I think I may have uncovered some kind of conspiracy among the 7-year-olds of this world, some kind of secret handshake to which we adults are not privy.
How else to explain how they all, seemingly overnight, woke up possessed by the need to play laser tag?
Birthday parties used to be all about magic shows or roller skates, back in those halcyon preschool days. And it’s true, those activities still crop up on the calendar. But honestly, as though someone flipped a switch, a solid 85 percent of the birthday parties to which my twins have been invited this year involve laser tag.
I have complicated feelings about this. We are a no-gun household, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about the fact that both kids (the boy and the girl are equally entranced, further proof of laser tag’s allure) were so attached to the idea of rushing about with laser “guns” attempting to ambush each other. (Though given how much they fight, perhaps I should not have been surprised.) I figured at the very least, we should go check it out together, and see what all the fuss is about.
We ventured to Ultrazone, the laser tag emporium in Milwaukie, though similar venues are dotted around the Portland area. (See sidebar.) On a Friday afternoon, we had the place to ourselves, but on weekends, the place can get packed, so call ahead. It’s $9 per person, dropping down to $8 per person for three or more games.
For laser-tag newbies, like me, the pre-game tutorial was essential. The employees explained that we’d be outfitted in special vests that would record when we’d been zapped by a member of the opposite team. When you get “shot,” your weapon is deactivated for a few seconds, presumably to give them time to escape into the dark, labyrinthine arena, 5,000 square feet of strobe lights, dark corners for lurking about, ramps for taking aim at unsuspecting opponents from above and hidden Easter eggs that, if you aim at them, unlock extra points.
An employee remains in the theater of play at all times, to make sure there is no funny business, and points are tallied so that at the end of the game, everyone gets a personalized scorecard. If you’ve got a kid who takes losing hard, know that the results will be in front of him or her in impossible-to-ignore black and white.
We faced off, my daughter and me against my son and his buddy. And I have to say, my competitive instinct kicked in immediately. Elly and I practiced flattening ourselves against walls, moving stealthily around corridors and executing surprise attacks against the boys with glee. Five minutes into the 20 minute game, I was sweating and concluding laser tag is not at all a bad way to get couch potato kids moving, especially during rainy winter months.
Did I win? No, no, I did not. In fact, I came in a lowly fourth. (But the kids had all those birthday parties at which to practice. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.) But even without bringing home the W, I have to say that this was way more fun than I expected — there’s something cathartic about being able to legally battle with your kiddos, especially if they’ve been driving you particularly crazy all winter long. It didn’t hurt that they were totally into it as well, and that they never stopped moving the whole time.
One drawback is the adjacent arcade — come equipped with quarters and resign yourself, or be prepared to hustle everyone out while you ignore their wails of protest. I opted for the latter, but would submit to the former when we return, most likely for another birthday party (at least until they are old enough to level up to paintball).
If You Go: Ultrazone is at 16074 SE McLaughlin Blvd. in Milwaukie. Ultrazoneportland.com.
Tuesday-Thursday, 4 pm-9 pm. Friday, 3 pm-midnight.
Saturday, 10 am-11 pm. Sunday, 11 am-8 pm.
Expanded hours in summertime. Best for ages 5 and up.
Laser tag is gaining in popularity all around Portland and the ’burbs.
Here are some other places to try it out.
SuperPlay 9300 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy., also has old-school bowling, so there’s something for every generation here. Superplayor.com.
Lazer Warz 1417 NE 76th St. #2c, Vancouver, Wash., has inflatable barriers and offers 90-minute sessions for about $25. Lazerwarsor.com
Julia Silverman is the editor of PDX Parent. She doesn’t even want to think about what comes after paintball.