"Gang Warfare" on the Streets of Winnetka - Is Paranoia a Game We Should Condone?

Gang Warfare in Winnetka What's Up with Paranoia?

I get it.  I fully admit it – I’ve driven armed and amped up teams of teens to “raids.”  The heartrate rockets as the target comes in to view, you sweat, you get a total adrenaline rush.  It’s better than any video game…it is so much real-life FUN!

If you don’t have a kid that’s involved in Paranoia, here’s a bit of background: The game is played by an unknown # of students @ NTHS, Washburne and Skokie.  (All schools have zero involvement & strict rules prohibiting any Nerf weapons on campus.)  Teams of four are pitted against other teams & given a time limit in which they must “hit” all of their opponents w/a soft, spongy bullet.  The winning team moves on & must continue to up their “kills” to progress in the bracket.

It’s quite an impressive, well-organized operation – run entirely by the youths involved.  There is an all-powerful commissioner that runs the tournament via web site and cell phone. Each team pays to get in and the hefty pot (over $1500 in some tourneys) is given to the winning team.   In some ways, it’s very polite.  They play by “gentlemen’s rules” – for example, if a “kill” is disputed, it’s up to the one that was shot at to make the judgment call about whether or not he was hit.  And that, above all, must be respected. 

There are other formal rules:

  • You cannot shoot someone @ school, church or during an athletic event.  (That said, it didn’t prevent one team from hiding a member in the hockey bag of an opponent and offing him after he finished practice).
  • You can’t be killed if you have no clothes on. I’ve heard the origin of this rule was “you can’t be shot in the shower” and it morphed to include all those times when you just happen to be butt naked.   This gives the fearless exhibitionists a supreme advantage.  Many stories have been told about boys riding naked in the back of cars, ready to jump out (with complete immunity from “death” mind you) and attack their prey or those that were trapped in corners stripping as fast and furiously as they can to be “safe.” 
  • Your whole team will be kicked out if your mom calls the police.  I think this holds true for dads too, but I’ve only ever heard that moms are pre-blamed. 


But there are elements of the game that are perfectly acceptable that, to me and others, fly in the face of common sense.  For example, you can get shot in your home.  And that means sneak-ins, even break-ins, are sanctioned.  We recently found three boys crouching behind our couch in the middle of the afternoon.   It scared the bejesus out of us!  I’ve also known parents that have had minor property damage done to their homes – windows panes twisted, roof tiles torn off – because of Paranoia activity. 

Clearly, there are Paranoia DOWNsides

  • Trespassing:  Kids sneak through neighbor’s yards and enter homes without permission 
  • Brandishing Weaponry: The Nerf guns used do resemble actual guns from afar and in the dark.  The orange tips are the only clue. 
  • Wasted Hours:  Huge chunks of time that could have been spent . . .perhaps working on a Boy Scout badge or homework, for example, get sucked away when Paranoia is in play.
  • Public Nudity:  We’ve seen more than a few naked boys sprinting across the Village Green with one hand on the trigger of their gun and the other hand cupping their nether region. We were first shocked, then found it funny.  But to many residents, this is understandably offensive and inappropriate.     


But you have to recognize the Paranoia UPsides

  • Outdoor play/physical exercise:  When kids come home from raids they are usually sweaty and pink-cheeked.  They share stories about running through alleys and climbing trees and various other feats of strength and endurance. 
  • Teamwork:  There’s something to be said about being part of a military-like troop that has to “have each other’s backs” at all times.   Everyone can agree that this is an important life-skill, right? 
  • FUN!!!:  It just is!!!
  • Cathartic?  I'm not a kiddy shrink, but I'd guess a lot of adolescent stress, anxiety and emotional baggage probably gets released through this game.  Perhaps it helps some kids expunge feelings of being pressure-cooking or enraged in a liberating, energizing and therapeutic outlet.  


Love it or loathe it...all parents are left with lots of questions. Are these just normal battle fantasies being healthily played out?  What are all the reasons the kids do it? Is it the thrill of the hunt?  Is it the strategy (good) or the stalking (creepy!!)? Is it for the money? 

Clearly, I have been a guilty party, but I wonder – when/if some kid that breaks in to a home & gets slugged by the owner or a naked gunner gets pancaked by an SUV because he was fleeing without first looking left-then-right across the street, is the rest of America going to say – My god, in light of all the gun violence and school shootings, what in the world were those North Shore parents thinking?! They let their children run around and shoot each other for money?

Are we being paranoid parents/teachers/residents if we’re a bit concerned about Paranoia play?   I would love to hear what others (including teens that participate) have to say...please post below.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

DJs Dad January 28, 2013 at 06:50 PM
2nd Amendment should read: Right to bear arms and the right to bare all!
BigMama January 29, 2013 at 03:25 AM
My high school son played Paranoia. Let's not continue to be the generation that over thinks, over manages and over shadows everything they do. They are outdoors, interacting with each other, laughing, having fun. The parents of the players know the rules. Childhood is fleeting. Let them be kids.
H Hall January 29, 2013 at 05:08 AM
Anytime. Feel free to contact me on here if you have anymore questions. Thanks for understanding and I will be sure to help along future Paranoia generations.
nsmom January 29, 2013 at 12:56 PM
My kids were involved in paranoia off and on for 3 "seasons". I'd say the pros of strategy/planning (#1 benefit IMHO) and teamwork are far outweighed by the cons of having muddy kids running into my house when someone answered the door, having kids stalking the house and garage early morning and late at night, and having to rearrange school driving so my kids wouldn't be vulnerable. I've heard much worse stories from others, like your example of kids hiding inside your house. I was thrilled when my kids stopped playing. Fortunately most kids I know got tired of it after 2 years, even when they were winning.
Willie Wilmette January 29, 2013 at 04:07 PM
Ha Ha Ha! :-)
Patches O'houlihan January 29, 2013 at 08:14 PM
My grade at New Trier had the first organized tournament in 2010, and the thing I noticed was that it actually introduced to me to a lot of new people that I didn't know...NT is kinda big. We also had a rule that you had to tell your parents that you were taking a part in Paranoia, so parents clearly knew that this is just a game. Maybe it would be a good idea if parents talked to their kids and figured out if they are playing, then let parents decide if they want their own kids playing. I understand where the concerns are coming from, but seriously? Sports cause more injuries, DUHHH!!! Video games cause violence cause they are graphic. I just can't believe this is what people are concerned about
Patty January 30, 2013 at 04:22 AM
Innocent fun until someone gets hurt. Then our community will make national news for being a bunch of rich uninvolved parents not supervising our kids. As for the "rule" about telling parents. PLEASE. There is nothing positive that can come from this.
BigMama January 30, 2013 at 04:44 AM
There is supervision and then there's suffocation, Patty. If anything, the parents on the Northshore are overly involved in their kids lives. "Play" is the operative word here (and this article is making a mountain out of a molehill.)
Greenwood January 30, 2013 at 06:01 AM
I side with BigMama. There is nothing positive that can come from this, other than kids getting away from their screens and learning teamwork, sportsmanship and organizational skills, and grounding helicopter parents that are overly concerned about their own public image.
Jennifer Mcquet January 30, 2013 at 09:14 PM
This post was left on the Patch's "newstory" version of these comments. It is from "E.D." I think he/she makes very solid points, but I do not agree with getting college admissions folks involved.... 1:22 pm on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 Normally I agree that children should be children but with nearly 50 fatally shot in Chicago since the beginning of the year, a real paranoia is far too close. Very few children or adults for that matter residing in Winnetka have ever even entered Lawndale, East Garfield Park or any of the many neighborhoods subject to constant real paranoia from gun violence across West and South Chicago. It is not only insensitive, it truly boggles the mind to think parents would condone and even encourage shooting people with nerf guns when real kids are being shot and killed every day with real guns less than 20 miles away. People have often said those on the North Shore live in a vacuum. This is yet another example. I only wish the national press would pick up this story and that the participants' name remain online so college admissions counselors and potential employers are aware of the total lack of sensitivity and awareness of these participating families. E.D.
BigMama January 30, 2013 at 09:35 PM
I grew up in a town similar to the towns of South Chicago, Lawndale, EG Park, E.D. We played with Nerf guns, squirt guns, slingshots, Swiss army knives. Your righteous, table pounding indignation (as you sit safely at home sipping tea), is disingenuine (unless you grew up on the mean streets of Lawndale, EG Park or the South Side, dodging bullets and gang bangers?) The final sentence of your post is toxic and your message is lost due to it's mean spirit manner.
fed up January 31, 2013 at 02:41 PM
This CLASSIC Winnetka. This "game" is mean spirited, sick and inappropriate especially following the massacre of innocent children in Sandy Hook and especially considering that Winnetka was the site of the very first school shooting in the United States. A fact that most residents choose to pretend never happened. How do you think the families of those children would feel about this? Winnetka is largely Republican so I guess it’s ok - it’s just preparing them for their real guns down the road after all! Nothing surprises me from the enabling, tragically competitive, self absorbed, superficial, greedy and overindulgent Winnetka parents. This "game" is a massive form of bullying that the oblivious parents as usual are clueless about. Bullying is a major problem in District 36 that no one has done anything about due to the entitlement culture. Apparently it’s hard to tell a CEO their child has rules when they have none at home. The district is just now taking action but only in response to a local family suing the District. I chose not to allow my child to participate in this game. I was a minority but not alone. After Sandy Hook we chose to eliminate violent video games - in that we were alone. But my son a responsible, caring child 12 year who sees the world from a global perspective – not a Winnetka one because he doesn't spend most of his time in a country club with people who are all the SAME – totally agreed. But that is “The Winnetka Way.”
BigMama January 31, 2013 at 04:01 PM
How in God's name is this game a form of bullying if everyone is invited to play, Fed Up? I suspect your issues have more to do with feeling excluded and your child being bullied in school, not about the game of NERF. To trash all people of Winnetka isn't fair. We played "cowboys and Indians" (or should I say "cowboys and Native Americans?") when I was a kid. I never became a cowboy and I did not grow up attacking Native Americans as an adult. I'm not pro-gun by any stretch of the imagination. Nerf guns are toys. This is a game. Nothing sinister here.
Winny Etka January 31, 2013 at 04:09 PM
fed up, it is completely untrue that "no one in district 36" has done anything about bullying. crow island's "peace power" movement, all of those seminars and presentations, officer "smiley" comes to the classrooms to talk about it, come on -- it's addressed almost everyday. why diss the schools -- esp. when they have NOTHING to do with paranoia. and what "action" is the district now taking b/c of a lawsuit?
Sandy Lynn January 31, 2013 at 04:19 PM
The cover story in last Sunday's New York Times come to mind, talking about how gun manufacturers are heavily marketing to children with the aim of desensitizing them to guns. Especially interesting in light of this game is that a marketing study commissioned by the shooting sports industry suggested that, for children ages 8 -17 "'peer ambassadors' should help introduce wary youngsters to guns slowly, perhaps through paintball, archery or some other less intimidating activity. The point should be to get newcomers started shooting something, with the natural next step being a move toward actual firearms." Hmmm. Paranoia anyone? http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/us/selling-a-new-generation-on-guns.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Deadcatbounce January 31, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Yes, nerf guns, pretending your finger is a gun, toy guns, are all wrong. In Talbot County, Maryland, two boys aged 6 were recently suspended for pretending their fingers were guns while playing cops and robbers during recess. This comes just after another 6-year-old at a Montgomery County school was suspended for the same thing. We need to condition our kids to reject guns and the Second Amendment. A child and their nerf gun may come back one day as a homicidal maniac, pointing a real gun. Guns and gun owners are the real enemies, not thugs and sociopaths As many today feel, today’s playground warriors should not be viewed as tomorrow’s soldiers and upholders of the law, but rather tomorrow’s thugs and/or sociopaths.
Deadcatbounce January 31, 2013 at 08:26 PM
Maybe this is in response to schools pushing to disarm the minds’ of children. Maryland educators are launching an assault on normal childhood behavior. In Talbot County, Maryland, two boys aged 6 were recently suspended for pretending their fingers were guns while playing cops and robbers during recess. This comes just after another 6-year-old at a Montgomery County school was suspended for the same thing. They seem to be part of a larger effort to condition our kids to reject guns and the Second Amendment.
Greenwood February 01, 2013 at 06:49 AM
fedup, I assume you have forbidden your son from throwing paper airplanes at the wall, because that's just like September 11.


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