Lazer Tag was all the rage when it was introduced in 1986. It was the cops and robbers of the future, the ability to shoot light beams at each other and score points for direct hits. With a Starlyte gun, StarBelt, StarVest, and even a StarHelmet, players were well equipped to battle each other in 23rd century fashion – in playgrounds, backyards, or even better – in giant futuristic arenas, complete with space-age obstacles and concert light shows. If you were a kid in the late 80s, you certainly remember Lazer Tag and the extensive marketing campaign on television and in comic books that accompanied it.
Lazer Tag wasn’t exactly a new idea. The technology was actually invented by the US military for training purposes in the 70s. Crossing into the toy world, Star Trek Phaser Gun Sets used a similar technology all the way back in 1979. But Lazer Tag equipment offered a distinct improvement over its toy predecessors – it had the ability to keep score. The rules were simple – get hit six times and you were out of the game. Now, heartbreaking as it may be, it should be mentioned that no lasers were ever used in Lazer Tag, just innocent infrared beams and sensors that did all of the score tracking. But, “Infrared Tag” just doesn’t have the same galactic appeal and a little white lie never hurt anyone.
The company that made all of this nifty Lazer Tag equipment, Worlds of Wonder, did everything in its power to promote the game, even resorting to a Saturday morning cartoon called Lazer Tag Academy to get the word out. But the fad eventually wore off somewhat and Worlds of Wonder would go out of business in 1988, a mere two years after the game’s debut – partially because the equipment was a bit pricey. Undeterred, a number of businesses opened around the country where one could rent the equipment and take it into a futuristic playing arena with groups of friends and shoot each other to their heart’s content. The concept was quite similar to paintball actually, with the added benefit that you didn’t come home covered in paint with welts all over your body.
And Lazer tag, in one form or another never really managed to die out completely. Official Lazer Tag products were re-released a decade later by Tiger Electronics, who were lucky enough to score the licensing agreement necessary to the make the official Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace line of Lazer Tag equipment. Tournaments are still held across the country and a number of companies now manufacture similar infrared targeting equipment, helping to ensure that Lazer Tag, in all of its forms, will likely remain popular for some time to come – perhaps long enough to see the day when people (or robots) actually fire lasers at each other, just like in the movies. Until then, people will just have to keep pretending that they are shooting lasers at each other. And should you encounter them, don’t spoil the fun and tell them about the infrared thing. Let them dream.
If you spent a few hours zapping your friends and family back in the day, we’d love to hear all of your Lazer Tag memories in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this space age shooting game.