For Emirati children of the '90s, Eid was celebrated with a trip to the video game store

While the next generation has moved to microtransactions on the latest online game, many Gulf millennials remain nostalgic about a bygone ritual

Sun Light Electronics Shop in Abu Dhabi. For almost 35 years, it has been a hotspot for youths looking to spend their Eidiyah. Photo: Abu Dhabi Culture
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It goes without saying that, across the region, Eid is an exceptionally special time, particularly for children. For those in the UAE, the holiday is marked by dressing in new clothes and visiting family to celebrate, which becomes one of the core memories of any Gulf upbringing.

As children follow their parents from house to house to spread holiday greetings, they traditionally receive the coveted Eidiyah, the money given to children on Eid to spread cheer and a staple of the event.

Some choose to spend it on chocolate and sweets, while others decide to save it up for a bigger purpose, but in the generation of children who grew up in the 1990s, the target was clear – head to a video game shop.

For many, there was an unmatched feeling about going on the first day of Eid. The place would be swarming with children armed with their Eidiyah money to spend on consoles, games and paraphernalia.

Some of these shops are beloved and cherished to this day, despite the increasing popularity of forgoing to them for online purchases instead. Last year, Sun Light Electronics Shop in Hamed Centre was chosen as one of Abu Dhabi’s urban treasures, a list of businesses that are an important part of the cultural fabric of the city.

The shop has been around since 1990 and is an integral part of the memories of many in the capital’s gaming community. The business stands out to those who venture to Hamed Centre, as the shop has a large model of the popular video game character Super Mario by the entrance, enticing generations to spend their money.

The walls of the shop are covered with all manner of video games new and old, coveted limited-edition consoles and controllers that come in every colour of the rainbow. Under the glass counter, visitors can browse the latest releases and even find a game from their childhood that they might have been able to afford in their youth.

The sight alone invites infectious joy, sparking the imagination and planting the intent to play and complete a favoured game during the holiday.

Eid gaming experiences

While children today might prefer to spend their Eidiyah money on Fortnite Vbucks, the popular game’s currency, to purchase skins of popular characters and arm them with weapons that give them the edge, those who grew up with a video game shop visit on Eid still treasure those days.

Omar AlHashimi, an Emirati senior nuclear operator at the Barakah nuclear plant, says he has fond memories of going to them with his father.

“During the 1990s and early 2000s as I was growing up coincided with the boom of the video game industry,” he says.

“It was a great area of solace and joy for us kids especially in this region. I vividly remember my dad taking me to the video game store right after Eid with me holding my small wallet filled with Eidiyah.”

Despite using his own collected money, AlHashimi says he was only allowed one game per visit. He adds: “A game picked out would basically stay with me for the next few months until I was able to convince my parents to buy me another one. The choice was always critical, and I remember being very careful with my choice, especially during the Eid visit.”

And the choice had to be perfect. Unlike the treasure trove and multiple avenues available to today’s gamers, children back then had to pick games based on replayability and long-term value.

Luckily for AlHashimi, the importance of that choice translated to preservation, as he still has most of the games he purchased as a child. “As I walk past my collection, I look at those games that I bought during various Eids and how important it was for me to make the right choice,” he says.

The ritual of the video game shop Eid visit extends to the broader Gulf, too. Nawaf Aljahdali, a Saudi music composer, says he remembers going to a shop called Bait Al Computer in Riyadh in 2003 and being told by his parents that he had to choose one game.

He says: “Kirby Air Ride was playing at the store console, and we knew we had to get it. That was the main game we played for the rest of the year.”

Aljahdali also reminisces about the cultural significance those shops had with his generation. He says: “What I miss about those stores is the kind of shared culture that’s lost now. It was a centralised hub of gaming where everyone in there is a friend because you care about the same things.”

To Aljahdali, the video game shop was not just for video games, it offered something to every fandom interested in purchasing merchandise. He adds: “Most of the time, very friendly store owners would sneak in the odd trinket or gaming magazine with each purchase.”

Perhaps that is why so many children of the 1990s are returning to their love of physical media.

Updated: April 10, 2024, 5:37 AM