A video game that hits back

Meet virtual enemies who can actually hurt you

Gamers are fetishists for realism. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year developing virtual worlds into ever more realistic simulations of our own. Every follicle of hair, every machine gun blast, every enemy’s cry for mercy is noodled and tweaked by engineers and artists for maximum verisimilitude. The first-person shooter genre seems particularly obsessed with realism–gamers want to actually feel like they’re fighting in every way. Well, in almost every way–the one aspect of war that developers have never shown much interest in recreating is pain. That, though, may soon change.

The Gadget Show, a surprisingly well-resourced program on the U.K.’s Channel 5, recently built and documented what is perhaps the world’s most realistic battle simulator, complete with virtual enemies that can actually hurt you–via real-life paintball guns. Here’s a video of it: It’s all worth watching, but the heavy action comes around 9:30.

While this is all very technically impressive, what I find most interesting is that host Jason Bradbury genuinely seems to enjoy getting shot. Unless Bradbury is faking it (or just is into that sort of thing) the possibility of pain seems to radically amp up his sense of immersion. His fear seems real, as does his elation. The pain-game seems fun, and I kinda want to try it.

So is this the future of gaming? And if we set off in this direction, will gamers need ever higher levels of pain to get their kicks?

I shudder to think.

Jesse Brown is the host of’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown

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