RIP Laser Quest North America, 1993-2020

Primarily from about 1998 to early 2002 and sporadically after that, I took an interest in laser tag, particularly (at the time) the Laser Quest just down the road (13711 Westheimer Road, between Eldridge Parkway and Texas Highway 6) from where I was working at the time (Westheimer Road at what was at the time called Old Westheimer, Road now called West Houston Center Boulevard). I did also play at many of the other laser tag centers that had existed in the area, including the two other Laser Quests we had (6560 FM 1960 West (long before it was known as Cypress Creek Parkway) and the one in Clear Lake/Webster, which I cannot remember the address of right now), all three locations of LazerRage (Spring, Humble, and Stafford), as well as Space City Laser Tag (using Lasertron equipment), Laserzone using Laser Force equipment (not Zone Empire/Ultrazone equipment as one might think!), and Track 21 (one of the later versions of Zone Empire gear, long after Ultrazone’s competitive scene took a dive).

I had planned a return trip to the nearest Laser Quest for a few last sentimental games, though this was after Houston’s centers had shuttered. At first that was going to be a road trip to San Antonio (we unfortunately lost Austin’s center much earlier than the two remaining in Houston) or North Richland Hills (the sole DFW area center remaining in Texas). Then, it turned into a planned trip to Tulsa, not necessarily even a road trip at this point as I was open to flying up there.

And then, as luck would have it, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

And then in September, Versent Corporation (the operator/franchisor of Laser Quest centers in North America) decided to throw in the towel, yet another casualty of the raging pandemic. The home page was changed to read “Thanks For The Memories – We Are Now Closed” and went on to thank everyone for their patronage over the previous 27 years.

I only ever got to play in one real Laser Quest tournament, the second and final year of the iNAC (Individual North American Challenge–remember, this predated Apple’s iThings by several years). I was able to walk over to the Austin Laser Quest center from the back room of the motel room I was in (I was with my mom). I did horribly, nowhere near enough to qualify, but all the smack talk about how I wasn’t good enough to actually play in tournaments died down a bit, as at least I got my ass out there and tried.

Other fond memories, which unfortunately I have no documentation of, include many rounds of pinball on a Revenge From Mars at the Champions Village Laser Quest center (6560 FM 1960 West), as well as many games of Point Blank and Police Trainer, including a time during which I had all six slots on the board for beating the game at commissioner level (leading the next guy to sign it “NO DUALIST” (sic) to contrast with the five other “DUELIST” entries).

I can see laser tag being problematic in something like the COVID-19 pandemic. To their credit, Versent did try to diversify and catch a piece of the escape room action, presumably re-purposing the party rooms (or perhaps other parts of the LQ centers) as escape rooms when not being used for parties. That too was going to be problematic in a pandemic of this sort, though, with a lot of location-based entertainment taking a huge hit. Even Chuck E. Cheese’s had to resort to selling take-out pizza at some locations to try to stay afloat, and will probably lose a fair number (but not all) locations before it’s all said and done.

Nevertheless, it’s upsetting to me to see an institution like Laser Quest take a fall in such a brutal manner. No word yet on what’s going to become of all the remaining Laser Quest gear; I will admit the technology is a bit old, but it’s not like Darklight or other players are that much newer.

I’m going to attach a fair number of surviving Laser Quest scorecards, mostly from around 2000 (“100”) or 2001 (“101”). While I did try to save a complete collection early on, I’m pretty sure almost everything from 1999 and earlier was a casualty of Tropical Storm Allison, or has been otherwise lost since. I will be coming back to this post and adding more as I find them and/or have time to can them in. (I had hoped to have everything scanned in before the end of the year but that just didn’t happen…)