When Thailand’s largest political party sat down yesterday to debate the latest hot-button issue, it had nothing to do with the pandemic, economic malaise or forced disappearances.
Instead it was hardcore gamers seated around a table with Pheu Thai Party elder Sudarat Keyuraphan to debate a government bid to strictly regulate streamers; that is, gamers who broadcast their sessions to audiences over platforms like Twitch.
Few issues percolate from rumor to the attention of the top – and reliably populist – opposition party in a matter of days, but there it was yesterday, gamers and industry figures calling on government morality crusaders to take a broader view of what it would mean to regulate gaming – and actually prove it was necessary.
The meeting at ThinkLab Creative Space and Cafe came just a week after FPSThailand, a top streamer, mentioned that a law was on the way to ban streams running over two hours – and of all violent games.
Vorawut Vorawittayanon, former editor-in-chief of MegaxGame magazine, said the law, which will be discussed Monday in parliament, was drafted without any input from those it would affect, such as streamers and game casters (esports commentators). He said lawmakers only invite major figures such as FPS Thailand along with reps from gaming companies and internet service providers.
“This is about more than the esports industry, but the whole digital media industry,” he said. “I want us to have an association for gamers, not just esports, so the law will be created by us, not by people who see games as evil.”
Sudarat said they should support rather than clamp down on an emerging business and would take their opinions to Monday’s meeting. She said the law, proposed by the Health Ministry, had been kicking around for a couple of years before being brought back to the table.
While some said they understood the need to regulate gaming, a limit on the duration of streams didn’t make sense. Dome from game news agency Esports Circles – he’s only known by one name – said health officials need to understand that streamers depend on long sessions to make money.
Gaming is often cited as a social ill and blamed as a factor in a range of misbehavior from juvenile delinquency to academic performance.
Nithinan “Jessie” Boonyawattanapisut, a developer and founder of Axion Venture, questioned whether the government really had evidence that violent gaming caused social problems.
“Is there enough sample size to claim that games lead to children’s violent behavior? What stats and studies have they drawn that conclusion from?” Jessie said. “If a child gets a brain injury from getting hit while boxing, will they regulate that too?”
For decades now, credible studies have discounted a causal link between gaming and violent behavior. Rather, Jessie pointed out, peer-reviewed studies have linked action games to increases in cognitive function.
Gaming as a front in the culture war is not new.
Vorawut said he had joined meetings on the future of gaming ever since Pheu Thai’s disbanded predecessor, the Thai Rak Thai Party, was in power. He said the government always interfered with the industry’s potential growth.