Integrations: A Dying Art or a Culture Coming Back Together

Integrations: A Dying Art or a Culture Coming Back Together

Over the years, 3D printers and community designs have taken over the nerf and blaster tag hobby, making it ever easier to design and build any features you want into your own custom blaster or add them as attachments. As a result, the handmade craftsmanship of early modders has become a much smaller niche. However, a thriving subculture still keeps some of the old arts alive; hobby veteran MisterNathan began the year with a surprise announcement: Merge Masters is returning.

First hosted on the r/Nerf subreddit in 2016, Merge Masters is a blaster integration competition that showcases the ways many early hobbyists used to take desirable features from one blaster and give them to another. More specifically, per the competition, blaster integrations are “the functionally permanent combination of two or more blasters for the purpose of ergonomics, intimidation, aesthetics, theme, ammunition capacity, ammunition type variety, range versatility, convenience, or ingenuity.”

As a previous winner of Merge Masters, MisterNathan decided to bring back the competition after a five-year hiatus. Some of the hobby’s best and most skilled creators get to show off their best work, and we get to see how much the hobby has advanced in that time. MisterNathan loves to see this side of the hobby, and he feels fulfilled in being able to create space to facilitate that creativity.

While I am not entering myself, I have reached out to a few of the people who are and I’ve sent them some questions about the work they love and the place integrations have in our hobby:

“Why do you do blaster integrations?”

MisterNathan: When I discovered the nerfing hobby, I was pretty content with tinkering with performance and user interface modifications until I stumbled onto some pictures of early integration work. That really spoke to me. The similar concept of taking something that functions the way you want, but isn't comfortable or attractive, and just cutting those more desirable features from other blasters and grafting them in, creating an entirely new blaster from pieces of others. The idea of making use of broken or outdated/outmoded blasters was a fun bonus as well. Just because something can no longer fulfill its original purpose does not mean it no longer has value. It can live on and be beneficial in another form. I found great satisfaction in the building process.”

GrimReaper2458: “Why? Well, I do them mostly because Hasbro gets so close to making something cool, then ruins it by making the handle, stock, barrel, or performance just subpar.”

VileMods: “I look at integrations as functional props, where we can make really cool things out of currently existing blasters or random junk and explore the creative process that may have started with something simple.”

PricklyNerfMods: “I do integrations mainly because I get to create a blaster that no one else has, and to create something special and unique.”

“3D-printed blasters, accessories, and community designs have pretty much taken over the custom blaster space. Why don’t you just switch to that if you want to build custom blasters?”

MisterNathan: “The advent of 3D printing was a more efficient solution to a lot of the problems that integration had been resolving up to that point. 3D printing is great, and I utilize a lot of printed blasters and components. However, since I often have unusual taste and needs in my builds and lack the knowledge and skill to 3D design my own stuff, it is easier to just get the saws and files out and shape things the way I need them physically.
I tried to minimize printing in this current competition only to encourage more "traditional" methods of customizing and to stretch the imagination, and not for any personal dislike or aversion to printing.”

VileMods: “I've put together printed blasters and even have a couple blaster projects. I'm in the process of 3D modeling so I'm familiar with it but I feel the creative process isn't the same. Printed blasters don't lend themselves to painting as much and instead of finding a piece of a shell or junk that magically works to fill a void or purpose on the build, you just model it in. There's no life in that part, no one notices or cares really. But with integrations you're proud of those details you've been able to find. Even saying that, I'm currently 3D printing a couple small parts for my current build that I can't find anywhere else, so they still have their place.”

MrHeathPants: “I did eventually move over to using 3D printing, at first as a part of my integrations for small parts or things I didn't have the ability to fabricate. I haven't really looked back since, because I can make much more complex blasters, and I don't have to deal with the fact that if I actually made it work, it was a one off that no one else could make.”

NaptownNerf: “Obviously 3-D printed designs have really taken over the hobby, allowing you to do virtually whatever you want to do with a blaster, but there is still a thing of beauty about being able to create a blaster from existing ones. That’s what got me started in this hobby, and it’s still what I love most about it, although finding the time to do them is lessening.”

“How has integration hobby culture changed in the last few years, for better or worse?”

MisterNathan: “Integration culture is kinda funny. Once upon a time, Integration was just part of the hobby in general and not a distinct "niche" or culture. Back when there were more Dremels than printers on our collective work benches, it seemed like everyone was at least familiar with basic integration processes, and often used those very techniques for internal upgrades and such.”

PricklyNerfMods: “The space has seen the rise of some very talented new creators, but people seem to have lost that love for integrations that people used to have. They especially don't sell as well as they did back in the day, which just goes to show how the times have changed in regard to just buying a pro blaster or 3D-printed blaster assembled with no modding.”

VileMods: “While the integration culture has definitely taken a backseat in the hobby over the past few years I feel that it's grown exponentially as far as sharing information. Places like MisterNathan’s Merge Masters Discord server is a great example of that. You can find people sharing the best materials to use, tools that work best, even sharing small clips on how to do specific things. I feel it's the best time for anyone to get into integrations as ever.”

MrHeathPants: “Generally, it seems to me that integration is sort of a lost art in the hobby. With the rise of printed blasters, molded high performance blasters, and everything in between, there isn't the same need for integration as there was. I think I've contributed my share to that culture change, with blasters like the Pigeon and the Magpie that couldn't exist very easily without printing. I don't know if it's better or worse, but it's definitely changed a lot in the last few years.”

NaptownNerf: “Integrations in the hobby have definitely lessened over the years but it’s always been a niche part of the hobby. They are extremely time-consuming and difficult to pull off well, and definitely not everybody’s cup of tea.”

“What’s the best advice you would give to people who want to try integrations themselves?”

MisterNathan: “Well, I'd have to say the answer is in the question: just "try" it. The "art" (heavy use of air quotes, there), of shell integration is such a uniquely tactile experience, that I don't believe any amount of speculation and research will result in a perfect "first attempt". Start with some cheap thrifted or broken blasters. Get a rough idea of what you want to accomplish, and then just experiment a little with some scrap material to get an idea of how the plastic reacts with the adhesives and such. There are lots of good resources out there now, with people happily willing to help. Watch a couple videos and start cutting. See what happens.”

GrimReaper2458: “Best advice I could ever give, believe in yourself. Yes it's cliché but it's true. It might be scary to cut up blasters especially for your first time. To go by a quote Jangular said, "Mistakes are when you learn. Take what you learned from that mistake and try to improve on it better." There are no classes on it, there is only doing. Make what you want to see and what you want in a blaster. Don't make it for anyone else, make it for you.”

MrHeathPants: “Plan it out, don't rely on hot glue, and don't be limited by what seems feasible or not.”

VileMods: “Easiest to start with what you have. Doesn't matter if it's held together with hot glue and packing tape or has the best adhesives and cleanest cuts made. The only way to get into it is to start somewhere, ask questions, and learn along the way. "Every journey begins with a single step."

NaptownNerf: “Do your research. YouTube is a great way to learn. That’s how I first started, watching other Youtubers that do integrations. That being said, back then there was a lot of bad information out there, but now people have really learned how to properly integrate, chemically bond plastic, etc. One of the reasons why I really try to give as much information as possible in my videos is to help new people learn how to do it correctly. I definitely have some integrations that I wish I would’ve done differently when I first started, but that’s how you learn. I’d also say try to do an integration that’s similar to something that’s been done before so you can kind of get an idea where to make your cuts. Not necessarily a direct copy, but at least it’ll give you a good starting point to have success.”

• • •

Integrations are a staple of what makes the Nerf hobby so unique: Building your own blaster by taking parts and mashing them together to shoot someone else in the face with a foam dart -- what other hobby lets you do that? The mid to late 2010s was an absolute gold mine. I remember in 2014, many of the YouTube videos and Instagram posts were integrations. The first “Nerf hobby” video I saw was an integration, Drac’s Nightfury integration. That video got me hooked onto what the hobby had to offer, and I’m still here almost ten years later. Coop772’s most viewed video on his channel is from 10 years ago, a Rapidstrike with two Swarmfires bolted into the sides. That video has 12 million views, and if you sort his channel by oldest videos, there are tons of integration mod videos that he did, some dating back even more. on Instagram was constantly sharing his own work and the work of others, and though he isn’t active anymore, his account is a great archive of builds.

Integrations are such a massive part of what makes our hobby so special, and Merge Masters shows the absolute best integrations that the community has to offer. Submissions for the competition were due at the end of April, and many completed builds have been posted. I can’t wait to see this year's lineup of integrated blasters, and hope it will inspire many others to keep this part of the hobby alive. - OnlyFoamDarts

Special thanks to all the community members who took the time to answer my questions:
MisterNathan, PricklyNerfMods, GrimReaper2458, VileMods, NaptownNerf, MrHeathPants

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1 comment

Wow!!! I have to try this. What type of putty and glue should I use? I’ve been trying to figure out what type of glue, epoxy, and putty to use for a while, but having a hard time.
Thanks to anyone who has the answers!
—Carter aka Captain Shotgun

Cd Thompson

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