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It was two weeks before my first-year law exams and I should have been aiming for As. But instead of trying to figure out the intricacies around the laws of tort, I was gunning for world domination. I had discovered the wonders of PC games that year and was hooked on a strategy game called ‘Nobunaga’s Ambition’ where I played a Japanese warlord bent on uniting and conquering all of Japan.
In the end, I was saved by a female classmate who ripped the floppy disks apart, and I miraculously scrapped through my exams with Cs and Ds. That was more than 25 years ago. I eventually graduated with a second class lower honours degree in law from the National University of Singapore. I spent my 20s as a litigation lawyer and lecturing law at a local polytechnic.
But I never stopped playing video games.
I couldn’t afford a computer during my undergraduate days and had to rely on the PCs in the law library for my gaming fix. The default configuration file in the law library’s MS-DOS disk worked fine for word processing but it did not have enough “free memory” for me to play most of my favourite video games. So I read computing books and taught myself to manually modify the MS-DOS files to free up more memory. I was an average student but won the respect of my peers who needed more MS-DOS memory to play their video games.
Shortly after graduation, I started building my own PCs which sparked off another ongoing love affair with all things tech. It was my love for video games and computers that eventually led me to seek a second career out of law. At the age of 31, I joined The Straits Times as a tech reporter and eventually became its tech editor before leaving in 2015 to start my own public relations agency.
Life takes you through strange hoops and I never imagined my love for video games would help me forge a career around it. I have been lucky. I covered the first World Cyber Games competition in Singapore and the early years of e-sports when Counter-Strike ruled the cyber cafes, broke the news that the government banned Mass Effect over a short video sex scene between a female human and female alien (only to unban it a week later after serious protests from gamers here), and played a pivotal role in creating Singapore’s first Made-In-Singapore Games awards.
When I finally visited the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) video games festival in Los Angeles in 2008, I thought perhaps that I had ended up in paradise. My passion became my work as I thronged the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Centre to test the hottest upcoming video games for the year. E3 became my annual pilgrimage. I returned almost every year. I was there when Microsoft launched the Kinect, when Nintendo stopped holding its main press conference, and I watched how Sony stole the thunder from arch-rival Microsoft with the launch of the PlayStation 4.
I turned 47 last year and am now blessed with three lovely daughters, aged 14, 11 and five. I can only manage a measly hour or so of game time every night these days but now face a new constant dilemma – should I let my kids play video games?
I know, only too well, how addictive video games can be. I worry constantly about my middle child, who isn’t doing too well academically yet spends too many hours peering into a tiny screen. My youngest dreams of becoming a Pokémon trainer, fuelled by many hours of catching the virtual monsters in Pokémon Go.
To rob them of the joys of video games is cruel. It is akin to depriving them of sweets or their favourite TV show. It can also affect them socially. A friend called me up a few years ago. She sounded distressed and asked me if I could tell her more about video games. The problem: her son was being ostracised by other boys on the school bus because he had no idea what video games were. When I was a teenager, gamers were seen as weirdos. Today, teenage boys who play games like Dota 2 and Overwatch are normal. Not playing is the exception, not the norm.
In the end, it is also about discipline. What’s important is that we need to teach our children to prioritise. There must be a time for play, and a time for serious work. I let my kids play, but punish them when they go overboard and neglect their schoolwork and other duties. Video games can be addictive, but so can movies, TV, Barbie dolls and fan fiction.
Pokémon is all the rage now in the Oo family. I see my second child becoming more motivated to study now, partially driven by my promise of a new Nintendo 3DS XL handheld console together with the upcoming Pokémon Sun and Moon game if she manages to improve her Science grade from C to A.
My youngest, Sarah, loves drawing and has been devoting her energies to sketching the Pokémon characters Pichu and Squirtle. She lags in her speech development, but her animated descriptions of Pokémon battles have been helping her to pronounce multisyllable words like Frenzy Claws Attack and Charizard accurately.
My eldest girl likes video games, but loves drawing even more. She can spend an entire day drawing, single-mindedly focused on making her art better with each stroke. She has proven to us, time and time again, that she is disciplined enough to know when to put the gamepad and Copic markers away.
As she said to me: “You need to know how to prioritise your time. If you can’t control yourself, it doesn’t really matter if it’s video games or something else.”
Oo Gin Lee is the founder of Gloo PR. He is a father of three girls aged 14, 11 and five.