BANGKOK — As the immigration officer of an authoritarian country, smash the “visa denied” stamp onto passports of huddled masses waiting in line. As an agent for Big Brother, tap into phones and stalk social media accounts. As the pet cat of Iran’s first democratically elected prime minister, meow along as the CIA ignites a coup to end his reign.
These and other political games can be played at the Games and Politics Exhibition, which started Friday and showcases 18 games with deeply political underpinnings organized by the Goethe-Institut.
“Games are pleasure and art, but also a medium to convey political messages,” Patota Tambunan, 27, and one of the organizers of the exhibition said Friday. “A lot of times people are passive when they consume something political: they read news or watch TV. But with games, people are actively involved.”
Patota points to one of the games on display: Papers, Please, in which one plays as an immigration officer and can decide to search or detain people based on race, criminal records or even just arbitrary reasons. Another is The Cat and the Coup, Patota says you can “walk through the pages of Iranian history” and follow along from the point of view of a feline as Mohammad Mossadegh is overthrown by a CIA-engineered coup.
When playing these games, the Indonesian Patota hopes that “Thai people can reflect on themselves. Thailand is a monarchy but you can experience worldwide democracy and politics through games,” he said, pointing to Democracy 3, a game in which you play as the president of a democratic country.
Gender-related games, such as the Coming Out Simulator and Dys4ria – a short pixel game where one takes the role of a transgender woman – will also hopefully strike a chord with Thai players, said Patota.
“These games allow people to take on different roles in life,” Maren Niemeyer, director of Goethe-Institut, said in front of a display of the game 1378 (km). “For example in this game you try to escape from East to West Germany. By playing this you can feel with your own mind what being a refugee is like.”
The German ambassador at the inaugural Friday event said that games could be used to generate awareness of social ills – whether about gender, refugees, media power, police states or authoritarian regimes – and that games had political power.
“In Germany 42 percent of people play computer games, sometimes even more popular than Hollywood movies,” Ambassador Peter Pruegel said. “Games can also be used to reach certain groups normally not reached by politics, too. ISIS made a computer game to recruit potential terrorists and the FBI counteracted by making another game.”
Thailand is the 13th country to host the German-originated exhibition. Thai game developers are also encouraged to join a political game contest hosted by Goethe-Institut.
Chatri Krongsiriwat, 27, one of the exhibition attendants and a freelance game designer who planned on entering the contest, said his favorite game was Papers, Please.
“Thailand isn’t as authoritarian as the country in this game. But it’s really interesting how you can choose to deny someone entry without reason and have your salary cut, or let in someone you know is dangerous after they bribed you,” Chatri said.
Some of the 18 games in the exhibition are free to play on Steam. Others, such as Orwell – where you act as Big Brother’s social media spy – must be bought. Games at the exhibition are listed online.
Games and Politics opens 10am to 6pm from Tuesdays through Fridays and 10am to 4pm on weekends in the Design Center at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Architecture. The exhibition is closed on Monday. Entry is free.