Information Warfare: Games Some People Are Forbidden To Play


August 17, 2014: Earlier this year (May) there was another military coup in Thailand. One not-too-surprising (to Thais) move by the generals was a recent banning of a computer game (Tropico 5) that simulates a military coup and opposition to it. Games like this are not new. A board game simulation of coups (Junta) first appeared in 1975 and became a dangerous item to have for those living in countries living under military rule. Other board game and computerized games along these lines followed. Tropico first appeared in 2001 and there have been four major upgrades to the game since (thus it is now Tropico 5).

The Thai ban on Tropico 5 backfired because it can be obtained via the Internet and the ban itself gave the game a lot of unexpected publicity. This misjudgment was not an isolated event. The Thai military also tried to shut down Facebook and similar sites because of all the hostile chatter about the coup. The generals quickly discovered that such sites are tremendously popular in Thailand, by pro-coup Thais and opponents alike. Thus the army was forced to come out and say it would never shut down Facebook access in Thailand. Games like Tropico 5 are another matter.

Thailand is not the only country to ban computer games that are seen as critical of the government. In late 2013 China banned Battlefield 4, a popular American video game. Despite having done this dozens of times over the last few years, this particular ban got picked up by the mass media. Battlefield 4 annoyed the Chinese because one of its scenarios portrays a China that has undergone civil war and sundry other humiliations.

These bans are largely ineffective because Chinese gamers are heavy users of pirated versions of video games and can also buy banned games without too much trouble. The bans are mainly for show, to demonstrate that the Communist Party (which runs China) will not openly tolerate anything that is immoral (especially anything related to gambling or drugs) or that makes China look bad.

Meanwhile there have been twelve coups in Thailand in the last 80 years (since a constitutional monarchy replaced the century’s old absolute monarchy) and people are getting tired of it. Where the army often runs into problems is with their efforts to control what people say about them. Unless the army does the impossible, and shuts down access to social media sites like Facebook, popular resistance to whatever the military government is doing will have an Internet platform on which to spread and grow. This time around troops have orders to arrest anyone who appears to be leading resistance to the coup, but the number of anti-coup opponents are so numerous that trying to decapitate the opposition by taking most leaders out of action will not work. The opposition has plenty of competent replacements for lost leaders and too many ways for coup opponents to get their comments into circulation.



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