How Star Wars Led to the Invention of Laser Tag

By Rhett Jones on at

When Star Wars was released in May of 1977 it captured the imaginations of numerous people who would go on to change the world. One man, an inventor named George Carter, was inspired to change the ways in which teens screwed around in their free time — he invented Laser Tag.

Carter saw an opportunity for a new sort of war game while watching the opening scenes of George Lucas’ classic space opera in a theatre in Las Vegas. At a time when kids were running around using only their imagination to blast their friends away with beams of light, Carter was making it happen.

The first hurdle Carter had to leap was a federal regulation barring people from shooting lasers at one another. Once he’d worked out how his system worked, he needed a name. He wanted Laser Tag but his lawyer believed the generic nature of the name could hurt the patent process and he went with “Photon.”

The official Laser Tag Museum has a breakdown of what was included in the 13-pound set that players wore when they squared off for battle:

- A “high-tech” helmet with radio frequency receivers and signal lights that inform the helmet’s wearer he or she has been “zapped” and is momentarily disrupted.

- A Photon Phaser which uses a light beam to score on opposing players and on the opposing team’s home base goal.

- A Photon Control Module containing micro-processor chips that communicates constantly with the game-controlling Photon computers, informing the central computers as to whether the wearer has been hit in the past few seconds by a light beam. If an opposing player’s beam has struck home, the microcomputer will deactivate the disrupted player’s Phaser for 10 seconds.

- A Power pack which powers all Photon Space Gear.

But the technology wasn’t the only secret to laser tag’s success. Carter recognised that his game was timeless and with the right mechanics, scoring ability and atmosphere, it would be a hit. He told The Dallas Morning News in 2014:

It’s the same game little boys have been playing forever — cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers. ‘I shot you.’ ‘No, you didn’t.’ And then the game would end because nobody could keep score. I thought it would be a great game for the amusement business if you could keep score.

While the game has become less ubiquitous over the years, the fundamentals of design and mechanics that Carter implemented still persist as the definitive way to play laser tag.

You can see Carter tell his story in a new video by CNN above. He’s a bit of a surly character that would probably get along well with the prickly George Lucas. Great minds and all that. [Great Big Story via Motherboard]