In the midst of gun debates around the country, a company called Predator Games plans to create an elaborate laser tag facility in southeast Wisconsin.
At iCOMBAT facilities, participants in the "total combat experience" would carry fake assault rifles or other weapons. They would fire at fellow players in realistic "battlefields" while attempting to achieve objectives. But while at its heart, it's a game, police, military or concealed carry permit holders could use iCOMBAT for training.
Andy Rasico is a product manager for Predator Games, which has not yet announced a specific location for the facility in the state. He says while the fake guns and simulated environments are realistic, the weapons are not real and do not shoot bullets and no one is at risk of being hurt. The idea is to promote exercise and team-building, while capitalizing off popular video games.
"Basically what we're doing is we're taking video games like Call of Duty, popular games like Battlefield and letting people play those in real life," Rasico says.
"We're not promoting violence or aggression, so we're not teaching people police tactics or anything like that. We don't teach people tactics or anything like that that will make them into a lethal threat." -Andy Rasico, Predator Games
iCombat participants can engage in these target games in a variety of realistic-looking settings, from Middle Eastern villages to jungles. Likewise, Rasico says the equipment is realistic, originally designed for police and military training.
During the day and off-hours, the facility will be used for law enforcement to train for responding to different situations, whether it be an active shooter scenario, a traffic stop, or breaching a drug house.
"It has to look and feel just like the real thing so that when they're training, they're not compromising anything when they're learning," he says. "We're using realistic equipment that's just like what you would find training soldiers ...or law enforcement officers for any situation in a school shooting or traffic stops or even military type missions."
This part of the iCombat facility is kept separate from the public entertainment venues. Rasico says because iCombat received overwhelming interest from the non-law enforcement public, it wanted to find a way to open up the facility for entertainment purposes.
"We're not promoting violence or aggression, so we're not teaching people police tactics or anything like that," he says. "We don't teach people tactics or anything like that that will make them into a lethal threat."
The public side of the facility is more like a sports arena, he says, with team-oriented activities and "missions" - similar to paintball. The idea is to build camaraderie while giving participants the adrenaline rush of competitive league-style play.
"I don't think it would desensitize anybody to violence particularly because of the sporty environment that it is," he says. "It's more of like an athlete competing rather than somebody who's learning how to go through and kill people, so to speak. It's definitely a lot less violent than a video game, because we don't have the blood, we don't have the injuries that you would see on screen."
Rasico says there are "family-friendly" vests that light up to indicate where a participant has been "hit." For adult gamers, there are "shock" vests that give a safe, small pain penalty for being hit.
And even though the equipment is all fake, there are some practical applications of the iCombat experience. Because the equipment is fairly realistic, including having simulated safeties, participants are essentially learning safe gun-handling basics.With the state's new concealed carry law, Wisconsinites will also be able to go to iCombat for the required training to obtain a permit. Retired sheriff's deputies, former SWAT commanders and other retired law enforcement will teach concealed carry classes, which require background checks before people can participate.
Rasico says these trained professionals will spend hours with students to give them practice.
"That's what makes a successful concealed carry permit holder, not just somebody who took a class and is out there with a gun," he says. "Now you have somebody that's learning how to handle their weapon, they're getting hours of practice from somebody who's been doing it for 30 years."
He says they'll be able to practice scenarios like protecting themselves from an intruder in the house or being mugged on the street, building muscle memory, and learning when it's appropriate to draw their weapon.
"The person will learn how to get their gun out properly, they'll learn what to do, if they should shoot or if they should not shoot depending on what's happening," he says.