Thailand’s Board of Film and Video Censors has just declared the fifth installment of the popular Tropico game unfit for a local release because it could affect peace and order and that the game’s content, which may possibly lead to scenarios of a military dictatorship or junta, is not appropriate for the country’s current situation. The irony of the matter is that Thailand has been under such a government ever since the military overthrew the previous administration in May.
That games would hit the nerves of certain political entities is nothing new. Doom is one of the earliest high-profile ones to experience the banhammer when it was blacklisted in Germany for its use of Nazi symbols. And violence, of course. The ban was only lifted in 2011 after 17 years of being in effect. Other games of more graphic or more controversial content have also enjoyed notoriety even in more liberal countries like the US and the UK, so the Thai ban on Tropico 5 isn’t exactly out of the ordinary.
What makes this case rather special is why it was banned, and the subtle irony of that context. Previous versions of Tropico enjoyed some degree of popularity in Thailand, but Tropico 5 seemed to have pushed a button this time. In Tropico, you take the role of a tropical island ruler and you develop the island’s resources and fame not unlike games such as Sim City or, in a much larger context, Civilization. Tropico, however, injects more political elements into the game unlike other games but mostly in a jokingly manner. However, the game does allow you to rule with an iron fist, creating the equivalent of a military dictatorship if you so wish, with sometimes equally humorous results. Unfortunately, Thailand’s military regime did not get the joke.
To be fair, Tropico isn’t being singled out but is just one of many being censored in this new Thailand. Game makers Kalypso Media and local distributor New Era have decided not to appeal the decision, which might be a smart move. As Kalypso so eloquently put it, it sounds like an edict from El Presidente himself, the game’s titular ruler and the player’s main and only character. And as some of the digital citizens of Tropico have found out the hard way, one does not go against El Presidente without dire consequences.