Remembering Sim Lim Square

I threw away two bulging bags full of games on Sunday. Down the chute went PC classics such as System Shock 2, Baldur’s Gate, and FreeSpace 2. These were seminal titles that were still in pristine condition, with each game disc nestled in individual jewel cases.

Except that none of them were the original versions. They were all pirated copies from more than a decade ago when I had more time than money.

I had bought these games at Sim Lim Square. The electronics and IT mall is back in the spotlight again recently for all the wrong reasons. But as far as I can remember, it always had an unsavoury reputation.

The shops that I bought my pirated wares often had no signage. There was no decor to speak of, just bare concrete walls and floors. But that was fine with me, because these shops had racks of pirated computer games.

I never knew if they would still be in business the next time I visited. Police crackdowns meant that the disreputable crew that operated these shops was an ever-changing one. The only constant was their Hokkien vulgarities and coloured hair.

In the end, the Internet and BitTorrent killed the pirated game shop.

As the 3D graphics in PC games improved each year, I had to upgrade my computer to run them properly. Again, Sim Lim Square was the answer. There were plenty of shops selling PC components. I couldn’t miss them, not when their sales staff was shoving product flyers in my face before and after every escalator landing.

A typical trip to Sim Lim Square: I would make a beeline for the fourth and fifth floors and collect flyers listing the prices for PC parts. Then head down to the basement food court for a quick bite while comparing the prices.

With my limited budget, I could only afford a PC upgrade every few months, so every cent mattered. I quickly discovered the shops that offered the best prices. It was more important to save a buck then, so I held my anger in check even when the customer service was bad or non-existent.

When I wasn’t shopping for my next upgrade, I would visit the online forum at local website HardwareZone for tips on improving the performance of my PC. Now and then, fellow forumers would vent their anger at Sim Lim Square retailers for poor service or inflated prices. Sometimes, the shop owner would retaliate, like in 2000, where a retailer went to the extent of threatening disgruntled customers with defamatory lawsuits over their postings on HardwareZone’s forum.

It has been more than four years since I last bought a new PC. I have made the occasional PC upgrade, but one of my more recent purchases was a solid-state drive from Amazon that cost less than any local retailer and was delivered free to my home.

Over a year ago, I did make a trip down to Sim Lim Square to buy a new graphics card. Even though I knew that many PC retailers have been replaced by shops that sell mobile devices and laptops, I was still unprepared at how quiet the mall was even on a weekend.

I had done my homework - the price lists for PC parts can be downloaded from the retailers’ websites. It was a quick and painless trip. With just a few customers, the salesperson I encountered was attentive and prompt.

Everything at Sim Lim Square looked cleaner and brighter than I remembered. But the buzz is gone.