, and I threw my gun on the ground – it was too heavy. I unclipped my harness, and my useless ammo and supplies fell to the ground. They would only slow me down.
The Taz in the middle of that paintball hell didn’t care if I had a gun that worked. It didn’t matter if I even got out of that center unscathed. All I had to do was grab it and toss it. I grinned like a madman. At 50 yards from the middle, the sounds of hundreds of paintball guns firing thousands of paintballs made a sound like low thunder that you could feel in your chest. Unencumbered by my equipment I ran forwards. I didn’t have to keep my gun ready, so I could get into small places and see more.
At 30 yards the sound crescendoed, as now the firestorm raged around me, and terror grabbed a hold of me. In the middle of the most intense paintball of the day and I was completely unarmed. Every part of me said, “this is a bad idea,” yet somehow my pride kept me going. If I stopped to think about it my muscles would have violently protested and the blisters would have straight up rioted, so I didn’t stop to think.
Instead I scrambled forwards and threw myself behind a hollow mound of earth. 20 yards to the target. In another moment I ran behind a wall and the shots rang out around me, hundreds at once in a torrent – more firepower than the tank had ever hoped for in its wildest wet dreams. I scampered, keeping low and moving fast until I found myself on the front, crouched at the tip of the spear and looking for Taz. Around me were dozens of people as part of a front line numbering in the hundreds . They looked at me, and quickly realized that I was unarmed.
“What are you doing!?” one of them said to me.
“I’m going for it. Would you cover me?”
“Yeah man,” he said. “Let me know when.”
Nodding, I got ready to run. Taz sat smiling maybe 30 feet away from me, but arrayed no more than 50 feet further was what was left of the Blue Team. If I ran, it would be into my own personal firing squad. Something about it made my bowels clench, and something else about that made my eyes open ever wider and my lips peel back into rictus smile.
“Ready!? I yelled, and around me there were nods. My lungs stopped and my heart slammed hot blood through my veins as I readied myself for a Rock and Roll Suicide.
But then, whistles rang out and the guns fell silent.
“Game!” yelled one of the yellow jerseyed refs. I watched with a deep sense of ennui as he picked up the Taz and walked away. We’d neither won nor lost, instead it ended without ceremony or purpose and with that, the match was over. I slid down into my spot as the other players picked themselves up and wandered out. The Bloodbath I came to realize, was a microcosm of the entire Decay of Nations experience. Lots of players and what you feel in the moment is, for lack of a better word – grand. Then again, with such a size comes the feeling that pretty much anything you do is rendered irrelevant by scope. It was nothing but sound and fury, as told by a madman in a winged helmet.
At every point, even if you try to keep it positive, it seems as if everything is working against you. Then if you adjust your expectations, it would seemingly find a way to come up short to those as well. Like the Taz that was slowly being carried away, my aspirations for what I wanted Decay of Nations to be seemed perpetually out of reach.
A Supposedly Fun Thing Probably I’ll Never Do Again
There was a night game of capture and defend. For my part I had been playing almost non-stop for 7 hours and was completely wiped out. On top of that it turns out that second hand combat boots are a terrible investment that only pay dividends in pain. I felt at the time, watching Ghost walk off towards the night game that I had spent my early hours poorly.
Out in the wilderness both mine and Ginger’s guns were broken and in the darkness we had no way to easily fix them. So we called it a day and retreated back to our camp. It was then that the best parts of our campsite became apparent – we were far from everybody else. With an open field to our backs and a deserted dirt parking lot around us, we sat back in our camp chairs and enjoyed the night. Meanwhile in the distance the city of Chino cast a fake sunset onto the mountains in weathered orange. We talked about the day, partook of some beverages and came to a startling conclusion – the most fun we had all day was right then in the camp, sitting and bullshiting in the cool night air.
As something that I had looked forward to for years, maybe it was impossible for the Decay of Nations to live up to my expectations. That is fully possible. But the lack of coordination, of clear goals or even a reason beyond “just because” was too much for me. Our favorite parts were the games that were the most like the speedball we enjoyed playing. Yet across the board the moments of fun and excitement, of true camaraderie, were too few and far between, separated by too much pointlessness and poor execution. I recall, right before going off to my tent to sleep, was that I’ve never been so disappointed by something I wanted so badly to be great.