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Posted on Jun 23, 2007 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Playing Army Goes (Air) Soft

By Peter Suciu

War game that adds an element of realism

In Tokyo’s Akihabara district, known for a seemingly endless number of electronic stores and video arcades, visitors may encounter small but almost ominous shops that resemble a black market arsenal for some aspiring warlord, or the lair for an illicit arms dealer. Guns of all shapes and sizes line the walls. This would be terribly out of place in Japan, a country with some of the strictest gun control laws in the world, except for the fact that these are airsoft guns. Incapable of firing real bullets, these guns, which look extremely realistic, actually fire a type of rubber BB, and are used for the game that too is called airsoft.

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This game and the guns have their roots in Japan, where in the 1960s and 1970s a variety of counterfeit guns first appeared. Made of metal, these simulated the size and shape, and at times even the weight, of real firearms, which were of course impossible to own. Over time these evolved into guns that could fire the small BBs and thus a sport was born. Airsoft came into being around the same time that paintball was evolving in the United States. And today, many paintball fields are beginning to adopt airsoft as an alternative sport to play.

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As the airsoft BBs don’t leave a noticeable mark, the game relies on an honor code of sorts, but this lack of paint splatter has also given rise to numerous forms of the game, notably a sub-culture that has blended with historical re-enactors. Instead of relying on real weapons or dummy guns firing blanks, with players having to “guess” whether an enemy was hit, some re-enactors have begun to play with airsoft guns instead. This allows for accurate uniforms without the fear of damage from paintball, while at the same time allowing players to purchase affordable guns and without any danger that comes with using blanks.

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Of course airsoft still requires the same levels of safety as projectiles are actually being used. Eye protection is an absolute necessity, and padded clothing is highly recommended. Additionally, because the guns do look like real firearms – another advantage that the game has over paintball for those looking to simulate military combat – these guns should be treated like real guns and not as mere toys. This means carried in cases while traveling to and from the fields, and absolutely never used in public areas where it would cause a panic. In other words, use common sense.

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