"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.  

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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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