Monday, June 8, 2009

The challenging games of our childhood

THE other day, my friend's 10-year-old son showed me his collection of PSP, Xbox and Wii games. He asked if I wanted to join him in one of the games. I declined. I said the last time I played Street Fighter was more than two decades ago.

"How did you guys manage to pass your days?" he asked. "Must be very boring back then."

On the contrary, I told him. In fact, life was pretty exciting and there were never enough daylight hours to enjoy ourselves when we were not working part-time to supplement the family income.

Weekends and school holidays would see us scattered all over the countryside with bamboo poles fishing for sepat (gouramy) and puyu (Malaysian perch) in the irrigation canals and abandoned mining pools. When there were no fish, we hunted for waterfowls, magpies or spotted doves.

When the sun was too hot, we sought the cool solace of streams, rivers and disused mining pools. One of us would be on the lookout for nosey adults who might report our misdeeds to our parents.

Lunch comprised free helpings of wild jambu batu (wild version of today's guava) or pisang asam, a sour variety of banana that could be found in abundance. If we were lucky, the richer among us would treat us to popsicles or ice balls oozing with red syrup.

What we lacked back then, we improvised. No PSP or Wii, but our RPGs (role-playing games) were much more realistic. "War craft" was more interesting because we played with real people. And if you want to get drafted, you had to have a "gun", which, in its simplest form, was a wooden contraption that allowed you to shoot unripe cherries at your enemies.

Battles were fought around the village, in the vegetable farms and padi fields until a team triumphed or until everyone lost interest and sought a new game.

When there was no company, we would hunt for the kareng (local fighting fish) in the padi fields and canals armed with a rattan sieve "borrowed" from construction sites. We also scoured pandan groves or jackfruit trees for spiders.

And once the bounties were collected, we would seek out friends with similar pets and challenge theirs to duels. Although there were no prizes up for grabs, owning and training the best fighting fish or spider was every boy's dream back then.

At night, armed with torchlights "borrowed" from our parents, we would go frog hunting in the vegetable farms and irrigation canals. We would sweep the beams into the darkness and zoom in on our targets when the reflection from the frogs' eyes gave away their position.

Of course, the fun came with risks, too. One night, I thought I had found an easy target when a fat frog did not budge even when I trained my torchlight's beam on it.

Instinctively, I swept the beam further and another pair of eyes greeted me -- that of a snake, in striking position and barely a metre away from the frog. I dread to think of what would have happened if I had reached for that frog.

For parents living in the city today, it would be unthinkable to allow their children to take part in such activities. Playing video and computer games in the safe confines of the house is less risky.

It allows you or your maid to keep an eye on your child.

But I wonder if these modern games are any less dangerous or healthier in the long run.

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