From Kampung to Void deck to iPad: How the games we played have changed

Toys and games have always been an integral part of growing up. More than just fun, it also allowed us to mingle with other kids from different backgrounds, gave us something to laugh or cry about, and helped hone both motoring and mental skills altogether.

In Singapore, the evolution of children’s play can perhaps be seen as evolving from the Kampung to the Void Deck to the iPad, with each generation playing games that were centered around the living spaces and technology available to them.


My dad as with most Singaporeans his age, spent the better part of his childhood in the kampung, where open spaces and contact with nature were the things their games revolved around. A traditional kampong boy, he tells me tales of catching dragonflies on the end of glue-coated sticks, the assumingly exciting sport of marbles (which I never really understood) and even spider-fighting with the rival kampong boy across the unpaved street.


I would think that my dad’s neighbourhood in kang kar would look similar to this.

Kite flying, fishing, capteh, badminton and simple catching games adopted by many a team-building/orientation group till this day were also a mainstay back before the massive urbanisation of Singapore.


Capteh, five stones and other kampung originated games

Void Deck

Unless you had really strict parents or stayed in a landed property, most people my age would have grown up in the marvel that is a HDB flat, where the void deck replaced the kampung as the official meeting point to play physically exhausting games like block catching, Pepsi-Cola 123 or even tok kah (one leg catching). These games often bonded many a neighbour together, and became the first source of a healthy kids debate with the usual ‘ you play cheat ‘ accusation heard ever so often.


Void decks, the unofficial HQ for neighbourhood kids.

Board games, yo-yo’s, blanket castle building and re-enacting the moves of wrestlers like Hulk Hogan (that often resulted in a caning from my dad), were just some of the other few games my friends and I played that were totally free from the grasp of technology.

Yet the void deck generation also faced a massive problem in the minds of our parents, that of the rise of the Personal Computer.As if the Gameboy, tamagotchi and digimon weren’t bad enough, the PC also introduced us to games like Wolfstein 3-D and DOOM, games that incited gore and violence and for once, became a game that our parents probably weren’t too familiar with.


A,A,B,B,A,B,A-C,A-B,B-C,ABC. cheat code for digimon


Wolfstein 3-D became available on Windows 3.1

As many of us grew older, the advancement of the PC, internet and accompanying games like Counterstrike & Starcraft definitely saw us spending more time in LAN cafes, often resulting in us lying to parents about our whereabouts after school as well.

But as I discussed this issue with my friends, many of us came to a consensus that ultimately we did not totally spend our time on the computer and still found solace in outdoor activities on a regular basis even up till today. We even find it heartening that for at least the first 10 years of our childhood, many of us were practically free from technology and had the chance to participate in neighbourhood games that are almost non-existent today.

In other words we are a generation caught in between games of the kampung and the apps on the iPad.


An article that I read recently ‘ Use iPad as a shut-up toy? Bad idea  describes how the iPad, although only introduced in 2010, has become a choice gift for toddlers and kids by their parents who marvel at the ability of the device to keep their kids entertained for hours. Also unlike the PC which require knowledge of numbers, the alphabet and certain cognitive skills, the iPad only requires a mere swipe or touch, something a toddler is more than capable of as shown below.

For me this lazy parenting is a worrying phenomena that I’ve come to notice not only on my commutes on public transport, but through my own experiences with my own nieces and nephews during family gatherings.

Researchers have so far stated that current research is not conclusive enough to determine if the iPad is indeed completely detrimentally to the development of the child, as many parents argue that certain apps like spelling, mathematics and even finger painting do provide avenues for education and development in their kids.

Yet previous experiments into televisions and PC’s have indicated how continued exposure to a screen results in not only a shortened attention span as the kid grows, but also an unhealthy attachment to technology that often results in tantrums thrown when that said technology is taken away from them.


Baby and overly attached iPad

Other defences against the iPad include the fact that at a toddler age, kids learn by doing things physically and not watching it unravel on a screen.

Researchers also note the importance of for example using real finger paint instead of doing it on an app, as the toddler will understand the actual feel of paint, the consequence of getting their hair dirty and even the response from the parent be in a hearty laugh or slightly dismayed anger.

I don’t think my assumption about lazy parenting is entirely false, and as mentioned earlier, the fact that the iPad is a relatively new device leaves many questions of its effects unanswered, as it’s not just the kids but we ourselves who are becoming increasingly obsessed with it.

I guess if the kid grew up like my generation, with a balance of both physical play and time with technology it would not be too bad after all, but I can’t help but feel that this will not be a case with the increasing digital evolution and the parents own obsession with technology.

All I can say is that when I become my parent myself, I will do my best to ensure that lazy parenting with an iPad doesn’t become a reality.


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