Walking into someone’s home uninvited, shooting Nerf guns at one another, and setting up ambushes. That may sound like a strange combination for fun, but those are components of Paranoia, a game played by New Trier students, ages 15 to 18.
While there are rules governing where and when it can be played, they may raise a few eyebrows. Participants say it's a fun way to interact, and students of all classes are going to be starting up Paranoia again right after spring break.
Paranoia is played as partakers armed with a Nerf gun who are usually members of a team that seek members of other teams and try to shoot them with the toy. The process of eliminating all opponents and finding a winner can take six to seven weeks, with two seasons each year (fall and spring league). In total, about 150 students participate, with each class organizing its own league.
Sounds simple enough, but the camouflage aspect to the game is a little out of the ordinary.
Players stalk their opponents and try to catch them off guard. So that means they might sneak into someone else’s home, hide in their backyard or do whatever else they can do to come out of nowhere to playfully shoot their opponent.
“This is the adrenaline you never get through school. It is fun playing against friends and going into their houses,” said Nate Goss, a junior at New Trier who was a commissioner of a league last fall. “It makes it exciting [that] you could be waking up in the morning and someone could ambush you before you get into your car. Before you go to bed you have to make sure you lock up all the doors to make sure nobody breaks in.”
According to Goss, part of the game includes rules, which to some degree allow players to walk into another person’s home or property to try and eliminate one of the other competitors.
That may fly in the face of basic home security, so parents need to agree to it beforehand.
“I understand the concerns of everyone completely,” said Nate’s mother, Kristen Goss in an e-mail to Patch. “I had several friends raise concerns about the game, including my neighbor when I warned her of the activity around my house was part of the game. Nerf guns may look like guns, but they are bright orange and yellow. Participants in the game have been told to inform their parents of the rules. Like any teenage activity, these kids need to use their best judgment when they play this game."
Kristen Goss went so far as to help her son Nate plan an attack and tipped him off when she believed an ambush was forthcoming. “I enjoyed hearing about the kills and how they strategize and would help any way I could. The boys were having fun. Lots of fun! And so was I,” she said.
The rules of engagement
There are other rules which may strike some as extreme.
“One of the rules is if you are naked you can’t be shot. Otherwise people can be shot anytime, anywhere," said Jack Bear, a senior at New Trier. “I think the naked rule is funny because if someone is willing to be naked to avoid being shot, then good for them.”
In November of last year, there was a report of a student running around Northfield sans clothing. When police found a clothed 16-year-old male, he told them a group of kids had been playing a game called "Paranoia."
School is a Paranoia-free zone
Another rule of the game is participants can not be shot at New Trier or at a New Trier-sanctioned activity.
School spokeswoman Nicole Dizon said the high school would take action if kids brought the Nerf guns to the school, but so far that has not been the case.
“If we became aware of any incidents we have a disciplinary policy in place that would deal with that appropriately,” Dizon said. “We are not aware of the game being played at the school or during school hours. We do have prohibition against weapons or lookalike weapons and if we became aware of that being used in the school, we would be deal with that [situation] through our disciplinary channels.”
Mike Garofalo, a Winnetka police officer stationed at New Trier, believes the game has ebbed a bit in popularity.
“It’s not as prevalent as what it used to be. I don’t see it as much as I used to,” he said.
Garofalo said a few Nerf guns have been confiscated, but he did not have any specific incidents to report nor any incidents of kids' arrest. However, students are not allowed to enter the school with Nerf guns.
Therefore, the whole thing could be deemed as harmless fun.
“I think this is kids being kids, as long as it [is] kept safe,” Garofalo said. "That is their thing.”
Better than sitting at home playing video games
So why do they do it? The winning team (all teams have five members) receives a nominal cash prize, the size of which depends on the size of the league.
In the group that Goss oversaw last year, there were 16 teams. But that could be one of the least populated leagues.
“I thought it would be a chance for me to interact with all of these people who I normally don’t see,” said New Trier junior John Tingue, who may be a commissioner in this spring league. “Everyone gets really into it. You are planning against other teams. We can trash talk and that is a lot of fun.”
And as for the students' productivity? That is relative, according to Bear.
“My parents are happy that I am not in the basement playing video games,” he said. “I’m being semi-productive with my time.”