OF TOPS, MARBLES AND ZERO-POINTS

Traditional games form a highly significant part of the diverse multicultural heritage of singapore. Not only do they showcase the creativity and initiative of our forefathers in making use of inexpensive resources to create original and innovative games, they also serve to document some of the unique ways in which leisure and play were enjoyed in a bygone era. sadly, the advent of modernity has deprived us of major aspects of this socio-cultural heritage. 1Myriad infrastructural and lifestyle changes have been brought about by socio-economic and physical changes in singapore. As such, kampongs, or villages with neighbours living in close proximity, have had to make way for public housing estates. in addition, with the transformation of the physical landscape, some traditional games gradually disappeared, the inevitable 2casualties of this push towards modernisation.


One of the traditional games worthy of mention is the game of ‘gasing’ or wooden top. this game has its origins as a Malay cultural game, with the object of the game being for the player to use a string to spin his top for as long as he possibly can. Eventually, the last player standing would be the one with the last top left spinning, and he would win the game. However, nowadays, the modern equivalent found in some toy shops are made of plastic or other materials, such that the feel of spinning a top is not quite the same. unsurprisingly in the spanking new, modern housing estates of 21st century singapore, children are seldom spotted playing with spinning tops in the recreational areas beneath blocks of flats, commonly known as void decks.


Another much-enjoyed traditional game is ‘goli’, a game using marbles. Facing off against one another in playgrounds and open sandy spaces in the competitive game of marbles was what children once engaged in, particularly boys. Amidst this once-popular 3spirited backdrop, boys would hone their skills and finesse to challenge one another. the aim of the game is to knock the opponents’ marbles out of a circle drawn on the ground. such a game requires precision of aim, dexterity of wrist and hand, and the resilience to withstand the tensions that would run high in each game. it thus remains to be seen whether the universal qualities of goli would result one day in a 4resurgence of the great goli playoffs of the past.


Besides the joy, it is undeniable that traditional games could have fostered some desirable or even undesirable qualities among children. one of the possible negative effects is that of an unhealthy competitive appetite, as the aim of most games is to defeat the other in order to be crowned the winner. traditional games have even been cited by critics as being precursors or stepping stones to adult games involving gambling, such as pool and betting on outcomes of sports matches, which use the same kinds of dynamics. While this may be the case, the fact remains that these games have also inculcated positive values such as teamwork and 5rooting for one’s friends to do well. For example, in the traditional game of ‘zero-point’, teams were formed to jump across a ‘zero-point’ ‘rope’ 6fashioned from elastic or rubber bands. team members had to work in tandem, while supporting one another with cheers and words of encouragement, and there would even be some strategising taking place as well. due to the bonding nature of this game, many adults in singapore still recall playing this game with great fondness, and cite this as one of the unforgettable memories of their childhood.

Unfortunately, although the traditional games of the past may evoke a keen sense of nostalgia in older singaporeans, they do not hold the same allure for today’s youngsters. these games may have marked a rite of passage in the lives of the young people of yesteryear; for this present older generation who had grown up surrounded by those games, their disappearance would be akin to marking the passing of an era. However, the young of today with the requisite computer games that they play with 7religiously, not to mention handheld portable electronic devices, would scarcely be interested in these well-loved games from their parents’ and grandparents’ childhood. Playing ‘five stones’ from the good old kampong days by tossing into the air little pyramidal bean bags that would fit a six-year-old boy’s clenched fist? the games console would do just as well for the fine-tuning of motor skills and hand-eye coordination! Keeping a feathered shuttlecock airborne using just the heel of your foot, to hone your sense of rhythm, focus and balance? Well, who needs ‘capteh’ when there are arcades with para-para dancing stations to help you hone those very skills?

All things considered, traditional games have left their 8indelible stamp in the 9annals of history, and will continue to abide in the memories of many an adult in singapore when they should chance to reminisce about the good old days. Even though they may have had to make way for the new games that are played by this era’s young generation, there is one 10salient thread that binds the games played by young people, whether from the past or in the present. That would be the fact that childhood games play a significant role in creating happy memories and bringing youngsters out of the uncertainties of childhood, to eventually become young men and women of character and stature. that alone justifies their existence even if they may in time disappear into the mists of history.

[ Word Bank ]
1. myriad: a vast number

2. casualties : those which are eliminated due to an action

3. spirited: full of animation or liveliness

4. resurgence: restoration or renewal

5. rooting: lending support to someone or something

6. fashioned: given shape or form

7. religiously: strictly

8. indelible: permanent

9. annals: recorded events of years

10. salient: prominent

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Article extracted from iThink Issue 2 (pages 18-19)
Written by: Mr Kelvin Yap from www.gptuitionmaestro.com

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