Non-Shooting Socially Distant Gaming with ZTAG

Operators who are familiar with laser tag, paintball, archery tag, airsoft have always dealt with parents who don't want their kids playing with a "weapon". Given the current events of our country, guns are a sensitive and polarizing topic for many, and a parent's choice to have their kids play gun or projectile-based games is a very personal choice. I often hear operators telling me they wish they could capture a larger market such as schools and after-school programs but the teachers and parents don't want kids playing with guns. The kids obviously want the fun and excitement of make-believe battles, tagging each other, running, and teamwork but how can you achieve this without projectiles?

Laser tag without guns

This is where ZTAG comes in: ZTAG is essentially laser tag without guns. We use the same wireless technology as laser tag but remove the gun and replace it with an armband. Players chase each other and when 2 players get within social distance, a tag is made. So how do you know who's tagging who? Simple, we add role-play to know who's "it" and who's being chased. In our game, instead of everyone always "shooting" or tagging, only certain players are "it" and tagging others. For example, our most popular game of last-survivor has a combination of humans, zombies, and doctors. The humans are being chased by the zombies, and if they are tagged, they will eventually become a zombie unless they are tagged by a doctor.

Close proximity tagging

There are a few other key differences that make ZTAG stand-out as a shooting game alternative. Shooting games are not as active as one might think, while players do run from one bunker to the next, players generally find themselves mostly hiding, ducking, sitting, or waiting. Since ZTAG requires 2 players to get close in order to tag, the game requires a lot more running than shooting games. If you stand still in ZTAG, you'll simply lose.

Less space required

Because ZTAG is so active, often the playing field size is smaller than shooting games because you want to keep all the players in close proximity to increase the amount of interaction that happens. In a large field, players will simply run away very far and the interaction drops.

Every player has a role

You don't have to be the best shooter to play ZTAG well. Each role requires a different skill so anyone can enjoy the game. Humans must be stealthy so they aren't detected by zombies. Zombies must be fast and Doctors must be observant of who needs their help.

Knowing who tagged you

Another benefit to close range tagging is a player knows exactly who tagged him or her. Often times in shooting games, when a player gets shot, he or she doesn't know where the shot actually came from. Not only is this frustrating, it also doesn't give the player enough feedback to improve their game. With ZTAG, there's no doubt about the interaction because it's so close-up.

Less gear and less staff required

Operators of shooting games often deal deploy 2 to 3 staff in order to host a game. The staff is there to ensure proper equipment handling, player wrangling, setting up bunkers, and making sure players aren't hitting each other with the guns. ZTAG only requires 1 operator and an optional parent to have a safe, fun, and reliable game because the gear is minimal (no guns, vests, headgear, ammo, air, etc) you just need electricity (which can also be portable from a small battery generator). The bunkers, if any, are instant pop-up bunkers that don't require inflation. These bunkers don't work for shooting games because they will get destroyed by the projectiles. Since there's no contact in ZTAG, low-cost pop-up bunkers are perfect and portable enough that a single person can roll it onto the field in a suitcase.

More efficient game for more games per day

Operators are often thinking about their bottom line in terms of staffing and equipment costs for the given event. ZTAG allows for a better return on investment because an operator can charge as much or more than shooting games (due to the increases interactivity and novelty) while reducing their own expenses. The equipment cost per player is much less than shooting systems as well as the staffing cost. Finally, the setup and tear down is also much faster than shooting games because there is less equipment. This means you can schedule more bookings per day than any other system.

Access to a larger customer demographic

By sidestepping the conversation about shooting games altogether, an operator gains access to a much larger demographic. Shooting games generally lean towards male players for a variety of reasons but running or workout games are gender-neutral. Schools generally see ZTAG as a healthy, fun, and active alternative to shooting games because it achieves the same goals of teaching teamwork, communication, and motor skills without the slightest connection to guns and violence. We have gun ZTAG games with churches, schools, and after school programs with equal success.

Portable or permanent location

If you're in the market for a laser tag system, you'll usually find that the system is either designed for permanent indoor installation or a temporary outdoor setting, not both. This is because the gear is designed differently for indoors and outdoors. A system that was designed for permanent installation is not portable. We designed ZTAG to cover both worlds. It can be installed in a permanent location with dedicated bunkers and a big screen leader-board or it can be hauled onto a field for a quick afternoon session. The flexibility of the system allows the operator to cater to a wide variety of occasions and locations.

About the author & creator of ZTAG

Admittedly, I am biased because I created ZTAG but I want to offer my reasoning behind designing this system so you can decide if you end up drawing the same conclusion as me. I have an engineering background and out of college I quit my corporate job after 1 year behind a desk and decided to create the first Halloween haunted attraction in mainland China:

From that first venture, I dove into interactive design and continue to innovate on technology that enhances the guest experience for major theme parks. Throughout this journey, I'm noticing a pattern in shoving more screens at the audience as many new attractions are essentially 3d movies on steroids. I wanted to pull the guests in a much more physical and social interaction direction. I looked at many first-person video games for inspiration to see what gets the player to engage and unfortunately, most first-person games are shooting games! The players are usually shooting or slashing away at something, so this is hardly suitable for the real world. I then started asking what if we can keep the same level of intense interaction but remove the shooting and this is where the ZTAG concept was born.


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