While I was cleaning out my mothers old place, I came across something I had almost forgotten about, my old Photon membership badge. Back in the mid-80s, there was this worldwide “phenomenon” called Photon, an arena-based laser game where people would go, suit up, and go head-to-head, team-against-team, in hopes of winning the game. And yes, I was there.
Back in 1985, a local franchise of Photon opened near my house and I spent a huge amount of time and money running around in the dark, shooting my laser at people. It was actually a ton of fun, more fun, in my opinion, than Lazer Tag, their main competitor. Whereas you could play Lazer Tag anywhere, the main focus of Photon was the gaming arenas. Sure, you could buy the guns separately, but that’s never really where I thought the best entertainment was.
The game was simple. Two sides, the red team and the green team, would log in, using whatever player name they wanted and suit up with their 18lb equipment, which included a helmet, a chest piece, a belt that held the batteries and a gun. Both sides would go out onto the field of battle, starting out at their base, and would attempt to score as many points in the 6-minute game as they could. If you hit an enemy, you gained points. If they hit you, you lost points and your equipment would be disabled for a few seconds. If you reached the enemy base and scored a number of hits on it, you got a big bonus once per game. The game field was dark and neon, filled with smoke, with ramps up and bridges across the two-level arena.
You didn’t have to wear the gear to play the game though, there was an observation deck above the playfield where people could shoot lasers at the players and score points. It didn’t affect the game but it was fun to take a breather and fire off a couple of “rounds” at other players, especially when someone pissed you off in the game and you wanted to take some potshots.
Unfortunately, the time of both Lazer Tag and Photon was brief, by the late 80s, a decrease in the number of franchisees caused Photon to go out of business, which is really kind of sad. I probably played 2-3x per week for a year or so, I was part of a league and at one point, we were competing to go to the international championships in Japan, we came close but we didn’t make it. I did find some maps of my old center though. Click to see larger versions.
Right after I found my badge, I was going through a pile of old cassette tapes and came across my “Photon Fight Music” compilation, all the kick-ass heavy metal tracks I could come across, intermixed with music and sound effects from Photon. I created it to listen to on the way to the arena to get me pumped up and it always worked great.
Here’s the instructional video that used to play on a continuous loop in the waiting area. Yes, it’s cheesy, but we are talking about the mid-80s here.
And here’s an actual game in play, although I’ll be honest, these people are just walking around and back in the day, we ran. All the time. You were pouring sweat after 6 minutes, it felt like you were running a marathon. You get to hear the ambient music though and that’s cool.
It’s fun to look back. I still wish these places were around, it would be great to share with my kids, but I know I could never keep up with my younger self!