By Alex Nieuwland – Suarez International Staff Instructor in South Carolina
I’ve heard all of these comments, some of them recently.
“All of this realistic training to win gunfights is getting in the way of my IDPA.”
“Practicing with my reloads that barely make power factor and barely cycle my gun has made my gun handling worse instead of better.”
“I can’t stop myself from walking backwards instead of pointing my toes in the direction I’m going. I’ve been a gamer for too long!”
All of these shooters had fallen into the gamer trap. I know I had, so I could relate.
Participating in gun games, just like most things, is good in moderation. When taken to extremes, however, it becomes easy to fall into the “gamer trap” where winning the game instead of winning your upcoming gunfight becomes priority #1. As Jim Cirillo, who was an accomplished competition shooter as well as the winner of many gunfights, put it: “It may take extra time in a sports match, but in reality it would save lives. To hell with the score!” 
To head off the criticism that I’m just a hater bashing gun games, let me say this: Gun games are fun, and I’m a big proponent. In every Concealed Weapons Permit class I teach, I spend some time explaining the various attractions offered by Steel Challenge, IDPA, and USPSA. For example, Steel Challenge is a great way of testing your draw, sight picture, and trigger press, and finding your balance between speed and precision. IDPA and USPSA offer marvelous opportunities to come try out your carry gear for a very reasonable fee. In my area, where indoor ranges don’t allow drawing from the holster, rapid fire, or shooting on the move, they are a great gift to the shooter inclined to get better at those things. In addition, they offer a great opportunity to spend time with some like-minded individuals.
As part of teaching any Suarez International defensive pistol class, however, we always ask the question: “What’s more important: Shooting the bad guy or not getting shot?” Occasionally, we get a taker for “shooting the bad guy,” but most folks wisely opt for “not getting shot” first, immediately followed by “shooting the bad guy.”
This is where the fundamental difference between winning your gunfight and winning your favorite gun game comes in: there is no bad guy shooting at you during the game. As a result, gun games allow one to focus entirely on the “shoot the bad guy” part of the equation, to the detriment of the “not getting shot” part. Sure, IDPA enforces the “IDPA lean” that places 100% of your lower body and at least 50% of your upper body behind cover, but that still leaves a LOT of your body sticking out from cover for the BG to shoot. This is particularly evident when a right handed shooter tries to take a left-handed corner without switching the gun to his left hand, and vice-versa. When we teach taking a corner in our HRO-CQB: Fighting in Buildings courses, we reduce the amount you expose to the bad guys to no more than the arm holding your pistol and an eyeball by switching hands depending on the tactical situation.
In addition, in IDPA there’s no penalty for shooting from close to the cover where debris and bullets skipping off the edge of the cover would still be a concern to you if someone were actually shooting at you, in addition to giving away your exact position and exposing you to a potential gun grab. When I started shooting IDPA 10 years ago, I did what I saw most of the other shooters do and hugged the cover. This placed me closer to the targets so I could shoot them more easily, and made it easier for the safety officer to see that I was leaning out properly. It also meant I had fallen into the gamer trap.
To overcome my gamer habits and squeeze the maximum benefit out of the time and ammo I spend at a match I have come up with some personal guidelines that have lowered my scores, but have allowed me to climb out of the gamer trap I had fallen into.
Here they are:
Mindset: I realize that this is “just a game”, but I want to maximize its potential for realistic testing of my skills and equipment. I realize that using these guidelines will probably hurt my score, but I’m willing to accept that because my overall goal (winning my upcoming gunfight) is more important than my score in a gun game.
Use of cover: I will take left handed corners left handed, and right handed corners right handed. I will strive to stay as far back from cover as the stage design allows.
Concealment: I will use a concealment garment whenever the rules of the game allow it.
Equipment: I will use what I carry as much as the rules of the game allow. For example, in IDPA’s Stock Service Pistol division I use my Glock 19 with Warren Tactical sights from a strong-side outside the waistband holster (Dale Fricke Gideon Elite). In USPSA’s Open division, however, I will use my Glock 19 with Trijicon RMR red-dot sight from an inside the waistband appendix carry holster (Dale Fricke Seraphim). Clearly, I have no hope of winning in USPSA’s Open division competing against true raceguns with an RMRed Glock 19, but that’s not the point. As long as they let me use it in their game, I’m happy. Click here for more info on using what you carry for competition.
Proactive reloads: I will do a proactive reload (retaining the partially used magazine) wherever it makes tactical sense, whether I need to or not to finish the stage.
Emergency reloads: I will rip the magazine out and retain it during emergency reloads, unless the targets are very close.
After action assessment: I will ask the first two questions of the Suarez International after action assessment (“Did I hit him, did it work? Does he have any friends?”) before I unload and show clear.
Use of ammo: I will be generous with my bullets. If I feel that a target needs to be shot again, I will shoot it again.
Ammo selection: I will use ammo that closely replicates the felt recoil and point of aim/point of impact of my carry ammo.
After Action Review: I will videotape my performance in the stages for later critiquing. Did I do my reloads correctly? Did I stay away from cover? In other words: What do I need to be working during my upcoming practice sessions?
Competition: I will strive to bring a shooting buddy who is using the same guidelines and only compare my score with him or her.
Hopefully, these guidelines can serve as encouragement to shooters who have so far avoided falling into the gamer trap, and perhaps allow some that have to realize the problem and climb out as well.
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 Jim Cirillo in Guns, Bullets and Gunfights: Lessons and Tales from a Modern-Day Gunfighter; Paladin Press, 1996, page 65.