Laser tag is a physical team sport featuring wearable electronics, dark game arenas and audiovisual special effects. I first tried it out as a teen in Megazone Turku at the start of the new millennium, and I have since played at Megazone Tampere many times. Their current venue at Finlayson is torn down soon and Megazone Tampere moves to a new site at Tullintori this spring. So what is this all about?
Megazone is a Finnish brand of laser tag arenas that use the P&C Micros’ Zone Laser Tag technology. It is currently available in 12 cities in Finland. Suomen Toimintapelit has been running the Tampere venue from 2001 onwards.
At the Zone sites, the visuals are a key part of the overall experience. In Tampere, the lobby is constructed to resemble a futuristic hangar bay, the vest storage room looks like the insides of a spaceship, the wearable vests and laser guns feel sci-fi, and blacklights and fog machines in the dark labyrinthine arena make the game seem almost virtual. Background music of soundtracks and electronica add final touches to the experience of travelling in spacetime to a future city where factions battle for area dominance.
“If Pacman had affected us as kids we’d be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive music.”
– Marcus Brigstocke (source)
As you play, you start to understand the game’s rules and mechanics, how to aim and teamplay. You don’t have to become a professional athlete, but a single round of Megazone will only scratch the surface of the sport. Many student & youth organizations host four-hour all-nighter games every now and then, and the price for attending those events is usually around 10–15 euros, whereas a single 22-minute round will already cost you circa 10 euros. In all-nighters, it’s also possible to try out different game modes than the standard team base defense. The current Megazone Tampere arena seems most ideal for three teams of six players.
As the sport has been around since the 1980s, it might seem like a thing of the past already. Yet meanwhile, wearable computing and uniquitous sensor technologies start to make their way into our lives. While laser tag is usually associated with other immersive, playful experiences like paintball, airsoft or cyberpunk larps, it is also going to be interesting to see how the hobby will position itself in relation to escape rooms, e-sports or gaming cafés. I still remember Turku used to have Cyberzone: a rentable PC LAN party space next to Megazone. So is this the past, or the future? At least there seems to be a lot of untapped potential.
Publisher: Laser Game Finland
Developer: P&C Micros
Gamemaster: Suomen Toimintapelit
Location: Megazone Tampere, Itäinenkatu 9–13, Tampere
Site open: 2001–2017
Arena size: 500 m²
Genres: team sports, action, shooter
Age rating: 7 (suggested)