Greying, lonely and addicted to arcades

SINGAPORE - Call it the cheaper alternative to a casino. The arcade, most commonly thought of as a teenage hangout, now crawls with elderly addicts.

Take a regular who looks like the average grandmother, but with a touch more make-up and a sharp dress sense.

But not for her those high-tea receptions or spending time with grandchildren.

She is usually at Virtualand, a sprawling arcade at the basement of Bugis Junction shopping centre.

The woman in her 60s did not want to be named, but she told My Paper that she was addicted to a fishing game that can be found at most arcades here.

Points are accumulated by "catching" fish.

"It's like gambling. I want to chase the win, feel the thrill of winning the points," she said.

Before this, she was a gambling addict. She used to go on cruise ships to gamble.

But each time she touched a jackpot machine, it cost her $1,500 an hour. Here, each hour costs her just $5 to $10.

The arcade addiction, however, is kept a secret from her family.

Her two grown-up sons do not know where she is when she is "out with her friends".

In fact, she plays the game all alone, and has never made a friend in the three years that she has been playing the game.

"I didn't tell them because if they knew, they would stop giving me money," she told My Paper.

She spends about $50 each time she goes to the arcade, making it a total of about $200 a week.

She even switched arcades from the one at Jurong Point shopping centre to the one at Bugis Junction because she said it is "easier to catch fish" at the latter.

Virtualand cashier Shirley Lim said that she sees more elderly people in the arcade now, with some of them at the arcade even before it opens at 10am.

"Sometimes they will come, play, have their lunch, and come back again," she told My Paper.

She said that they frequent the mahjong and football machines at the arcade.

Some of them are there from the time it opens till closing time at midnight.

One of them is a woman in her 40s who works at a dispensary. She did not want to be named.

On the days she is off, she spends the whole day playing the fishing game. Her reason? To de-stress.

A doctor who specialises in geriatric psychiatry, Seng Kok Han, said that a lot of the times elderly players could get addicted out of loneliness.

"It's a bit like gambling because there are rewards," he told My Paper.

There is a sense of excitement and achievement, he said.

But he added that it is important for the elderly to engage in meaningful activities.

Being addicted to arcade games may be unhealthy because they are sitting down the whole day, he said.

Addictions specialist Munidasa Winslow said that anything that gives a thrill and distracts the elderly is good as they get older.

Get MyPaper for more stories.