Nowadays, most of the school children I encounter are talking about the latest app, the latest game, and the latest tips and cheats to level up their characters. Maybe it’s because of the generation I came from, but it’s kinda sad to see kids spending so much time tapping on gadgets that are bigger than their faces instead of creating adventures and exploring their imaginations with physical toys like Lego, train sets, and pull-back cars (yes kids, they actually exist). I’m not a fan of virtual contact, because it just doesn’t connect with me you know? How can you expect to create the same kind of fun and experience derived from something that’s 3D, something that has texture, color, character, and personality, on a device where all the fun and action happens on a shiny, state-of-the-art 10″ screen that is flatter than an ironing board.
In this 3-part series (or maybe more), I aim to recall the things that were really ‘over’ and dominated my wonderful primary school days (2004-2009), recall my stories and experiences with them, encourage the next generation of kids (as well as parents) to not lose touch with their childhood and that there’s life after the iPad, and hopefully spread some nostalgia and get you guys thinking about your primary school days, where getting enough sleep was undesired and nothing else really mattered in the world except
pulling the ponytail of the cute girl sitting in front of you having fun.
So sit back, join me on a trip down memory lane (urgh this is so cliche, can someone suggest an alternative), and maybe go back to your roots and play around with your old toys instead of picking up your phone or tablet out of boredom in the future, because nothing can fill you up with the joy and sweet innocence of childhood than going back to spend some time with the stuff that defined our early school days.
1. Table Tennis
I’ll kick off this list with something that is not really considered a toy, but it was all the rage in 2008, which was the year Singapore won their first medal in the Olympics since the 1960s. I’m not sure if I was especially good at this sport; my ego tells me I’m the best there is, the best there was, and the best there’ll ever be, but I’ve always been better with my legs than hands. My friends and I would bring table tennis rackets and hold mini-tournaments every break, and to give you an idea of how crazy-popular this trend was, the school gave everyone a racket during Children’s Day that year. Yes, every single person in our school. There were 6 levels, 10 classes in each, and 40 students in every class. Go figure.
Holy shit, as unbelievable as it sounds, a Twilight book was the essential keycard for being cool back in the day. It doesn’t matter if more than three quarters of the cohort have absolutely no idea what the book was talking about. Almost everyone would just buy one and carry it around during recess and morning assembly like it was cool, which it was. I didn’t understand what the trend was at first, but I became a twi-hard for life after finishing the book. I remembered waking up at 6am on one gloomy Saturday morning just to finish Eclipse in a day. Yea, people do laugh at me sometimes, but what’s there not to like about Twilight? Robert Pattinson is #MCM material (#TeamEdward), Kristen Stewart and Ashley Greene are absolutely beautiful, the story is amazing, the cinematography in the movies is breathtaking, and the ending of Breaking Dawn 2 gave me withdrawal symptoms.
Or maybe it’s just me.
If you picked up a Tamagotchi now, you’ll be surprised at how little it took for us to be happy when we were younger. Way younger. Even though these micro-sized gadgets, which were considered revolutionary in the 90s and 2000s, were severely lacking in resolution, screen size, and color, there was something about the Tamagotchis that made it so special, so personal, during our time playing with our virtual pets.
My primary school wasn’t particularly strict about bringing electronics to school. Tamagotchis were neither considered a ‘true’ electronic product like Gameboys and PSPs, nor was it considered a ‘toy toy’, like barbie dolls and power rangers figurines, hence there wasn’t much done to prevent Tamagotchis from being brought to school.
At first, only a few girls brought and played with them on campus. But the ironic thing was that, it actually turned out to be a bigger hit with the guys after a period of time. I was pretty hesitant on asking my Dad for one since it was stereotypically associated as a girls’ toy, but as more and more guys jumped on the bandwagon, I finally mustered up the courage to ask him for one.
The version that I got, the Tamagotchi Connection version 5, had multiplayer features, which was like, the bomb, at that time. Again, it was like a popularity magnet. Everyone flocked to me whenever I played with it in school. On Saturdays, one of my classmates would bring his Tamagotchi and we would link both devices together after Weiqi classes, never failing to draw a sizeable crowd that never fails to stare in awe.
Bakugans are spherical, spring-loaded miniature figures that pop open when rolled onto metal gate cards, or any other magnetic surface for that matter. The toy and game is obviously modelled and based after the wildly popular Bakugan Battle Brawlers anime series. I remembered everybody being so addicted to the series when it first came out, and I remembered maxing out my mobile data usage just to binge watch the first three seasons multiple times till the wee hours of the morning. My first Bakugan was a gift from my friend, and my second was compensation from another friend, who lost my tennis ball in the bushes (looking back, it was quite some compensation). It took awhile for my dad to say yes, but I managed to convince him to get me a genuine starter set (there were six). After awhile, I ended up with a pretty complete collection as my sister fell in love with it and my dad was quite impressed at what these little guys could do. I thought I was Dan, the main protagonist of the show, and carried a Bakugan around everywhere I go, along with several gate cards. To think of it, I actually treated my Bakugans like how Mr Bean treated his Teddy Bear.
Unfortunately, the trend didn’t last long, partly due to the steep prices of the toys, and the loss of momentum due to the show broadcasting once-a-week instead of a tighter schedule. The series itself is wonderfully scripted and I enjoyed every minute of it, but every season of the show had a sizeable amount of episodes, and it soon became more of a chore than effortless entertainment. Not many people picked up the game as well, and each round was very time-consuming and more technical than traditional card games. It was a great time for me and my friends back then, trying to imitate the characters’ over-exaggerated actions, and at least getting to partially live the glamorous fantasy that Dan Kuso and his lucky friends got to experience.
If you’re interested, feel free to browse through the pictures and captions in the mini-gallery below.
5. Adventure Quest/Runescape/Club Penguin
Yea I know. These three games are technically not toys, but in those day and age where the Internet had only started to evolve into a hub for gaming, Adventure Quest, Runescape, and Club Penguin were probably the first ever games we’ve touched online before the advent of Facebook, Pet Society and Restaurant City. Till today, these three games managed to stand the test of time and remain relatively successful throughout the years; Adventure Quest is still well-loved, Runescape claims to be the world’s largest free-to-play MMORPG, and Club Penguin has been bought over by Disney. I fondly recall rushing home from tuition every Wednesday night and logging in to play in mines and throw snowballs at each other with my friends on a computer running Windows 2000, plugged into a tiny, problematic modem.
Yes, MapleStory, while still pretty much an online game, deserves a section on its own because its magnitude and influence reached unimaginable levels during my primary school days, and it was one of the very rare trends that didn’t die down throughout the six years I was there. It was the “Kim Kardashian butt” of the mid 2000s. That’s how big it was. I mean for MapleStory.
7. Match Attax
Even though everyone can vouch that the Pokemon animated series played an integral role in their lives when growing up, it still puzzles me up till today as to why the card game version didn’t pick up in Singapore. Instead, other trading card games managed to gain traction even till recent times, like the recent I-don’t-understand-why-it’s-popular CardFight Vanguard, and for many many years, Match Attax, a soccer trading card game that basically pits the attributes, namely, the offense, and the defense ratings, of 11 players against 11 players. A player will select a player (i.e. card) to attack, while the other chooses another player to defend, and whoever has the higher rating (attack vs defense) wins.
It’s based off a very simple concept, and perhaps the mass draw and appeal of Premier League stars, but it was the collecting process that made me hooked. Even my dad got onto the fun with me, constantly buying packs and even a collector tin. I actually went to took part in the Match Attax tournament during the 2009/10 season, but I missed out on reading parts of the official tournament rules, which resulted in a hasty struggle to dissect my dream team (oh trust me, it was an absolute dream team alright) and reassemble them back with eligible players.
I got defeated in the very first round, and I’ve never touched them ever since.
8. Pokemon Kraks
Pokemon Kraks are plastic disks about the length of two dollar-coins with Pokemon stickers over them. The official way to play it would be to use a striker, which is basically a piece of plastic shaped into various shapes to provide different ‘launching abilities’, much like different golf clubs and their different strengths and uses, aim it, and launch the Kraks into a goal, which is divided into three sections of varying diameters for different amount of points. However, people usually play it like a cue sport. We would gather at two tables during recess and use them to try and knock our opponents’ Kraks of the table. Tag-team matches, death matches, solo 6-on-6s etc. etc. were aplenty.
It might seem childish, but trust me, this actually took skill. The Kraks came equipped with three ‘fins’, and much like cue sports, where you position your striker, where you strike from, and where you strike requires careful planning and measurement. We would also have situations whereby the Kraks fall into one of the deepest drains in the school, conveniently located a few meters away from our tables, and everyone will hustle, lift the drain covers, and one brave soul would volunteer to go down (it was really deep given how short we were previously) and save the Kraks. It also involved collecting all 120 of them, and you can imagine how much money and effort people had to blow to get the complete collection. We traded at times as well, and the legendary creatures (i.e. Groudon, Kyogre, Rayquaza etc.) were treated with extra value and labelled as rare, even though I’m pretty confident the Kraks were produced in almost-equal quantities.
For nostalgic purposes and comparison, it was a li’ll like marbles, except it’s way more diverse, way more expensive (it was a dollar-fifty for three), takes way more skill, and definitely way more fun.
What was something that was really ‘over’ back in your Primary School days? Different cultures bring about different trends, so share your stories with me in the comments section below!
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