NOSTALGIC GAMES WITH A MODERN TWIST
By: Rachel Yeo and Phyo Cherry
“Mareara Trading Co” may sound like a typical name for a business, but chance upon the physical shop in Blk 163 Bukit Merah Central and one will realise that this business is far from ordinary.
For one, the shop belongs to Mr Seow Cheng Whee, 64, a traditional gamemaker who specialises in woodcraft. An old man young at heart, he has been carving games with his own hands since he was 12, taking inspiration from what he used to play when he was younger. In 1970, he decided to set up “Maerara Trading Co” to sell and rent his handmade games, and this has set to become his lifelong profession.
A physical pinball machine, darts, and a mini basketball set are just some of the examples of these games. Most of them require a certain level of accuracy and dexterity to play well.
“Just by playing these games, it helps to exercise and refresh your mind in the day, yet allows you to sleep well at night,” boasts Mr Seow in mandarin. He also adds that youths nowadays are often hooked with the gadgets advancing technology has to offer, like smartphones and computers, and feels that they should get more in touch in traditional games their grandparents used to love.
Over his lifetime, Mr Seow has conceptualised over 200 games, but has eliminated some of these ideas to 30 game sets to be handcrafted. Each game set takes about two to three months to make.
“I can’t decide which game set is my favourite, they are all like my own babies,” he shares.
Wood crafted games were at their heyday during the 60s and 70s, which were immensely well liked during carnivals. Fast-forward a few decades later, as Singapore progressed in her development, the popularity of these games didn’t. Gradually, the number of gamemakers in Singapore slowly dwindled, eventually leaving Mr Seow the only one left today.
“After I’m gone, there will be nobody to take over me,” the usually cheery Mr Seow acknowledges with a heavy heart.
Fortunately, Mr Seow learnt to be innovative in order to attract younger audiences. For example, he incorporates modern cartoon characters like Hello Kitty on his game sets. With the help of his friends, he has also tapped on social media platforms like Facebook and Blogspot to promote his products and updates to a tech savvy audience. His strategies had paid off to an extent.
“Even if no one were to take over [from Mr Seow], I hope that these games can still be preserved through exhibitions in museums,” says Christopher Chan, 24, one of the younger patrons in his shop.