Before I get started today let me clarify a bit of yesterday’s hyperbole. Yes, of course, penalties have a punitive impact–otherwise they wouldn’t be called penalties. And, yes, the intent, in part, is to have those penalties act as deterrents – but, there is a point where deterrence doesn’t work and a point where it becomes overkill. Where that place is can be debated endlessly (I'm sure) but I'm inclined to think that penalties that almost invariably result in a score change is a pretty severe penalty--particularly when it's the assigned penalty for nearly every possible infraction. But maybe that's just me.
Let’s talk football. More specifically the holding penalty. Holding, along with a number of other rules, address what is allowable contact and provide penalties for forms of contact that aren’t allowable. Holding in particular however is instructive because it is a rule that has been re-written a number of times and the current iteration of holding doesn’t come close to barring actual holding, it describes what sorts of holding aren’t a violation of the rules and what sorts are. My point here is this: holding is not an inviolate rule. It is a flexible rule and it is a flexible rule because the first concern is the play of the game. While it is necessary that football have rules that regulate physical contact the rule is rightfully understood to be a means to an end, not an end unto itself. And even under these conditions there is a football truism that says an official can call holding on every play if they chose to–but of course they don’t because it wouldn’t serve the game. (And the reason a holding penalty could be called on any and every play is because blocking and aggressive physical contact are elements of the game play–not because everybody is a compulsive cheater.) My larger point is that until competitive paintball writes a rule book based on what game we want to play the result will be a rule book that results in something less. And I would go further and argue the current rule book(s) are little more than band-aids on top of past band-aids that, each in their turn, simply addressed problems that arose over time but have never been considered as the foundational means of describing and defining the game we want to play.
Now this is necessarily a rather esoteric argument and one that might be difficult to grasp (or easy to ignore) but today’s game isn’t yesterday’s game and the rules (and the common interpretation of those rules) ought to reflect today’s game.
The other aspect of this I’d like to address is the very limited nature of the penalties paintball assesses and the potential for disparate impact of those penalties. Ever since the game was 15 on 15 (at least) bodies have been pulled as a form of penalty. But what made sense in a slow paced game with 15 or even 10 players strikes me as overkill in a lot of common penalty situations when playing the format formerly known as xball. The penalty needs to fit the infraction. Or else the penalty should only be assessed when it literally has a game altering effect and redress is required.
Player A makes a move from one dorito to the next upfield dorito and comes up shooting. In making the move Player A is hit. By rule Player A has committed (at least) a minor infraction that should result in pulling another body. But how often in the couple of seconds it takes the ref to signal the player out does it actually affect the other team one or two bodies worth? (And how often do real live refs actually make that call by the letter of the rules? They certainly don’t in the pro game.) But I can hear the sticklers beginning to whine that it isn’t fair. Player A broke the rules and must be penalized. To not penalize him encourages more of the same. (But then so does the nature of the game.) To which I respond of course it isn’t fair but the nature of our current rules and penalties means somebody pays an unfair price. One question that follows is how do we minimize that unfairness. The other question is what impact does any given rule have on the play of the game?
(For those who will argue a definition of "fairness" that, in practice, dramatically alters the outcome of scoring points – or even assigning points – that issue really comes down to what impacts the play of the game with the minimum impact. Sure, you can try to pummel violators into submission but as the NTP posts suggest that actually following the letter of the rules in every instance doesn’t make the game fair, it can make it unplayable. Remember that whole rules aren’t the ends, they ought to be the means? This is where the rubber meets the road.)
Am I trying to say the game is all screwed up? Not at all. (It does amazingly well sometimes considering.) What I am saying is that the playability of the game is dependent on the officiating and varying application of the rules results in wildly different experiences on the field of play. And if we want to create and provide as much consistency as possible it begins with rules designed with the gaming experience we want to promote in mind and with a unified interpretation for the referees to rely on when they are officiating actual game play. No big deal really.