‘DEFCON’ is the ‘WarGames’ strategy game of nightmares

By Aidan Finn, Staff Writer

There’s a movie that’s been on my mind for the last few weeks and it’s one of those that I’d subconsciously label a “recess movie,” those that were played in middle and high school either for an end-of-the-year break or a haphazard plan from a substitute teacher. “Selena” was the Spanish class film, “Stand and Deliver” was the math class film and for my computer science class it was 1983’s “WarGames.”

The Matthew Broderick teen Cold War thriller was a product of its time but it makes for an engaging flick that came at a time when computers were still in the transition period of public acceptance in the 80s, beyond the nerd with glasses archetype hobbyists of the time were labeled as. 

President Ronald Reagan watched the film at a Camp David screening in 1983, an experience that he brought up days later when speaking with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asking, “Could something like this really happen? Could someone break into our most sensitive computers?” This is something that is also noted by author Fred Kaplan in his book “Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War.” That film was, in essence, the first real taste of how catastrophic cyberwarfare could be for many people at that time.

The nuclear saber rattling seen in various headlines of recent weeks has made the film pop into my head again, specifically its climatic and blunt message spelled out to audiences of the day. 

The only winning move is not to play.” 

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Luckily, with the power of modern technology, we can play that game, and not only that, we could play and win thermonuclear warfare. 

“DEFCON” is a 2006 strategy game for PC that is as simple as it gets: a digital map of the world and your selection of regions to play as, although I don’t know anyone who doesn’t play as either the United States or Russia. Once loaded in you have to deploy your ships, radar stations, air bases and missile silos while the ominous clock above quickly counts down to DEFCON 3. Once past that, the heat is on. 

Your navy starts spreading across the globe in search of enemy forces and once you have a good idea of where to go, you smash that big red button and the missiles start flying. One by one, the white dots arch across the hemispheres, the chorus rises and distant rumbling is heard accompanying a white flash on your map. Flashes appear all over the map in a matter of seconds and more ominous silence with only the silent hum of the screen lighting. 

Then, you can start the game all over again to your heart’s content! 

It’s the subtle details that make “DEFCON” the experience it is. During your game you can hear the sounds of an apocalyptic world: a mild cough from the background or a woman crying. This sells the sense that this is a screen deep in some military bunk watching the world end. There’s no narrative other than the actions on screen- the only story a nuclear war really needs to spell out.

“DEFCON” has a pretty ample amount of customization for its simple premise, you can change the volume of your missile count and even rename nations and territories. An extensive tutorial goes over the different stages of the game, how to be strategic and most importantly how to actually win, which in this case and reality is simply the best possible ratio of opponent deaths to your survivors. 

It is a simple game that feels more like a gag game that makes a point, as to what the actual execution of nuclear war would be like compared to the cinematic scenes depicted in those paranoid films of the past. 

Cold, quick and unnerving to watch. 

“DEFCON” is available on PC.


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