I developed an airsoft obsession my last year of high school. Much like paintball, airsoft involved shooting projectiles at one another in an outdoor field or indoor arena. Unlike paintball, airsoft didnít use a tacky system of pipes called a marker and CO2 gas to fire paintballs. Airsoft guns were real steel replicas, often full-sized, 1:1 scaled, and virtually identical in color, size, shape, and weight to the real deal. Airsoft players shot 6mm plastic BBs at each other during military simulation operations called skirmishes. More casual players liked to play paintball style rounds that involved little tactical skill and more praying and spraying.
Many times, real gun accessories such as scopes, lasers, tactical lights, and grenade launchers could be attached. Many overseas companies in Japan (where airsoft originated), Hong Kong, and Taiwan specialized in manufacturing airsoft rifles and pistols along with lines of upgrade parts and external accessories. I soon found myself pouring thousands of dollars into buying Aimpoint red dot sights, rifle slings, scope mounts, tactical vests and camouflage clothing. I found myself spending hours a day on airsoft forums.
What for? Is airsoft really just a game, a sport? Airsoft is the ultimate simulation of police and military operations. It wasnít like playing Counterstrike at Intraplay or Ghost Recon at Golfland. I like airsoft because of the unmatched realism. Iím not a masochist, but I liked the pain of getting hit with a volley of BBs flying at 400 feet per second. I liked the fear, liked the feel of cold metal in my hands. I liked the adrenaline rush, nothing like the petty amusement of killing something on-screen in a virtual world. Playing airsoft was being emerged in all my senses: smelling the fresh dirt, feeling the gun and the BBs, feeling the sore ache in your legs from crouching too long, hearing the BBs whiz by, listening to players shouting at one another, tasting the sweat running down your face. It seemed more than a simulation. That isnít fake pain Iím feeling. Thatís not fake sweat Iím smelling. Thatís not fake fear Iím sensing. Airsoft was real, but at the same time, it was an escape from reality.
Escape from girls (I found myself doing activities that didnít include girls or didnít see much of them: Boy Scouts, chess, airsoft), escape from school, escape from family problems, escape from everything. I concentrated on the sensations and the pain. I bleed just to know I was alive.
From Baudrillardís point of view, airsoft must be fast entering the realm of the hyper-real. That is to say, airsoft is entering a realm where its simulation of something (namely military and police operations) is becoming so real, we may soon not have any distinction between the real and the copied. It has, in fact, already become so in some aspects of the sport. There have been numerous news stories about LEO (police officers) shooting kids dead for brandishing airsoft weapons. It is not even so much the risk of these toy guns possibly being real as it is the immediate assumption that it is. When an officer sees a person with an airsoft weapon in an unsanctioned area such as out on the public streets, the first reaction is probably fear and danger.
Another aspect of airsoft that relates to Baudrillard is the simulation of airsoft. There are computer games simulating what it is like to play airsoft. Players can choose different types of airsoft guns: AEGs (electric automatic guns), GBB (gas blowbacks), springers (manual air-cocking guns). Players choose different types of ammunition: different weight BBs, different brand BBs, etc. Players can choose different accessories, upgrades, and gear as well. What this essentially has become is a simulation of a simulation. What would these simulation airsoft games be according to Baudrillard? More real than real? Or is everything becoming more and more simulated? What about the idea that these computer simulations simulate airsoft in an entirely different medium (computer games are virtual, airsoft is physical)?
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