Me in the middle of an intense airsoft match, circa 2004

When Things Stop Being Fun

A growing up story

Sweat. That stifling, humid heat so viscous you feel like you could swim through it. The buzz of insects and the smell of summer weeds. Adrenaline fogging the inside of your goggles. The reassuring feeling of plastic and metal within your tight grip. The crack of a branch, the shouts of your foe, and suddenly white plastic BBs start ripping through the underbrush, narrowly missing your head. This was backlot airsoft, and I loved every second of it.

Where it all began. And yes, the beef jerky was delicious

Christmas 2003 my parents gave my brother and I airsoft pistols. Shooting BBs at the included targets quickly became boring, and as soon as the snow melted, he and I were running all over our little farmstead playing war, cops and robbers, and special forces. We were hooked.

It didn’t take long for our friends to notice our newfound fun, and by the summer of 2004, airsoft became a staple in our circle of friends. We slowly upgraded our arsenals to include larger magazines, better BBs, and eventually, fully automatic electric guns. I can’t count the number of afternoons we burned tromping through the weeds and dashing between barns and chicken coops playing Capture The Flag, Plant The Bomb and Team Deathmatch. We’d plan our outings for weeks in advance, anxiously awaiting the next time we could engage in air-powered warfare.

Life has this funny way of sneaking up on you.

I’m not really sure when exactly the shift happened. Sometime between getting married and having our first kid 10 months later, I think. Regardless, after eight incredible summers of fun, my enthusiasm for airsoft began to dwindle. Our group still managed to get together and play once or twice a summer throughout our college years, but by 2012 we mostly just talked about needing to get out and play without ever really following through on our plans.

Our team resting between matches. My brother and I are the only ones actually wearing camo. #dedication

If you had asked me at 18 whether I’d grow tired of airsoft, I’d likely have said no. I just assumed I’d go on liking it until arthritis or gout rendered me unable to sprint through the underbrush, or at least until I hit my mid 30’s. But somewhere between rent payments and diaper changes, airsoft lost its magic. It certainly wasn’t any one experience that killed my hankering for simulated warfare. I didn’t get burned out from playing too often, and I’m still friends with all of the guys and gals I slung BBs with during the dog days of summers past. No, it was something far more subtle.

Airsoft in the forest was so much fun, as long as you avoided the nettles.

I always knew growing up meant your interests changed, and it’s rare to find someone who has pursued the same thing for their entire life. Nevertheless, when I realized I just wasn’t interested in playing airsoft anymore, it came with a twinge of sadness.

I have so many fond memories of airsofting… like the time I dashed around the side of a tree during a particulary intense match and shot my friend’s dad (a former Army ranger) from 6 feet away and made him bleed. Or the many hikes I took in the forest behind our house armed with my trusty plastic sidearm. Or the distinct sound a cheap electric airsoft gun makes when you’re running away from it in the dark during a chaotic game of nighttime Capture The Flag. Or the oddly satisfying feeling of plunging your hand into a bag of airsoft BBs and letting them sift through your fingers.

A game of Plant The Bomb in full swing. Photo by Ray Griffey

I learned a lot about competition, sportsmanship, woodcraft, teamwork, leadership and performing under pressure. I modded nearly every airsoft gun I bought, which provided countless hours of delightful shop time. And our group of friends still swap stories about our countless mock wars and battles. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.

But with a gentle swish of the page, that chapter in my life closed. And as the realization crept in that I probably would never play airsoft again, part of me felt guilty. Wasn’t I abandoning something that had offered such reward in the past? Was I somehow denying my friends the joy of competitive play? Part of me felt I should go back, play another game, keep joining in the fun. But at the same time, it was clear that my time was better spent elsewhere.

I still have my trusty airsoft pistol from that fateful Christmas. It’s well worn, with a little duck tape on the grip and an aftermarket clear plastic magazine inside, the original lost long ago in the woods behind my childhood home. It lives next to my spring-powered UTG shotgun with its cavernous 200 round magazine. That gun may as well have been a super weapon when I first bought it, for how much it out-performed everyone else’s guns at the time. They’re ensconced alongside a couple of paintball masks, my army surplus BDUs, extra magazines and a few thousand premium-grade BBs in a beat-to-death leather trucker’s duffel bag. I pull them out once in a while to remember the adventures they carried me on, but when I slide that bag back into the storage nook, I find I don’t miss the game that much.

One of our earliest airsoft games, back when everyone had spring powered guns

I’m young enough that the adventures of my childhood are still fresh in my memory, but the amount of growing up I’ve done in the last decade still surprises me. As a teen, you assume life is just going to keep going on the way it is at that moment, maybe with some slightly more boring moments along the way. But throw in a marriage, kids, three moves, buying cars, paying bills, facing financial hardship and the realities of life and love, and suddenly you start to see priorities in a different light.

As you progress through life, especially if you’re in your 20s, remember to enjoy what you have when you have it. Oxygen and the objective deliciousness of Nutella aside, nothing remains forever. There’s a time and a place for everything, and when that bittersweet end shows itself, it’s best to graciously let go rather than keep something around on life support for fear of disappointing others or trying something new.

Time is a precious, finite resource. Use it to its fullest.

That’s me in the middle, straddling the creek and totally not looking at the camera. I think this was the summer of ’08, and the biggest game we ever organized

Thank you so much for reading. This is my first Medium post, and I hope you enjoyed it. Leaving a 👏 or a comment would mean the world to me.

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