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What is Laser Tag? The Newbie’s Guide to Laser Tag

Children with Fun LED Effects, Sounds, and 4 Gun ModesIn the old days, kids played “Cowboys and Indians” or “Cops and Robbers”, or just about any scenario that involved toy guns. True, that need has now been largely met by realistic video games, but even with 3D VR headsets, there’s nothing more “real” than actually playing the game in real life.

The problem with regular toy guns is that simply screaming “Bang, you’re dead!” at someone eventually leads to arguments regarding who was “killed” or not. That’s why more advanced versions of toy guns evolved to solve that persistent problem.

This need for knowing when someone is hit or not has led to air guns, which is also quite popular. The problem with it is that parents feel that it’s dangerous. After all, these guns can launch pellet to travel at more than 200 feet per second. When it hits the skin, it can really hurt. And God forbid if these pellets hit the eyes!

This safety concern thus leads us to laser tag, which offers the same fun but with a greater margin of safety.

What is laser tag?

laser tag birthday partiesLaser tag is basically just a game that involves toy guns. But this time, you use infrared signals that emit from the laser guns. Players wear vests with sensors for these IR signals, and the sensors register the hit when the signal from the laser gun hits the sensor.

That means playing laser tag is extremely safe. There are no flying pellets that can hit the eyes of the players or hit innocent bystanders.

So, there are no real lasers involved?

In most games, lasers aren’t involved. However, there are some systems that do involve lasers, because they’ve proven to be more reliable and accurate than the setups that use infrared signals. But these systems aren’t dangerous either.

  1. First of all, the lasers are powered down to the bare minimum. So, the laser won’t be powerful enough to cut through anything (or to use for surgery, either). That way, it won’t pierce skin and also won’t hurt the eyes.
  2. Your eyes are safe, because the instinctive reaction is for people to blink and turn away from lasers when the laser does hit the eye. That means the laser-to-eye contact is extremely little.
  3. In addition, most laser tag systems that use actual lasers limit the duration. These lasers last for only a second or so, and that means it won’t hurt the eye even if (for some reason) the person doesn’t blink or turn away.

What are the laser tag equipment?

The essential laser tag gear involves the laser guns on one side to emit the signal, and the sensors to receive the signal. The laser guns can be quite advanced, with an LCD screen showing how many times you’ve scored a hit. The screen may also be connected to your sensors, which then displays how many times you’ve been hit as well.

In some cases, the laser guns even have laser sights, so you can immediately see what you’re hitting. But these laser sights can be a handicap, since they can reveal your position.

On the other end, you have the sensors. Usually, you wear a vest that contains several sensors in front and at the back. But some systems don’t involve vests, and have other setups like ribbons and pins for the sensors.

In some arenas, they may also offer headband and helmets with sensors, so the game can also involve “head shots”. Even some laser guns have sensors, to compensate how your arms and your weapon can block the sensors in front of your vest when you’re firing.

These sensors usually light up and emit some noise when you’re hit. That way, everyone knows you’ve been hit and there’s no argument about it. It’s a marked improvement on air gun games, since in some cases you may not even feel the pellet hit you.

What should players wear?

The basic rule is that you wear comfortable clothes that allow you to move freely. You should wear layers of clothes if you’re playing outdoors.

You should also factor in your camouflage. For indoor games, it’s enough if you wear dark clothes because gaming arenas tend to use dim lighting. But you can go with military outfits for outdoor games.

Who can play the game?

Everyone! If the kid is old enough to play with toy guns in a game with rules, then they’re old enough to play laser tag.

But this isn’t just a game for kids. Adults like to play it too. They can play it for fun, for corporate team-building exercises, or even for military or law enforcement training.

How did laser tag originate?

YASITY Laser Tag GunsThe history of laser tag started with toy gun battles, of course. A lot of people have thought about setting up a system that used toy guns for simulated combat situations, with a more reliable system of registering hits.

And of course, the military (especially in the US), thought about this very topic a lot early on. That’s because simulated combat training scenarios were much too dangerous when the soldiers used real bullets!

Over the years, the world got used to water guns and air guns as substitutes for toy guns (and the real guns). Then laser tag came along.

Officially, a fellow named George Carter III is credited with the “invention” of laser tag. According to interviews, he had the idea following a viewing of the Star Wars movie back in 1977. He probably thought that people would be much better at hitting targets than the woeful stormtroopers in the movie.

But it took him quite a few years to get that idea off the ground. That was because the US military was also contemplating (or was already using) their own hush-hush laser system for training. It was only in 1979 that the US military allowed the technology to become public so it can be commercialized.

After 1979, there were several toy guns for home use were launched that used infrared signals. The first toy gun that emitted IR was called the Star Trek Electronic Phaser Gun. Today, there are DIY kits for laser tag so kids can play the game in their own backyards.

A company called Photon, based in Dallas, Texas, set up the first laser tag facility in 1984. They then set up facilities in various cities to expand the fan base. In addition, Photon sold various types of laser tag merchandise, and even published novels based on the game.

Photon got itself some competition in 1986, when Worlds of Wonders entered the laser tag industry. They used innovative marketing techniques, including an animated TV series called Laser Tag Academy. In their ads, Worlds of Wonder even suggested that perhaps countries can settle military disputes through laser tag!

The fun and games only lasted for several years, at least for these 2 companies. Worlds of Wonder didn’t quite survive the Black Monday stock market crash of 1987, and the company closed its doors by 1988.

Photon lasted only an extra year after that, and closed down in 1989. That was because of the Entertech company, which was their distributor. Entertech made the mistake of manufacturing water guns that looked exactly like real guns. So, these water guns were used for real robberies, and Entertech got a lot of lawsuits as a result. Photon closed down because their distributor got into trouble.

After that, plenty of people thought that it was just a fad. But interest in the game never really died down—because it was both fun and safe! Air guns became popular, but plenty of parents quickly realized that laser tag offered a much safer proposition.

Laser tag systems remain popular, especially in the wake of popular shoot- ‘em-up video games. It didn’t take long for gamers to wonder about playing the game in real life, without actually getting shout by real bullets. It also didn’t help that those who invested in laser tag facilities discovered that it can take only 2 years or so to recoup their investments!

Today, military and law enforcement organizations still use laser tag systems for training. Corporations use the game for team-building and for boosting morale. And of course, lots of kids’ birthday parties now involve laser tag as well.

Wait, there are laser tag birthday parties?

If you don’t know about laser tag birthday parties, then you must not be a parent yet. Hordes of parents already know about laser tag birthday parties. These are great alternatives to boring parties with ice cream and cake, with kids just eating and not doing much.

Laser tag is also a great alternative to swimming pool parties. Not everyone has a swimming pool in their backyard. Also, even if you do have a pool, you still have to worry about kids drowning during the festivities!

Find a local laser tag arena, and it won’t be surprising that they will have a birthday party as one of their most popular options. You hold the festivities in the facility, and there will be a large room for the food and cake. Many of these facilities either offer their own cafeteria for snacks and food, or the place is located near several handy fast-food joints.

The kids simply won’t be bored here. Usually, the facilities have enough space for up to 30 players or even more. There are areas where parents and kids who aren’t playing can watch the action. Usually, these facilities also offer video arcade games where other kids can pass the time once they’re done with the laser tag game.

Which is better, laser tag indoors or outdoors?

Laser Tag Games Indoor & OutdoorThat depends on you and the other players. Each type has its own sets of pros and cons.

Indoor Laser Tag

This is the most common local arena you’ll find these days. You have a roof so you don’t have to worry whether it rains or not. Gaming arenas are also nicely air-conditioned, so you don’t have to feel too warm after running around. You don’t have to deal with a harsh summer sun brightly overhead, either.

These places tend to have everything you need. This starts with the lobby, where you register for the game and maybe get a pamphlet explaining the rules (and usually also offering a map of the gaming arena).

They offer a snack room with chairs and tables, where parents can sit and have some food and drink while waiting for the kids to finish their games. There are arcade games for the other kids who are already done with laser tag. There are also viewing areas for the parents and other kids to watch the action.

In these places, there’s usually a “briefing room” where the administrators explain all the rules of the particular game. Then there’s a vest room where the players don their vests and also try out their laser guns.

Gaming arena areas can vary in size but usually even the smallest arena offer at least 700 square feet for the players. Other arenas are much bigger, and may even offer multi-floor games.

Usually, the games are played in dim lighting, and there are various obstacles and other stuff that people can use for cover. A buzzer usually sounds to signal the start and end of particular games.

Most parties tend to reserve 2 hours for each laser tag event, and that’s enough time for maybe 4 laser tag games with timeouts. Some parties last for at least 3 hours overall, so there’s time for snacks, eating the birthday cake, opening presents, and for rest right after the games.

  • Rain, harsh sunlight, and other types of inclement weather won’t present any problems.
  • The air conditioning keeps players from feeling too warm.
  • The flooring is usually even.
  • There are plenty of different games to choose from.
  • There are places for parents to relax in, or to watch the action to make sure their kids are alright.
  • It’s not very “realistic”, especially with plenty of places showing off disco lights in the gaming arena.
  • The gaming arena space may not be enough, especially for very large parties of 50 players or more.

Outdoor Laser Tag

With outdoor laser tag, you can theoretically play in much larger spaces to accommodate more players. There are several commercial laser tag companies that offer outdoor laser tag, and they’re very popular for adult players who relish the more challenging environment.

True, this time the players will have to deal with weather conditions like rain, snow, or harsh sunlight. There’s no air-conditioning, so players will have to sweat it out. There are even insects, and in some places, you may have to worry about snakes!

You will have to deal with uneven surfaces, and muddy or wet areas. You better be careful when you run, since tree roots can cause you to trip or wayward branches can get in the way.

But this can be a lot more fun, because it’s more “realistic”. You can go with camouflage clothing to help you blend in with your surroundings. You can have more players per team. You can also indulge in your sniper fantasies, as you can now shoot farther.

With infrared, you can even target enemies from more than 300 feet away. In fact, some laser tag systems allow for 1,000-ft. shots!

You can indulge in actual battles, and reenact WWII or Vietnam War scenarios. Some companies even hold large scale events, based on more recent wars (Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, for example).

  • You can have more players.
  • You have more realistic battle scenarios.
  • Shots can be taken from farther off.
  • This is great for adults.
  • You’ll have to deal with inclement weather and more uncomfortable playing fields.
  • Injuries may be more common.
  • This may not be the best option for kids.

What’s mobile laser tag?

So far, we’ve been talking about you and your buddies visiting the local gaming arena, which can be indoors or outdoors. But with mobile laser tag, the game comes to you. Think of it as McDonald’s delivery service, instead of having the party at the local McDonald’s joint.

Let’s say you’re having a kid’s birthday party in your backyard, and you want laser tag for the kids to play. Of course, you can also hold the event at your local park, though you may want to ask permission from the local park authorities first. Also, it doesn’t have to be a birthday party—it can be at anytime you want.

The best mobile laser tag providers can offer several outstanding services, starting with putting up various obstacles in your backyard (or even inside your home). They can transform any outdoor or indoor space into an exciting gaming arena suitable for many types of laser tag games.

The laser guns are usually more durable, since they’re mostly used outdoors. Some mobile laser tag providers offer several different types of laser guns, and even optics for more accurate aiming. Even vests are optional, with the sensors set up some other way.

What type of games can you play?

A lot. The type of games you can play will depend largely on your own imagination (and on your co-players, obviously). But the local arenas already have several game options for you to choose from.

Here are a few of the more popular variations:

Free For All

This is a melee-type scenario where it’s every man for himself. You enter the gaming arena, and you kill everyone else. Of course, every one else is trying to kill you.

You may team up informally with some players, before you end up killing one another after everyone else is dead. But this depends on the rules.

The players also decide how many hits each player can take before they’re permanently dead and out of the game. In some versions, the “dead” player has to run to a specific location in order to respawn.

Team Play Elimination

This time, you have a team to work with, but the goal is still to kill all the members of the opposing team. Again, the rules vary regarding how many hits per player are allowed.

The game can be confusing (but also exciting) if there are more than 2 teams involved. It can be a lot of fun with 3 teams, but there’s always the chance that 2 teams may informally team up to gang up on the 3rd team.

Hunter and Prey

This is one version where you have a few “prey” players, and a lot of “hunters”. This game is popular when there are a few players in the game with a lot more skill and experience than the others.

VIP Protection

In this game, you have a VIP to protect. The VIP is more important than the others, rather like having a king in chess to defend. The game may give more points when the VIP is hit, or the team may even lose automatically when the VIP receives a certain number of hits.

In more advanced versions of the game, you may have to transport your VIP from point A to point B in the arena. That’s quite challenging, since you can be sure that the other team will be setting up an ambush.

Capture the Flag

This is another common game, and it’s popular because most people are familiar with the basic rules. Basically, each team has a flag to protect. Your team wins if you capture the enemy flag, or if your team kills off the team while they’re trying to capture your flag.

Additional Questions

Here are some questions that you may have wondered about:

Do soldiers play laser tag?

It does seem like trained soldiers as well as SWAT teams can excel at laser tag, since the game play matches their training. So, trained soldiers would do very well against “civilians”, on the whole.

But plenty of civilians also do very well against trained soldiers and military veterans, especially teams that have played extensively together. Civilians have no problem keeping up, because laser tag is still a game. If it was a real battle with real bullets flying around, then the soldiers would do better—they’re trained to handle the fear!

In fact, soldiers train using their own version of laser tag. The military calls their system MILES, which stands for “multiple integrated laser engagement system”. It’s been around since 1979 (or more accurately, before that). The system is much more advanced, as it uses even vehicles with like armored personnel carriers, but you still have the laser system as part of the setup.

Can laser tag actually become a part of the Olympics?

That’s very unlikely. First of all, there are already several different shooting competitions at the Olympics. These involve actual pistols, rifles, and shotguns. There’s really no clamor for laser tag when fantastically accurate shooters are already using real weapons.

Also, there are several sports that aren’t part of the Olympics today, and they’re all much more popular than laser tag (at least for the moment). The fans of these other sports would howl in protest if laser tag somehow became part of the Olympics when these sports are excluded. These sports include:

  • Cricket. Next to football (or “soccer” as the Americans call it), cricket is the 2nd most-watched sport in the entire world. About 2.5 billion fans watch it. Cricket was part of the first modern Olympics way back in 1896, but it was dropped due to lack of participating teams.
  • Darts. It’s considered a sport by lots of fans, even though it’s more of a pub or backyard game. Still, dart games in the UK are quite popular on TV.
  • Bowling. For decades now, bowling fans (all 100 million of them) have been clamoring for bowling to be part of the Olympics. It was part of the Seoul Olympics, but with only 20 countries participating it hasn’t been part of the Olympic lineup ever since.
  • Squash. Some folks officially asked squash to be part of the Olympics, but the powers that be decided to go with wrestling instead. But about 17 million people play squash, so a new official bid will probably be launched for 2024.
  • Polo. This is more of an elitist game, but it was part of the Olympics until 1936.

Now, if these games aren’t part of the Olympics, then it’s very unlikely that laser tag will be an even for the Olympics any time soon.


There’s a lot more to laser tag than what this quick guide has to offer. Talk to several experienced laser tag veterans, and they can talk for hours about the game and how you can play and win.

Or better yet, why not just play the game yourself? For most people, the most usual question about laser tag is whether it’s worth playing. After you’ve played the game yourself, you’ll know the answer to that question—laser tag is fun!

Is Laser Tag for Just Children, Or Is It for Adults Too?How much space do you need for laser tag?What are the rules of laser tag? Laser Tag Primer: Learning the RulesThe Difference Between Cheating and Playing Smart in Laser TagThe Ins and Outs of Outdoor Laser Tag

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