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Laser Tag: a controversial pastime activity


Slowly but surely, the leisure Laser Tag game, which initially was developed for the US Armed Forces enjoys growing popularity in Germany (and not only there). For educators and youth advocates, however, this leisure activity is highly controversial. The objective of the game is to shoot opposing players with a laser weapon and score as many points as possible.

What the Laser Tag game is all about

However, there is more to the laser tag game than shooting each other. The players have to do that alone or in teams, while at the same time all participants have to tackle several task as well on an in- or outdoor course. Because they are trying to prevent each other from solving those obstacles, they are wearing vests with sensors and an infrared transmitter, which usually is called a laser gun or a phaser.

This laser gun is similar to Paintball. A game, where the participants shoot each other with colour balls, fired from an airgun. However, in Paintball the warlike character of the game has absolute priority. When marking the opponent, it is not all that uncommon to get injuries, ranging from bruises to contusions. Therefore, this game is unsuitable for teens. Laser Tag, however, can be played by younger children as well. In America, the age limit is 6 years, while in Germany it is 16 and, also, the young person has to be accompanied by an adult. A nationwide uniform rule does not exist.

Laser tag, on the other hand, in its origins was not intended as a sport or leisure activity. It was developed by the US military. The laser tag equipment was provided to the military for combat exercises. In its focus are mainly tactical elements. It is these tactical elements which make for the popularity of this strategy game.

What variations can be played?

Fans of the Laser Tag game estimate that this strategy game can be played in- and outdoors and also in many variations. In most variations, the player must leave the game after a certain number of hits. In other variations, the player have to go back to the base and recharge their phaser after a certain number of shots. This option is more appreciated by experienced players because it requires more tactical finesse than in other variations. Major variations are:


In this game, it is everybody against everybody. Players cannot recharge their energy. If you receive too many hits, you have to leave. The last player on the course wins.

Team Games

In this game, team red plays against team green. Advisable, both teams are the same size. Either team is only to win if the participants play well together and are tactically superior. The objective is to collect as many as possible points (1point/hit) or the participants have to perform several tasks around the course. The probably most know variation is “Capture the Flag”. The objective is not only to defend the own base but at the same time conquer the enemy’s base.

Variations with an imbalance


Again, there are two teams. One is smaller in numbers. At the beginning, the smaller team receives a bonus. They can take more hits. However, since they are outnumbered, they must play very well together.


In this variation, the zombie is an immortal player and he plays against everybody else. His mission is to infect other players. The infected player, can, with their hits, block the zombie. However, only for a few seconds and thus trying to survive the game.

Also, numerous other variations can be played. For indoor playing, Dark Games in a darkened house are most popular. If you play outdoors, on the other hand, you can invent large-scale scenarios. For example, lifeguard scenarios where the lifeguard has to escort one person to a particular destination without getting hit too many times.

A controversial game

For the vast majority of active players, Laser Tag is an exciting game, where they can train their reflexes and their condition at the same time. However, critical parents see it as a martial activity similar to the digital Ego shooter which is not suitable for children and adolescents. They criticize the military origin of Laser Tag, which is a close combat training and plays down the involvement of violence.

Some child protection officers also criticise the military reference of Laser Tag. For example in Rheinland-Pfalz (Germany), only young people from the age 16 and up are allowed to play Laser Tag. This decision is justified by the clear intention to point a weapon on another human being. They also argue that the sensation is intensified by the physical exertion and, therefore, different to computer games. However, there are also those educators who think Laser Tag was entirely unproblematic. They argue that the objective of Laser Tag is fair play. In their opinion, if you always just see the violence in a game, then dodgeball and snowball fights should equally prohibited. Both are favorite games in physical education. Those games, they say, hold the same possibility of injuries.

However, these controversies are not new. When the first Laser Dromes in Germany opened, in the first half of the 1990s, the same disagreements were aired. The solution, to keep children and adolescents away from violent games was, to classify them as gambling, which is allowed only for adults.

Paintball | © Pavel Losevsky - Fotolia

Implementation in youth work

To find an answer to the question whether to take your youth group to a Laser Tag arena is up to every youth worker. I still can remember a time when young people played “Capture the Flag” in an old, abandoned military building using their beads guns. Back then it was all about, sneaking, fooling, camouflage, skill, speed and a lot of fun. However, the teens from then did not get violent. And with so many other outdoor games, it is about to outwit your opponent, however, not by scoring on how many times he was hit.

These days, kids play a lot of computer games. Some of them are downright addictive. At least, playing Laser Tag they are requested to move around and have some kind of condition. A skilled youth worker might even take up the opportunity and talk about killing people, the desensitising of violence. This could be used as a learning effect, at least as a good starter for a discussion.

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