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Paint balls were first used in the 1950's by the Nelson Paint Company in their markers to mark trees, for cutting down, from a distance. Some ranchers used them to mark cows as well. In the 1970's two friends found another use for the paint balls and markers. Charles Gaines and Bob Gurnsey devised a survival game in which participants attempt to shoot each-other with the paintball markers. The called the game "survival." The first paintball game was played on June 27, 1981. The first paintball participants were as follows: Bob Jones, Ronnie Simpkins, Jerome Gary, Carl Sandquist, Ritchie White, Ken Barrett, Joe Drinon, Bob Carlson, and Lionel Atwill, Charles Gaines, Bob Gurnsey, and Hayes Noel. The first game played was a variation of capture the flag.

In the early paintball games very few shots were fired, due to the low paintball capacity of the markers designed for forestry work. Players spent more time stalking their opponents using paintball ghillie suits, and less time actually firing upon then. Advances in the design of the paintball gun have since allowed the markers to hold more ammunition.

Since it's inception, paintball has enjoyed growing popularity in the United States and around the world. It is player by over 10 million people each year. They claim to have a lower injury rate than any other sport. Still there are opponents of the sport that say it trivializes war and desensitizes people to the use of guns against human targets. There are also instances where paintball guns have been used in vandalism and assault cases. However, the acceptability of paintball as a legitimate sport has increased with it's media exposure.