The simulation game Tropico 5 has been banned by Thai authorities after it was deemed a threat to the country’s peace and order situation.
The Tropico simulation game allows a player to be a dictator named El Presidente in charge of a tropical paradise in the Caribbean. It parodies Latin America ‘banana republics’ during the Cold War era. To preserve power, the leader can launch a coup while addressing the needs of his citizens. The Tropico 5 version features El Presidente leading a tropical island nation during the early colonial period up to modern times.
After reviewing the game, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has ordered the Department of Cultural Promotion under the Culture Ministry to stop the game from being sold in the local market. NCPO is the official name of the government created by the Thai army, which staged a coup on May 22, 2014.
After grabbing power, the Thai army has imposed various forms of censorship in the country. It controlled the newsrooms of major media stations and it outlawed the public gathering of five or more people. The army said it will hand over power to the civilian government after implementing various political and electoral reforms.
Thai authorities also rejected the game because it is allegedly offensive to the monarchy. According to the subcommittee of the Video and Film Office, they banned the game because it “allowed players the freedom to name the country and its leader or king as they pleased.” They added:
Playing a game is different from watching a movie, as this game allows all players to express their beliefs without fear of law, so it is inappropriate to distribute such a game, especially during the current situation.
A state-sponsored news release highlighted an option in the game which empowers the dictator to dethrone the monarch. A Lese Majeste case has been filed already against the game's developers and distributors. Thailand implements a strict Lese Majeste (anti-Royal insult) law in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the country’s most beloved public figure.
Nonglak Sahawattanapong of New Era Interactive Media, the official distributor of the game in Thailand, said that officials didn’t specify the objectionable parts of the game:
The officials said some parts of the game are not appropriate for the current situation. They didn't pinpoint clearly which parts are problematic, but we believe it is related to government issues in Tropico 5.
Tropico 5 was made by Bulgarian game developer Haemimont. Kalypso Media, which owns the game, issued a statement expressing disappointment over the banning of the game in Thailand:
We are disappointed to hear that Tropico 5 will not be released in Thailand. ‘Tropico 3 and 4 both enjoyed successful releases in the country and although the Tropico brand does have a realistic political element to it, the scenarios and content are all delivered with a certain trademark tongue in cheek humour.
Even the fictional character El Presidente tweeted about the ban:
Political analyst Saksith Saiyasombut wrote that Thai officials have “horribly misjudged fact from fiction.” He added:
By invoking the ever-sensitive issue of the monarchy the censors are using a theme under which they can easily ban things – but on the other hand neither the developers nor the players probably had originally that in mind and are probably hearing it for the first time!
This latest form of censorship in Thailand has further revealed the worsening state of free speech and expression in the country.