Tropico 5 Striking Fear in the Hearts of Dictatorships

Gaming and Entertainment August 9, 2014

There are times when entertainment and technology strike a little too close to home in real world affairs, and the PC simulation game Tropico 5 was one of those times. The ruling party of Thailand, a military junta that took power from the civilian government earlier this year, has banned the game from being sold in the country, citing national security concerns.

Tropico 5, the fifth in a long-running series of simulation games has remained relatively close to its roots since the first game was released in 2001. The player controls a character named El Presidente, and rules over a tropical island with an iron fist as its dictator, from the nation’s birthing in the colonial era, through World War II and into the modern era.

Along the way, El Presidente can do just about anything he wants, including writing the constitution to include just about any rules or provisions he sees fit. Other options open to the player include rigging elections, controlling the media, and staving off potential coups. It was some of those features that Thailand’s rulers found brazen and enough of a potential ideological threat to ban it on the grounds that it “might affect peace and order in the country”.

One of the new features in the fifth installment is a competitive multiplayer mode, where players each have their own island, but can also build cities on each other’s islands, opening up trade and partnership possibilities. They can also declare war on each other when the need arises, or simply to ward off the drudgery of manipulating the lives of their cowed citizens.

Thailand has a history of censorship long before the military junta took power however, forcing the alteration of magazines, books, movies, shows, and internet sites, or outright banning them. Previous games in the Tropico series were not banned, though other games have been, including the Grand Theft Auto series of games since 2008. Games with sexual content have typically been banned within the countrty as well.

This is only the latest dictator vs. videogame clash; last month, the former dictator of Panama (1983 – 1989), Manuel Noriega sued Activision for his inclusion in their most recent Call of Duty game, Black Ops II, where according to the lawsuit he is depicted “as a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state.” Interestingly enough, Noriega was also a playable character in the first Tropico game.

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