There’s a tank. I’ve brought a paintball gun and they brought a goddamn tank. It must have a minigun because it is firing a stupendous amount of paint. We’re all cowered behind cover that seems exceptionally thin to me now. While I know that it is just paint, my brain has to try really hard to remember that because there are hundreds of paintballs in the air at the same time, and the sound they make, crashing into my cover like a technicolor wave is terrifying. If I run I’ll get destroyed, so I hunker down lower since I really do not want to have the dubious distinction of getting totally fucked up by the cannon on a goddamn tank. Above me the sun expresses a vendetta with searing rays designed to sap my energy even as it doses me with UV. I’m not even supposed to be in this bunker, and Ghost’s voice crackles through my radio with, “Hey where are you!? There are bad people doing what they do over here. We could use the help.” In spite of this, I laugh and I think that the sun is getting to me. Maybe it’s some sort of madness, it must be.
This particular weekend madness is the rule of the land, because we’re at the 2015 Decay of Nations. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Starting back in 2005 at SC Village, the Decay of Nations is a weekend long scenario paintball event. Every September thousands of people descend on Chino, CA – there were over 2,000 this year to engage in a massive game of paintball. So when my group, a small team of 3 consisting of my long time friends Ghost and Ginger and dubbed the Suicide Squad, arrived the scene looked like some sort of makeshift military camp. Tents were strung in lines, and colorful streamers, well, they streamed in the dusty winds.
As a general rule for paintball, go ahead and show up early. It lets you get a good spot to establish your base of operations, set up your shade canopy, and basically make yourself comfortable when you’re not getting the hell shot out of you. Since Decay of Nations is a 2 day event you also have the option to camp. So establishing a base camp that you’re happy with is of the utmost importance. For our part the Suicide Squad set up camp towards the edge so we could be left alone.
The (Thirty) 2 Minutes of Hate
With that out of the way we brought out sign up sheets and promptly wandered off to stand in line for 30 minutes, and wait for our registration packet which included respawn cards, registration information, and a sweet assed patch. Decay of Nations is a giant event and thousands of people show up; so everything takes just a little longer than you would expect it to. Registration for a regular day of paintball usually takes around 10 minutes, tops. But at Decay of Nations is, as they keep telling me, the largest event on the West Coast and that includes the abominable lines for everything.
With registration sorted, and cases of paint ammunition all loaded, we returned to our camp and started to put together our loadouts. Paintball guns and pods we filled with paint. Air tanks were attached and paintball pod packs were tweaked and adjusted. Sweet faction patches were attached to our jerseys and red identification cards likewise zip tied to our masks.
For us, this amount of tweaking was abnormal. With speedball games what you bring is useful but not tantamount. All that the well equipped player really needs is enough paint and air to make a good show of about 600 seconds. If something goes weird, you go back to your camp. If something breaks, it’s off to camp to fix it. If you run out of paint, you whip out the credit card, buy another case and take it back to your camp. What you don’t need to think about is being out in the field for seriously extended periods of time.
Questions that we asked, rhetorically, to one another included but were hardly limited to: “How much paint are we going to need?” “How many bottles of water should we carry?” “Does everybody have their radio?” “How far are we going to walk?” “I think this is too heavy. What are you guys bringing?” “Are you fucking with me? It can’t be that far.” “What do you mean you left your walkie talkie at home?” and “How far again? That is bullshit. Do we want to move our camp?” Finally, as the PA system sizzled to life in the distance, “What is it now?”
Turns out that the “What now?” was the call for the player meeting. If you happen to be a walk on paintball player, this bit is at the beginning of the day and the refs explain what the rules for the field are. Some fields have slightly different rules but they exist for player comfort and safety. They are things like, always wear your goggles on the field, and don’t open up on poor bastards from point blank range. If you are a veteran player this is something you nod and smile through before you go on with your fun filled day of pwning n00bs.
Like good little troopers, the Suicide Squad stopped fiddling with our loadouts and headed over to the main stage area, boots crunching on the parched rocks and dirt. It was around 11:00 in the AM and the temperature was already edging past the 85 degree mark while the sun was being the most offensive it had been all day (up to that point anyway). We figured that, 15 minutes and we’d be good to go. We were excited to finally get out there and play.
At Decay of Nations, that was not the case. As the sun hatefully cooked us like we were vegan hamburgers, we had a grand old pep rally. A madman festooned in robes and winged helmet squealed like a pentecostal revivalist about how great the field was and how wonderful it was for us all to be out there. Before going on (and on) about the new updates to the fields that would make this weekend even better. I looked towards where these new installations were, and found no shade.
The man in the winged helmet then decided to use the time to extol the virtues of next year’s 10th Anniversary Decay of Nations, and how it would be even bigger and better than ever. I adjusted my keffiyeh to keep the sun from blistering me where I stood. I wondered aloud if this supposed player meeting would continue right up until then.
Then, after 15 minutes of exuberant convulsing trying to pass itself off as “convincing” exuberance it was revealed that today, that’s right, this very day, was the largest Decay of Nations to date. We were asked if we could scarcely believe it, and I looked around at the 1000+ people around me, baking slowly in the sun like a nouveau potato preparation, and pondered if next they were going to count us off, one by one until the heartiest of us collapsed into the sand.
Beyond the screeching speakers on the stage, the PA continued to say, “All Decay of Nations players, please report to the stage.” But wait! The mad priest was walking away from the mic and bringing up the “Generals” that would lead the eternal battle of Red and the hateful Blue. Each side in Decay of Nations was supposedly led by a player that would, um, do something? I guess? As it turns out I never did find out what they actually did, other than encourage us to be better than whoever had the good fortune to be across from us.
At the time I hope that maybe they would be the ones to tell us about the rules of the field, and the specifics of a scenario game. That would make sense after all, having our would be leaders lead us towards a thorough understanding of the rules. Besides, if our general could get this over with and us out of the sun, at that point I would have been willing to follow that man into actual battle, provided that battle was someplace more temperate.
“Well, shit,” Ginger said as our general then proceeded to give a mini-pep rally within the greater pep rally. It was like a horrible matryoshka doll designed to pump up the crowd even as they withered in the almost noon-day heat. Our general said something about being proud or whatever. After the first few minutes we’d tuned him out and after the next 5 we started plotting a palace coup.
In the military, there’s this concept of leaving no man behind. But since the Suicide Squad isn’t a military we had absolutely no issue with abandoning one of us. So while Ghost was staring dumbfounded and deeply confused towards the stage, the Ginger and I snuck away and back towards the camp. The PA blared, “All Decay of Nations players, report to the stage,” as we marched back to the comfort of our camp chairs and life preserving shade canopy. Our camp was on a hill maybe 200 yards from the stage, and could hear the rest of the presentation from a far more comfortable vantage point while continuing to tweak our loadouts and guzzling Gatorade. In spite of everything, we were still excited. Sure, the whole morning was an exercise in patience and tolerance to heat, but with these quibbles out of the way, this was going to be great.
When Ghost returned 20 minutes later, he scowled and flipped us off.
“Anything we missed?”
“Mechs and tanks can only be taken out with rockets or grenades.”
“Not a thing.”
With the 30 minutes of hate finally over we were finally able to get our loadouts, well, loaded, and we were quickly on our way. This meant, in the standard faux-military lexicon, that we marched. Then we marched some more. We marched over the dusty sands of the parking lots, and the sun did the best impression of a space based flamethrower it could manage. We continued past the streaming streamers from before, and the other encampments smartly arrayed in neat little blocks.
Further, we encountered fetid green water pools, surrounded by flies, and I had to assume, whatever you call bouncing baby mosquitos. The flies of course shared the adjacent spaces with the poor suckers whose campsite was not as good as ours.
The downside of our campsite, a fact we began to seriously appreciate now that we were already dipping into our emergency water supply, was that basically we were as far as we could possibly be from anything. At this point in our trek it became almost unbearable. Eventually, we found ourselves wandering around looking for entry. You see, at the Decay of Nations there are multiple methods of getting onto the field of play. The field itself is approximately 5 square miles and it made of several fields all lumped together. I’ve included a map:
You see that bottom forest section? Yeah, that’s where you play. It seems a lot bigger when you’re actually, as they say, “in the shit.” Well, metaphorically speaking. It’s mostly plants and the occasional animal (one member of my squad saw a bobcat who could not give less of a fuck about him). The main method of getting in if you are on Team Blue (the UNA) is a gate on the East Side – which is to say more or less dead center of the park. It’s easy to get into no matter where you happen to be. If, you are a mercenary (which we will get to in a moment) your ingress is situated in the center. If you are Team Red it was instead far to the west.
Since we were camped on the far Eastern Side of the park, and our entrance was on the opposite side, every time it was time to play it involved a literal Journey to the West. Along the way we encountered an area that was known as the Vendor Village, which contained possibly everything you could ever need to kit yourself out appropriately for some serious MilSim LARPing. Let’s be charitable and call them “war profiteers.” Effectively, you come off of the field, you’re all shot to shit and they offer you replacements. Maybe you’ve decided your gun is garbage, and that’s why you got lit up like a Christmas Tree. Maybe you need camo, so team whichever doesn’t see you stumbling through the underbrush like a drunk and open fire on you like British Regulars. Maybe you’d like a scope so your shots actually hit something. They have more or less everything you could need to make your life a little better.
What’s that you say? You suck ass at this game? Well they have just the thing for you, a brand new vest. Yep, that’s what you need and your whole game will improve, and you feel better about everything about yourself, and the ladies will love you. Of course if the new vest doesn’t work out, alternative joy enhancers are in stock today.
Also, as we marched past we discovered some assclown who had the fine idea of selling Gatorade for $4 a pop to poor fuckers in the process of suffering from heatstroke. To call that a “cornered market” would be a massive understatement. Remember, one capitalist’s “cornered market” is a regular person’s “douchebag move.”
We finally got to our location, having braved the neon green swamps and the siren’s call of loot and sweet upgrades. Then it was time to get in yet another line . This one was for tape and to ensure that the paint we were using was the field paint.
By the way, if you ever want to start a fight at your local paintball field, sing the praises of the “Field Paint.” It is, without fail, terrible. Paintballs are fine little balls of liquid sealed within a cellulose shell. They are very sensitive to heat and rapid changes in temperature. Since most of the paint that you get while on location has probably been sitting inside a metal container and exposed to the elements, it was probably mostly dead before you even reached for your credit card.
Some fields require that you only use their paint, which makes most serious players very cross. When paintballs get old, or are exposed to too much heat, they warp. Warped paintballs don’t shoot straight and your accuracy will suffer dramatically. “Field Paint Only” is, at best, a naked cash grab. Still, this was going to be a good day. I could feel it. Besides, I reasoned, everybody else was using the same, substandard ammo, so we should be fine.
I’m occasionally wildly mistaken.