Note: The film is at the end of this article. If you want to just watch that then please scroll down.
It was when I was sitting in the steam room at Virgin Active with 20 sweaty men all dressed in the same set of bright beach shorts, and making jokes about their penises, that something struck me as odd,
“This has to be,” I announced into the cloud of steam, which was being jetted into the room at an alarming rate and temperature, “the most surreal Ground Zero Weekender I have ever been to.”
The member of team Delta Alpha to my right leant in and said,
“Do you feel better now, though?” He asked.
I considered the question.
The Ground Zero Weekender is a large airsoft event in the latter part of the year in the deepest parts of the New Forest. My team, Delta Alpha known as the “DAs”, had been attending it for 5 years or so and we had come to the conclusion that attendance was mandatory for a team member to retain his number and only top excuses were allowed. Such excuses as “my wife is in labour” (the baby kind – not the political affiliation) or “It’s Ramadan, and I can’t come,” are the level of acceptable. “I don’t feel like it” wasn’t good enough for the DA committee (of which I am happy to be a member). The thing is, as much as the event is a “must attend” (and I’ll give you an example: TA Events offered me a free ticket to their event the weekend after and the chance to be the official cameraman and I turned them down) it is not that we take the airsoft too seriously or even seriously at all.
The DAs are an odd bunch of airsofters with wide ranging experience. Some DAs still only play the urban based, Electrowerkz style, of CQB for which the team is justly infamous – although our home is now “The Mall” in Reading. Other DAs only play high end Stirling Airsoft 3 day Mill Sim events where being captured can actually lead to being REALLY water boarded. One thing we have all decided is that, as good a ground as GZ is, the sheer numbers of players means that serious airsoft is almost impossible. That is for us. I am sure that for other teams it is different. Some definitely take it too seriously, as we shall see.
No, for us GZ is all about the camping, hanging out with our friends and the “Posse” of London teams that attend. In fact, it is nice to be anonymous amongst the great crowd of players. We drove down on the Friday morning to find that some DAs had wormed special permission to arrive Thursday night and had setup “The Moonbase Alpha”. A giant collection of popup tents all linked together to create a space bigger than some airsoft grounds. It had rooms, chambers, cavernous corridors. It was complex, you could almost get lost in it.
“Wow!” I exclaimed to Charlie.
He laughed, “Next year we plan to have enough to create a complete loop with a space for the party in the middle.”
I don’t doubt it. All the DAs are working men and GZ is a chance to show off new kit. At GZ people bring out their new guns and those secret projects that they have been working on all year. At GZ, they try out new tactics and silly toys for the first time. Here people swap roles with our normally SAW pumping commanders taking a breather and all “going sniper” for a few days. In fact the command structure we work so hard on the rest of the year is totally dropped at GZ. It affects me too: I have found myself leading a group who want to go out and move about, whereas normally I am known as a bit of a lone wolf on the field.
So, Friday night we had the traditional DA party, and there is very little I can repeat here as my wife is reading this! Suffice to say, this was a “boys weekend” away (our wives are probably glad we can get it all out of our system). There were a few announcements: a new expectant father, someone was getting baptised soon, someone else was changing jobs – that sort of thing. Each was greeted with the normal DA rousing cheer and many a raised pint pot.
Saturday, we woke early and I broke out the coffee grinder and hob boiler to make some real coffee. Then we ate, tooled up and went into game.
Sure enough, the normal field commanders were having none of it on this event and so we wandered around until we got into contact. Not being natural woodland players, the DAs struggle a little to beat local players and after half a dozen lives lost we came back for lunch and then split into two teams, going at different paces, to suit taste.
It was about only 10 minutes into that when it all went horribly wrong.
The way I see it is that anyone who plays woodland must be prepared to take a few hits at once. Woodland is often at range and people are only shooting at what they can see. Bits of arms and legs; whatever is visible between the trees and bushes. When I get hit at GZ, I am almost always hit by multiple rounds and often clipped a few more times as I walk out of play. Shit happens as far as I am concerned. I don’t let it get to me, as I am sure it is not on purpose.
Some people see it differently.
My small unit, of 8 or so, were making their way through the bush when a target presented itself. We were spread out along a ridge, fighting up a steep hill. Vince and I saw the target and both fired a small burst. I heard a “hit”. The player then stood where they were. I could only see the legs of the player, but I quickly realised that it was an “Intel holder”. That is a player who has been given an Intel Card to present when shot as a capture objective. They have to stand where they are and wait capture, rescue or a timeout. Of all the players who are going to get shot too many times, this is that role as, by not moving away, other players will naturally consider you still alive.
One of the team (not Vince or I, but further down the ridge) took another shot.
Then all hell broke loose.
The Intel Holder turned out to be a feisty red headed girl from a well known team based on a British Island. And she was not happy. With a scream is rage she pulled up her gun and on full auto ran into the bush firing at us. My shout of, “Dead players don’t move or shoot!” was drowned out by a 6 gun barrage of returning fire from the DAs down the ridge – all of which had no idea that this was the Intel Holder. After a few seconds of Vince and I shouting to cease fire, they did. The damage had already been done. The Intel Holder was now livid and out of control. She was screaming at us that being shot was wrong and that she was angry about it. At first I wondered why her being angry was anything to do with us, I wondered if something else was going to be in her argument, but no that was it “I’m angry and so I am having a self serving fit” was all she wrote.
On the other hand, my team were of the opinion that, while we were very sorry about the overkill, it happens and could we all just calm down please.
After 3 minutes of this, I suggested that perhaps she should just forget it and return to her dead zone. I was going to continue to say that she could raise this with a marshal if she liked, and we could deal with it through him. The DAs have no issue with authority. Many of us used to marshal atElectrowerkz, a site that REALLY had a problem with overkill, and are quite used to talking it out rationally. I myself was a senior marshal there for 3 years.
I didn’t get to say anything after the words “you’re a dead player”.
With a scream the girl launched herself at me and started attempting to beat me up. I say attempting as I was in full body armour and helmet so I could not feel anything. I turned away and hunched my shoulder and made no attempt to defend myself. Suddenly two arms grabbed me from behind. Soon she was dragged off me and our friends separated us. At the time, I wondered why my team was holding me back as I was absolutely fine. She was still desperately trying to claw her way through her friends towards me. There was one of those large group tussles as all sorts of people on both sides tried to get between us. The volume increased as everyone started shouting at each other. Eventually the girl was restrained enough to be dragged away.
As quick as that it was over. The groups split up and went their own way. The DAs stopped and replayed the situation in our heads.
“What the fuck just happened?” I asked.
The general opinion was that she had gone mental and was a danger to players.
“Are you going to report this Bash?” I was asked.
I thought for a second. “I should. She might hurt someone, she was bloody mental.”
“Or she may start on someone else who might smack her head in next time,” offered a DA.
“We were all worried you would fight back and kick them all in. Especially the guy who shouted at you,” said another.
I get this all the time, once people find out about my black belt in taekwondo and European tournament win.
Sam patted me on the back, “We acted the right way brov’, don’t worry.”
Then suddenly something occurred to me; the head camera!
“I have the entire thing on tape!” I exclaimed.
The general feeling was that this was awesome news. About ten minutes later we all got shot and so walked out. I went up to the nearest marshal and spoke to him. It turned out that the other group had already made a complaint about me. We all agreed to go speak to the organisers regarding it.
Back at the command tent, the site owner “H” took me to one side.
“Tell what you say happened,” he said. I felt that he clearly suspected me in this. I told him, leaving nothing out, but he didn’t look particularly convinced.
“…and,” I said, “I probably have the entire thing recorded on head camera.”
“Right,” he said, “let’s see it.”
Soon we were viewing the footage. It was very high quality.
It showed everything. It showed the DAs calling for calm before the attack, DAs saying we will walk away (this is a team rule), basically: the DAs trying their best to do the right thing and clearly saying they were sorry for the overkill. It also showed that this simply made the girl more mental until she attacked me in a rage.
It was the most convincing piece of footage I had ever recorded; I was totally cleared by it.
“Right, she is in trouble!” H said in anger and stomped out of the room, presumably to deal with her.
I went to rejoin my fellows standing by the entrance to the safe zone. Soon Lex and Trip (the other team leaders) arrived and after we had watched the footage again, we went to talk to H about what he was going to do.
This conversation had four points of view:
1. H wanted me to decide what should happen.
2. Lex offered to arrest her if I said so (many DAs are policemen).
3. Trip wanted to have her ejected as well as the guy with her.
4. However, I thought that it’s not for me, a player, to enforce the rules of a site.
I am not taking responsibility for the appropriate punishment a player should get for assault. When I was a marshal, I took little notice of the victim’s wishes as violence has no place in the game AT ALL. If a victim said to “leave it”, then that was nice, but the marshals decide if someone is to be ejected. It is for the marshals to enforce this at GZ, not I!
Also, my religious beliefs are founded on being compassionate (seriously), so I decided to drop it and go and have a beer.
H offered that perhaps a hand shake would suffice. Frankly, I found that ridiculous. This wasn’t a punch up or half my fault, this was an unprovoked attack. You don’t ask someone who has been mugged to shake hands with the muggers do you? I told H that a handshake wouldn’t work for me and I would not want shake the hand of someone like that ever. Hate filled, self obsessed, stupid, psychotic people are not friends of mine.
So we walked away. As we do.
However, I did agree not to post the footage on the net, I said nothing about stills.
Back at the camp, we were having real troubles letting the event go. The entire DAs were up in arms about it and all sort of rubbish was being offered. Some were saying I should have hit her back, others that I should post the entire thing to the net, others still that I should insist she be ejected and her name blackened all around every site we know. Some just wanted to go and have it out with them now. Some even saw it my way (mainly the ex marshal crowd). After about an hour of discussing it I wanted a break. It was then that Vince had a brain wave:
“You know,” he said to the group, “I am a member of Virgin Active and this weekend all their branches are free to use.”
The team considered this in silence.
“That is bloody brilliant,” I said. “But we will need shorts right?”
“Let stop off at Tesco and buy some,” suggested Trip.
Suddenly we had something fun to do and a mission. Laughing, we jumped in our cars and went. It was great fun running around Tesco trying to find shorts and then zooming to the closest Virgin Active. Sure enough it was free, but the staff was shocked to have us all turn up at once. The place was basically empty and we swam, played volleyball in the pool, sauna and enjoyed the steam room. It was there that Vince said,
“Do you feel better now, though?” He asked.
“Oh yes. Thanks mate.”
And after that we forgot about it and after a very one sided vote we drove off to Nando’s for dinner.
The next day’s airsoft was fun and the chaotic kind we all know and love at GZ. I did see the girl again – so she hadn’t been banned – but we didn’t acknowledge each other.
On the way home I thought of the promise I had made about the footage. Sure, I agreed not to post the footage, it shows a crime after all, but I have kept it just in case I need to make a complaint to the police regarding this event in the future. I did however decide to do something in my film of the Weekender – a subtle revenge – you will have to watch it to find out what.
So, yes, it was a surreal airsofting event. I have never actually seen someone properly attack another at an airsoft event – not in three years of marshalling at EW or in 10 years of playing – and I hope to never see it again, let alone be the victim of that attack. Airsoft is thought to be violent, but it actually isn’t. From the outside, we may look like we are serious people, but in general we are not. Sure, I have had my anger flare up before, but I have always walked away. Any serious complaint I have taken to a marshal. I think that people who can’t walk, who are so up themselves that they must “have a go” or –worse still – actually attack someone, should never get to step foot on an airsoft field again. I would be interested to hear your viewpoint.
However, as usual, it was the brilliant group of team mates – my friends – who made the event for me. The Ground Zero Weekender and airsoft in general is about making new friends and not counting your kills.
Bio: Philosopher, filmmaker, writer and AI expert.
Occupation: Head of AI for a large corporation.
Interests: Watches, debate, cooking, computer-gaming, reading, writing, videoing, martial arts, airsoft, movies, diving, skiing… (The list goes on — Basho is a philosopher and therefore into everything!)