"Who here has never played laser tag before?"
My hand shoots up.
The guide looks slightly startled. He had not seriously expected anyone to answer. I look around me. The briefing chamber at Ultrazone is filled with 15-year-old veterans, potential teammates of mine who look as if they are not in the habit of losing.
For years I passed this laser tag facility’s storefront on Main Street, curious, but sure it would be a fad that would quickly fade. Yet Alhambra's Ultrazone, now painted a bright blue and red and just one of a handful of laser tag spots still open in Southern California, proves there is staying power in this sci-fi inspired brainchild of the pre-dot com era.
Since it opened in 1995, this lasertag facility has changed hands at least once, the current owner Willie Atterberry tells me. The former track athlete turned businessman bought the Ultrazone business with his wife eight years ago, livening up the previously gothic motif with a new splash of paint. He says this is the largest arena in Los Angeles at 11,000 square feet.
In the briefing room, I get my marching orders.
With as many as 30 jaded-looking players sitting around me, the guide seems to be talking to me and only me. His delivery is rapid-fire: Hold the gun with both hands, or the gun won't shoot; when attacking an enemy player, aim anywhere on their vest where there is a light — just make sure you are not shooting at your own teammate; and attack the bases of the enemy teams to score more points and secure your team's victory.
Right, got it. Only, maybe not.
Before I have time to begin worrying about the disorienting, militaristic catacombs ahead, we’re ushered into the next room to pick up our vests and guns. I follow my teammates through a green door, and straight into the middle of a thumping, fog-machined battlefield.
My first instinct as I enter the two-story arena of ramps and mazes is to hide, to crouch close to the walls until an unsuspecting enemy walks by. But there is no truly safe spot, especially in a game where the bullets are lasers that bend and angle as they hit strategically placed mirrors.
I fight the urge to yell out "pewh, pewh, pewh!" as I strafe my opponents. Teenagers half my age laugh maniacally as they chase me down.
Lasers are quiet, and deadly. By the time you see them, it may already be too late.
I think these thoughts as I creep up behind a sniper from the blue team.
I aim, fire, and the lights on his vest go dark.
Moments later, retribution. My face twists in horror as one of the downed player's teammates hurtles toward me, his gun aimed straight at me.
I am no match for these kids. Maybe I would have fared better coming at a different time.
Ultrazone caters to a different crowd depending on the time of day, according to one employee. During the day, it is mostly teenagers and young kids. During their Saturday night, 10pm to midnight hours, an older, adult crowd usually shows up. There are $8 per game rates, as well as all day passes ranging between $15 to $22.
More than just an alternative to board games and bowling on a rainy day, laser tag is a reminder that one never really outgrows the game of tag, probably the world’s most popular playground pastime. Only these days it’s dressed up in lasers and set to dance music.