Many people love to play Call of Duty or other first-person shooter video games from the comfort of their homes, but many step onto the battlefield for live-action simulations of war.

Airsoft is similar to any team-oriented, objective-based video game, but participants play face-to-face with real people outside.

Airsoft originated in the 1970s in Japan as a way for firearm enthusiasts to own and shoot realistic-looking weapons, since that country does not allow citizens to own pistols, guns and rifles. The game spread to Europe and the United States; as it became mainstream, fields started opening up for patrons to play.

Airsoft’s momentum has not waned and its popularity continues to grow each year.

“From what I’ve seen, [the game’s success] is about realism,” says Jonathan McElvania, general manager of Airsoft Tulsa and Outdoor Sports. “With a lot of the gun-related sports, they don’t look real, they don’t function like a real firearm, so you have to use more of your imagination. With airsoft, there is a ton of customization with your gun and gear, so everyone can wear all the gear that they’d wear in a video game. Airsoft is also cheaper than pretty much any of those other sports.”

All a participant needs for weekend play are eye protection or face protection, and an airsoft gun with a battery and pellets. Those under 18 are required to wear full-face protection; adults, encouraged to wear the same, must have at least eye protection. The biggest risk for injury is to the eyes, McElvania says. However, like any sport, a participant can twist an ankle or get bumps, bruises and scrapes.

A favorite style of airsoft is a military simulation game, which usually has strict rules and regulations, such as how much ammo one is allowed to have. Like an actual battle, MilSim, as it is often called, features multiple units of fighters with different purposes at the same time.

“Everyone loves the weekend games of clowning around and having fun with friends, but the military simulations take more seriousness,” McElvania says.

MilSim games are popular, but they’re not the only ones played with airsoft guns. Others include capture the flag, risk, president, hostage rescue, manhunt, turf and zombie. Each game is different, but the commonality is teamwork. Dillon Sebree, owner of T1 Airsoft in Oklahoma City, says bonding is important.

“Generally, everyone understands that winning isn’t really the point – it’s a bonus, of course,” he says. “Airsoft is an escape for most people. Community is something we’re losing in today’s world and, coming from a military background, I know how special camaraderie can be for young [and old] alike.”

Sebree says airsoft is a business and a way to create bonds between diverse groups of people.

“We should strive to be inclusive in everything we do,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of hobbies get into a bad habit of gatekeeping and it intimidates or scares new people. We want to include everyone interested and help them learn whatever style of airsoft they like to play.”

McElvania agrees that airsoft isn’t just about shooting a realistic gun, but about fostering teamwork and helping players form friendships.

“We have kids that will come in by themselves or with a friend and by the end they’ve met other people and are coming back because of that,” he says. “It grows the community so quickly.”

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