Paintball battlefield’s Mideast marketplace scrutinized

[From Riverside, California’s Press-Enterprise, where the story includes a podcast, a 1:25 minute video and more images; the SC Village web site is here]

[Image: Tim Thai, left, and Ruffy Flores run for cover during a paintball war scenario in a mock Middle Eastern SC Village. Mark Zaleski/The Press-Enterprise]

Paintball battlefield’s Mideast marketplace scrutinized

Friday, June 3, 2011
The Press-Enterprise

If it were a few degrees hotter, the wind-whipped sand clouds at a desert-like facility near Corona could be mistaken for a dust storm at a deserted Middle Eastern marketplace.

But only if you overlooked the plywood used for checkpoints, a police station and a government building.

The owner of SC Village paintball and airsoft facility plans to open his latest battleground today. Players will be able to shoot at each other in a Middle Eastern setting.

The mock Middle Eastern conflict zone in the middle of the Inland area is drawing some caution from hate-crime experts who say people should be careful about sending negative messages about Arab groups at a time when, some say, Islamophobia is elevated.

The 28-year-old, 100-acre facility, which straddles the Corona-Chino border, features a rough representation of a Middle Eastern marketplace with a white missile propped up against a building. There are Arabic signs at a checkpoint and guard shack and a police station and government building decorated with fiberglass trim fashioned after Middle Eastern architecture.

Construction on the estimated $200,000 site started several months ago but gained media attention in the aftermath of the May 1 killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan when some Web and TV reports erroneously claimed the site would recreate his Abbottabad compound.

SC Village owner Dennis Bukowski said he never intended to build a bin Laden-like compound for his estimated 80,000 annual players.

“In order to really play the game, it’s two opposing forces. You can’t have 15 against two. It would last two minutes,” Bukowski said of recreating the firefight in bin Laden’s compound that involved about 25 Navy SEALs against a few bin Laden loyalists.

Bukowski builds current and past conflict zones, and said none of his customers, including those of Middle Eastern descent, have complained that the setting is offensive. He said he hired a consultant to ensure that the red painted Arabic signs were accurate and culturally sensitive.

One sign gives the name of a store, a checkpoint sign says, “Stop,” and another is the name of a hotel, Bukowski said.

The other 27 fields at SC Village are modeled after conflict zones in Vietnam , Beirut, Baghdad and other places.

Teams of paintball players compete to eliminate opposing teams by striking them with paintballs or capsules containing food coloring and gelatin. Some shooters use airsoft guns, which fire small, plastic BBs.

Chris Raehl, president of the National Collegiate Paintball Association, said combat settings offer variety to players.

“A lot of players like the idea of having something other than trees,” Raehl said. “If you’re looking for themes, you might do a theme that’s a conflict site or a castle.”

USC professor Jacquelyn Ford Morie, who specializes in virtual reality, training games and multisensory experiences, said people are attracted to combat zones and historical settings.

“It internalizes it so that they can feel like they’re a part of what happened,” Morie said. “It’s a form of control and a form of dealing with this big event that happened and bringing it down to a personal level.”

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, said people should be sensitive to anti-Arab and Muslim sentiments.

“There may very well be innocent intentions to it, yet it still may offend people, and it’s a particularly sensitive time as we’re seeing a continuing scourge of Islamophobia and Arab-aphobia in the United States,” Levin said.

“The context in which this is taking place may end up causing people hurt feelings,” Levin said.

The facility’s owner said he’s simply trying to provide a place for people to have fun.

“It’s their chance to role play. What I try to do is create fantasy environments,” Bukowski said. “This is almost like a video game come to life.”


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