Trouble brewing in cyber gaming cafés?

LAN (local area network) shops are a common sight in Singapore, and a frequent hangout for many of the nation’s youths. These stores, usually small, dimly lit and noisy, can be found anywhere from a void deck in the heartlands to even the tourist dominated streets of Orchard Road.

While LAN shops have undoubtedly seen numerous arguments break out within them, and in extreme cases a pushing incident or two, there has been nothing threatening enough to the safety of its patrons to catch the eye of the media.

However, in Sep 2011, safety at LAN shops was in fact the hot topic on everyone’s tongues after the body of a 13-year-old was found at a back alley in Geylang. The teen, a Chinese national who studied at St. Patrick’s School, had been allegedly beaten to death by two older boys after a dispute broke out between both parties at the nearby 24-hour LAN shop.

Prior to the incident, the victim had run away from home and had been missing for three weeks before his body was found. Needless to say, the grisly fate of the teen had an impact on the nation, and the safety of these shops began to be questioned.

I, for one, saw these LAN shops as a tantalising reward to look forward to after a long day at school. The minute we were dismissed from the last lesson of the day, my clique of friends and I were on our way to the nearest LAN shop in Toa Payoh. We would then spend the rest of the afternoon playing match after match of our favourite multiplayer games.

Being from a single-sex male secondary school, these trips to the LAN shops served more than just as means to de-stress – they also provided us the chance to bond over the games we had common interest in.

While I did not encounter any problems with the other patrons of that particular LAN shop I frequented, it was probably due to the fact that it was located within a community centre.

Young children are often seen left at LAN shops while their parents go shopping.
Photo: S Shiva

As mentioned before, LAN shops can be found almost anywhere, and more often than not, they are located in quieter, more secluded areas thanks to the lower rents these places demand. Many are also running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and attract a whole different crowd after hours.

The hard-to-find location locations of LAN shops, coupled with the fact that they never close, make them the perfect place for shelter and privacy for teenagers who are avoiding home.

Mdm Leslie Loh , 57, a homemaker living in Aljunied, said: “There was once when my boy ran away from home because he was upset with his dad after the two of them had an argument over his bad results. I was worried and called up a few of his close friends, and they suggested looking at one of the LAN shops they frequented, and true enough, there he was.”

To make matters worse, many of these LAN shops are shielded from public eye by giant banners that are stuck onto the glass walls at the entrance, or by strategically built corridors that prevent majority of the inside from being seen simply by glancing in from the entrance.

Many LAN shops often obstruct the view of the interior by using large stickers to cover the entrances.
Photo: S Shiva

While LAN shops may seem child friendly in the day, the scene fast changes during the night. LAN shops, being open for 24 hours a day, are the perfect go-to place for youths after a night of partying or drinking. Not only are the interiors comfortable, admission is also cheap, with prices as long as a dollar an hour. These conditions are perfect for partygoers looking to sober up before returning home.

That on its own is not wrong in any way, but the trouble is when inebriated youths turn violent on other patrons. “We have seen several cases when small fights have broken out outside the shop, and they always happen past midnight,” said Marcus Neo, 24, an employee at IRC, a LAN shop located in the basement of Paradiz Centre.

Majority of LAN shop staff know that they cannot completely control the behaviours of their customers, but many shops set up a series of rules and regulations that patrons must abide by.

Chng Hong Xuan, 21, an employee at Gaming Giants, a popular LAN shop in Katong Mall, said: “We require customers to follow our rules, or they will be banned from entering the shop. Rules include avoiding the usage of vulgarities, and to avoid shouting. They are not much, but they do help prevent any trouble from breaking out.”

Numerous used cigarette butts seen outside a LAN shop after the late night crowd had left.
Photo: S Shiva

An increasing number of LAN shops are also taking precautions to make the activity safe for teens again. Most, if not all LAN shops in Singapore do not allow school uniforms, and those below 16 years old are disallowed during school hours on weekdays to prevent students from playing truant.

However, these precautions do not get rid of the fact that a teenager recently got killed due to an incident in a LAN shop, and this has definitely taken a toll on many of these businesses.

“I appreciate these shops putting in the effort to ensure safety, but there is no guarantee that nothing bad will happen. As a mother of a single child, the only question on my mind would be ‘Is it really necessary to play at a shop when you can do the same at home?’,” said Mdm Loh.

There may be more LAN shops in Singapore right now than there were several years back, but the insides of these shops are less populated. With the rising concern for safety, will these establishments soon become things of the past?

“I hope LAN shops are still around when I have kids,” joked Marcus. “I grew up spending hours in them, and I’m still in them right now. The friends I’ve made during those days are still my friends now. It’s like how soccer bonds people; for me it’s gaming sessions with my buddies in the LAN shop.”

The unassuming LAN shops of Singapore – are they really trouble waiting to happen, or a platform for teens to interact with one another?

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About S Shiva

I'm a final year student in Temasek Polytechnic's Diploma in Communications and Media Management. I also work freelance as a video game reviewer for Singapore's TODAY newspaper. I have been gaming for over a decade, and own quite a few video games that I keep in a special shelf. Aside from gaming, I love writing, playing the guitar and aimlessly surfing the Internet.

Posted on February 9, 2012, in News. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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