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The Disparity Between Military Experience and Airsoft Play from a veteran's perspective

Updated: Mar 7

The allure of airsoft—a recreational activity that simulates military scenarios—has attracted participants from various backgrounds, including military veterans seeking an outlet that mirrors their past experiences but in a much safer and more controlled environment. While airsoft can provide a unique form of entertainment and camaraderie, it is crucial to recognize and appreciate the stark differences between the simulated environment of airsoft play and the harsh realities of actual combat. Here I will explore the distinctions between military service and airsoft for veterans, shedding light on why the two experiences, while interconnected, are fundamentally different.

Airsoft is a sport that involves participants using replica firearms to engage in simulated combat scenarios. While it strives to replicate the tactical aspects of military operations, it inherently lacks the life-and-death stakes that define actual combat. This in turn means that the opposition will always behave differently compared to real-world scenarios. The use of non-lethal plastic pellets, safety regulations and the absence of genuine danger contribute to a controlled and recreational environment.

In real combat situations, the stakes are incomparably higher. While not all veterans have seen combat, those that have experienced the gravity of life-threatening situations, making decisions that have profound and lasting consequences. Airsoft, on the other hand, offers a risk-free environment where the worst outcome is a temporary sting from a plastic pellet and sitting out the rest of that game in the safety area.

The emotional toll of combat, with its experiences of loss, trauma, and the intense demands on mental resilience, cannot be replicated in airsoft. Combat veterans carry the weight of real-world experiences that transcend the simulated scenarios of a recreational game. As a result, some scenarios can reflect experiences a combat veteran has, which can either trigger a deep level of focus that improves their ability and skill as if reenacting a life and death scenario, or cause emotional trauma that requires a time-out to calm down and reflect.

I know that when I started airsoft, some aspects of the game reflected experiences I had in real combat. One particular game had a group of us on defence in a corrugated iron bunker and the tension of enemies closing in and the sounds echoing throughout the bunker of pellets hitting the outside sent me back to an operation that went bad. I became extremely focused, alert and aware of everything around me and performed extremely well. But when the game was over, I rushed out of that bunker, felt that breathing was hard and everyone around me was an enemy, so I took a time-out to calm myself. While it is a controlled and safe environment, there are triggers here and there that cause emotional trauma, and over the years playing airsoft, I have found that PTSD has been less prevalent and these panic attacks are significantly less than they used to be.

Military training involves rigorous physical and mental preparation for the uncertainties of war. Airsoft, while requiring tactical thinking and teamwork, does not encompass the same level of training intensity, discipline and commitment that military service demands. While this can be interpreted as soldiers will be better trained, it does not really mean a great deal in airsoft due to the opposition making very different choices and actions in the field. A veteran in combat will have to make split-second decisions in high-pressure situations, where lives are on the line. In airsoft, the consequences of decisions are minimal, and the psychological stress is incomparable to the life-or-death scenarios faced by those in active service. The behaviour of the enemy alone is different from an airsoft opponent, as each shot is limited and must be strategically used due to the limited ammunition supply. Opening fire to suppress enemies while a team member moves in to flank them seems like a good idea. But when you only have a few magazines and just one shot can end you, the choices you make, the time it takes and the actions of both adversaries change dramatically.

In a real-world situation, I have never had an enemy run in wielding two handguns and firing indiscriminately because they have a drum magazine and several hundred rounds weighing a few grams, or an enemy I could not shoot through thin cover or make them move with shot guidance. When a plastic BB cannot get through thin cover, a bush or fly straight for anything more than 40 metres, it changes how tactics work a lot and suddenly most training and experience is somewhat meaningless, and a complete change of tactics is needed as people make very different and much riskier decisions when the only outcome is a stinging feeling for a minute or two.

While it is important to acknowledge the disparities between military service and airsoft, it is equally crucial to recognize the positive aspects that airsoft can offer to veterans.

Camaraderie and Social Connection:

Airsoft provides a platform for veterans to engage in a shared experience with like-minded individuals. The camaraderie developed during airsoft games can serve as a positive outlet for building connections and fostering a sense of community. Personally, fitting into society after retirement has been the hardest challenge for me. As my PTSD and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) combines with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), I tend to appear as cold, antisocial and often cannot read the atmosphere and say inappropriate things. This social setting has given me the best possible platform to socialise where I can be myself and not the broken war vet hiding in a corner avoiding people.

Skill Retention and Application:

Veterans may find that the tactical and strategic skills acquired during military service can occasionally be applied in an airsoft setting. This allows them to maintain and refine certain aspects of their training in a controlled and recreational environment, depending on the game modes and rules in place.

Stress Relief and Enjoyment:

Engaging in airsoft can offer veterans a form of stress relief and enjoyment. The adrenaline rush and tactical challenges may provide a healthy outlet for those seeking an activity that combines physical exertion with mental stimulation.

In conclusion, while airsoft can provide a recreational outlet for military veterans, it is essential to acknowledge and respect the fundamental differences between the simulated nature of the game and the harsh realities of combat. Understanding the unique challenges and experiences that veterans bring to the airsoft field fosters a more nuanced perspective, emphasizing the importance of recognizing the distinctions while appreciating the positive aspects that airsoft can offer to those who have served in the military.

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Jan 18
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Good read! Very nice point of view of the differences between a game and reality, but also great job at focusing on your opinion about the beneficial impacts that people with or without a Military background can gain from playing airsoft.

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