Local Business

Life is a Battlefield

Local business offers a harmless and fun way to work out your frustrations—laser tag

Decked out in camouflage army fatigues and grinning ear to ear, Andy Cowan looks every bit the kid-at-heart. Before moving to Canada two and a half years ago with his wife and three daughters (his wife’s idea—he’d wanted to move to New Zealand for the rugby), Cowan ran a string of Domino’s Pizza joints in the UK, and he only got involved in the laser tag racket because he wanted something that would get him outdoors. He’s the most unassuming fellow you could ever hope to meet, and by all appearances he’s much more Average Joe than G.I. Joe.

In 1978, however, when he was just 16 years old, Cowan enlisted in the British Army and was a soldier for more than five years. The instantly likeable bloke who today makes his livelihood playing war games with children was once a trained soldier who served in Germany, Northern Ireland and even the Falklands.

While Cowan doesn’t appear eager to discuss his time in the army, he does admit that he draws from his military experience when he puts on his “drill sergeant” act for kids at North Island Battlefield.

“It’s all part of the game,” he says. “When I go to schools for fundraisers they just love it. They bring down the kids and I yell at them. It’s all tongue and cheek, like ‘You’re in the army now, do as you’re told!’ It’s all good fun.”

Because Cowan is able to transport the guns, helmets and sensors anywhere he has permission to play, his battles are quite regularly held as fundraisers for schools and other community organizations. He recently held a midnight game at a church for a Christian Life group, and Cowan’s face lights up as he relives the event.

“I was the Terminator and everyone had to run from me. They could kill me eventually, they just had to work hard. I had a better weapon and I just walked around the building and killed them all. They were running and screaming; they had a good time.”

Naturally, there are some parents who cringe at the idea of simulated gunplay with their children, particularly, perhaps, when those same children are ostensibly at church to grow in their faith. In response, Cowan points out that the weapons they use, while intimidating, don’t really resemble real guns, and that most parents come around after they see how much fun it is.

While young boys, typically around 11 years old, make up the bulk of local laser tag enthusiasts, North Island Battlefield’s clientele touches virtually every demographic. Cowan’s battlefield has seen frenetic firefights between young children, sniper fire from old ladies, strategic missions orchestrated by corporate coworkers and deadly warfare between members of stag parties.

“You can get the whole family out,” says Cowan. “We’ve had four- and five-year-olds play and we’ve had grannies play. I’ve had kids in wheelchairs play and we even had a blind girl here one day. She could see the shapes of the bunkers and the bushes and stuff but she couldn’t see any details. I just held her elbow and led her around the field, and every time she saw something move she shot at it. She had a great time!

“We’ve even had mom’s groups come out and play, although I think they spent more time discussing where they bought their camo pants from than actually playing laser tag.”

Unlike paintball, says Cowan, laser tag attracts a surprising number of female participants since there is absolutely no pain involved.

“It’s funny, boys play completely differently than girls. Girls will hunker down and not move, whereas with boys, I blow the whistle and they’re off running. And of course the girls are picking them off like nobody’s business. Then the girls get a bit more adventurous and the boys calm down a bit, and it sort of evens out.

“Girls like it because they can beat boys. It’s not about being stronger or faster or bigger, as most sports are, it’s about thinking and communicating and being a team.”

With the sweat still moist on my forehead and the adrenaline still surging from the excitement of our simulated battle, I find myself already looking forward to our next session. Fortunately my comrades, while sitting in the “graveyard” awaiting the victor of our final death match, had already begun formulating plans to get a larger group out for another round of laser warfare. This sort of enthusiasm, says Cowan, is not uncommon.

“We see the same faces coming back time and time again. I can’t think of anyone who’s not enjoyed it. Most people go off the field with big grins.”

Eager to tap Cowan’s surely vast laser tag expertise before our next battle, I ask him for some tips on the most effective strategies. He talks a bit about angles and about getting out to the flanks, and then offers what could be the golden rule of laser tag, the one maxim that must never be forgotten.

“You have to pick your moment to move,” he says. “You can’t outrun a beam of light.”

To book a session with North Island Battlefield or for more information, call 250-202-3484 or visit the North Island Battlefield web site.