Board games fight back against tablet babysitters

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 23 2017 10:50 AM

A child tries on one of the displays at Toys 'R' Us Philippines' flagship store. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Banished to the dustbins in most homes, board games are the main attraction in one suburban cafe, gathering like-minded parents who want to interact with their children rather than rely on tablets and smartphones as babysitters.

Sunday is family day at The Habbit, where businessman Jerome Tan offers Monopoly, UNO cards and Marvel's Secret Wars with bacon cheeseburgers and flavored french fries on the side.

"Ayaw namin ng tipong consoles lang. Napansin namin pag consoles lang kanya-kanya kami," said the father of 2, who started the cafe in May last year after collecting board games for a decade.

(We don't want just consoles. We notice that if we use consoles, we end up ignoring each other.)

"We try as much as possible to interact with our children... and board games is a bonding, a common ground," he told ABS-CBN News.

The Habbit cafe owner Jerome Tan plays a board game with his daughter Jean-Rose.

SALES SPIKE

Toys 'R' Us Philippines is offering more board games and activity games to its inventory due to a surprise growth in demand, said general manager Celine Chua.

Classics have evolved, including Monopoly, which now offers Super Mario and Star Wars editions, and Snakes and Ladders, which is now in 3D.

A recent best-seller, Chua said, is Pie Face, where players need to push a button fast enough to move a mechanical hand and slap his or her opponent with whipped cream.

"I guess some parents want to cut the time that their kids are on the computer. They find activities that they can do together," Chua said.

Toys 'R' Us general manager Celine Chua speaks to ABS-CBN News at the company's flagship store. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Board games are also luring customers with lower price points. "Grab and Go" versions offer the same experience in handier packages that can be packed for road trips.

A "Grab and Go" Cluedo, the classic detective game, uses smaller tokens and murder weapons for players to guess who among Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum or Colonel Mustard killed the mansion owner.

HEALTH HAZARDS

Regulators around the world have sought to lessen children's use of electronic screens, citing potential health risks.

In France, parents are urged not to allow children under 3 to watch TV, and American pediatricians also favor a total ban on screen time until at least 18 months, according to an AFP report.

"People are realizing that screens can cause addiction even among very small children, and in extreme cases autistic problems, what is called virtual autism," Carole Bienaime-Besse, who sits on France's TV regulator, said in the AFP report.

One of the top smartphone games, Mobile Legends has had 50 million downloads in the Google Play Store alone. Relatively older titles like Clash of Clans and Plants and Zombies each have 100 million.

Mobile games are also poised to incorporate more virtual reality, as in the 2016 hit Pokemon Go, where players hunt for pocket monsters while seeing the world around them through their phone screens.

Google and Apple, whose mobile operating systems dominate the digital landscape, have developed ARCore for the second-generation Pixels and ARKit for the new iPhones, respectively.

LIFE LESSONS

Walk-ins are rare at The Habbit, but it has a regular following of professionals who play on Saturday nights until the wee hours of the next day, and families who have made a visit to the cafe part of their Sunday routine.

More than the fun and the bonding, children also learn respect, following rules and accepting defeat when playing face-to-face, Tan said.

Jean-Rose Tan poses in front of boxes of board games in a corner of "The Habbit," a board game cafe in Quezon City

Tan said he tries to play board games with his family at least once a week. His 13-year-old daughter Jean-Rose, is a regular player in the cafe during weekends.

"'Yan talaga yung makukuha mong bonding sa bata," he said.

(That really is the bonding you can get from the kid.)