Shoot-em-up seniors find amusement at arcades

Patrons at Virtualand arcade in nex mall playing the Fish Hunter game, which is popular with senior citizens and housewives. 
(Left) Mr George Gan, 68, with his collection of cards from the Animal Kaiser game.
Patrons at Virtualand arcade in nex mall playing the Fish Hunter game, which is popular with senior citizens and housewives. (Left) Mr George Gan, 68, with his collection of cards from the Animal Kaiser game.ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE, DESMOND LIM

Once the turf of teens, these places are getting popular with older folk

Three times a week, 64-year- old cleaner Jenny Lua tries to catch a golden lobster, causing gold coins to explode over her screen - and looks of jealousy to appear on the faces of the seniors sitting around her.

Amusement arcades full of computer games were once the place to hang out for teenagers skipping school, but now they are attracting a new - and older - generation of thrill-seekers.

"This beats staring at the four walls at home," said Ms Lua in Mandarin. "It's so exciting. We old folk need an interesting way to pass time."

She visits arcades with her husband to play Fish Hunter, spending two to three hours on the game each time. Fifty dollars worth of value on their arcade card can last them one visit and, occasionally, two.

Fish Hunter is currently the favoured game among the Friday evening crowd at the Virtualand arcade in Serangoon's nex mall.

Dozens of senior citizens and housewives crowd around the machines, which are about half the size of billiard tables.

Six can play Fish Hunter at any one time. They use guns to fire bullets at fish, squid and turtles that swim from one corner of the tabletop screen to another.

The prized catch is the golden lobster. Whoops of joy coming from a table suggest one has just been blasted.

Some seniors prefer to sit alone at quieter Fish Hunter machines, though they are no less absorbed.

"You can even exchange your game points for FairPrice and Sheng Siong vouchers," said Ms Lua. "Sometimes, we make new friends while playing the game."

Though many games are available free on gadgets like the iPad, they hold little appeal to the likes of Ms Lua. "These high-tech things are for young people, not for us," she said.

Arcade operators told The Straits Times they are seeing more seniors and families now, compared with a decade ago.

This is the case for Timezone, which has 13 branches in Singapore. It has been including more senior-friendly games and rides, and is planning to expand one of its popular outlets to include more family-friendly games later this year.

Another chain, Virtualand, barely saw a senior in its arcades a decade ago. Now, they make up 20 per cent of the crowd at its eight outlets. Zone X also sees older gamers in its arcades.

"Teenagers have mobile games and video games at home, so arcades have become less popular with them," said Mr Tan Kok Aun, founder of TKA Amusement, which runs the Virtualand chain.

Animal Kaiser is another game popular with mature audiences. Players bang away at the machine's buttons, hoping to kill off virtual opponents and make their animal the "King of Animals".

They scan cards, collected from previous games, which dictate which animal is used and how much power it has. They then use two roulette-like mechanisms to decide how much damage their animal causes.

Retiree George Gan estimates he has spent $10,000 playing the game over the last four years, though the 68-year-old has got at least half of that back by selling the cards that he collects from it.

"For $5,000, at least you can enjoy for four years," he said. "Not like the casino, where it's gone in four hours."

Last week, an Animal Kaiser tournament took place at the OmOcha!! World arcade in Plaza Singapura. Won by an 11-year- old, its 48 competitors were aged between three and 74 - the oldest being Madam Chua Hong Kiow, who took part with her two grandchildren, aged 10 and 12.

"At least I get to do something else besides watching television," she said. "I exercise my hands when I hit the buttons and it's good for family bonding."

Animal Kaiser player and tournament organiser Cheong Kian Pin, 57, said: "Everybody likes to win - even the seniors."

Seeing the older generation at arcades is not putting off younger visitors, however.

Seventeen-year-old Shirley Tan visits to play Dance Dance Revolution, in which players move their feet to the beat on a platform.

"It's a place where you hang out before a movie or dinner," she said. "Plus, it's awesome when people watch you play."

kashc@sph.com.sg