“Games and Politics”

The two words aren’t often seen together side by side. Possibly because in Thailand, “games” are perceived only as a mean for childish entertainment while “politics” is exclusively a serious adult business. I’m looking at you, ThaiRath and KhaoSod. But at the event by Goethe Institute, hosted by the Communication Design program, Chulalongkorn University, computer screens and peripherals make up the entirety of the interactive exhibition on politics, one of the untouchable topics of Thailand. In this small room right next to the busy PhayaThai road, games by various developers around the world here are created to convey stories of conflict, hardship, and societal issues by inviting the audience to take part in each revelation.

For example, “Papers, Please,” by Lucas Pope puts the player in the shoes of an immigration officer of a fictional Stalinist nation who has to earn bread for his family by screening out smugglers, fraudulent document holders, and other enemy of the state. Problem is, the regulations get readjusted every work day, armed terrorists are targeting your country, and every little mistake means less food and/or no heating for your family in the cold climate of Arstotzka. “Glory to Arstotzka,” this phrase will stick to your brain after 5 minutes into the game.

Another personal favorite of mine is called “Orwell,” a widely acclaimed indie game by Osmotic Studios. In Orwell, the player is a certain lucky draw pick from millions of a fictional populace of a prestigious fictional nation. You are tasked with filtering and gathering data input for the state surveillance program named, the Orwell (obviously.) Right of the bat, a terror attack downtown killed several innocent civilians and the face-detection camera device picked up an individual with a police arrest record timed just before the explosion went off. She’s now a suspected bomber, and what else should you do except spying on her text conversation with her significant other, making correlations from her private online activity, and practically keep her on the watch list forever regardless of the case turnout. In this game your decisions with the Orwell matter and as consequence, the “truth” will either be revealed or hidden away from the public.

A glimpse of the Orwell surveillance interface in action. Image taken from Vice.com

To me, the exhibition shines another shade of light on video games. They’re mostly known for entertainment and generating endless memes, sure, but what we could learn from this wonderful yet frightening and depressing presentation by the Goethe Institute is that games are but a form of interactive media much like how a blockbuster film is a platform for a variety of narratives or how a news website is a space for certain kinds of curated information. As such, games can be fun, serious, and definitely political.

I can’t go over every game in the exhibition but I think that it goes without saying that I highly recommend going there and experience the stories by yourself. The event is completely free to enter, opens 10am-6pm (Tuesday-Friday,) 10am-4pm (Saturday-Sunday,) and closes on every Monday till April 12th.

For more information: https://goo.gl/aCJqGF

Beans juice enthusiast and feline management expert. Currently in Bangkok, Thailand. My opinions are my own.

Beans juice enthusiast and feline management expert. Currently in Bangkok, Thailand. My opinions are my own.