Zusammen mit Christian Hoffstadt (postapocalypse.de) arbeitet DigitaleWelten an spannendem wissenschaftlichen Material zum Spiel DEFCON, dessen Internetpräsenz mit folgender provokanter Überschrift wirbt: The World’s first Genocide ‚em up. In Anlehnung an die Bezeichnungen von  Computerspielgenres wie Shoot ‚em up und Beat ‚em up (wörtlich: schieß sie ab bzw. schlag sie zusammen), werden diese nun um den weltweiten Völkermord erweitert. Zum Einstieg hier den Werbefilm (Promotrailer) zu DEFCON:

Chris Delay, Introversion SoftwareWir haben uns gefragt, was hinter dieser Spielidee steckt, die offensichtlich an den Filmklassiker Wargames aus den 80ern angelehnt ist. Im Film Wargames wird die Sinnlosigkeit eines Atomkrieges und die Gefahr der zunehmenden Computerisierung thematisiert. Ein Atomkrieg wird auf abstrakter Ebene geführt, Computer berechnen die Flugbahnen, warnen vor Feinden und berechnen die Zahl möglicher Todesopfer. Welche Nachricht hat das Spiel, in dem man nun selbst die Befehle zum Abschuss der Atomraketen gibt? Kann man Atomkrieg spielen?

Es folgt nun das komplette Interview mit Chris Delay (siehe Bild), der die Idee zum Spiel hatte und maßgeblich an der Erstellung von DEFCON beteiligt war. Das Interview ist ungekürzt, unverändert und in englischer Sprache. Viel Spaß.

Game Production/Game Setting

Question: How did you get the idea to develop DEFCON?

Chris Delay: The inspiration for Defcon was primarily the 1983 film, Wargames, firstly because it’s a great movie – one of those movies I loved when I was a child. The hacking elements became one of the big inspirations for Uplink. In fact two of my favorite childhood movies were Wargames and Tron, which probably explains quite a lot.

Watching the movie it dawned on me that there was a really cool game idea in that movie, and that nobody had really attempted it. There are some games which successfully simulate warfare across the world but they tend to be too heavily strategic (e.g. turn based and stat heavy). I wanted to see a game that looked like the movie, with vector-lined soviet subs closing in on your coastline. Most of all I wanted to recreate that tension and paranoia.

Q: How much did the film WarGames inspire you? (Maybe you can also comment on the “Global thermonuclear War”-easteregg in Uplink)

CD: Please see above J.

Q: Besides DEFCON, are you (or other members of Introversion) interested in (Post-) Apocalypse in general, or is it just an accidental subject of a game?

CD: I don’t have any particular fascination with apocalyptic scenarios – more that we just thought this would make a great idea for a game!

Q: Would you say that all Introversion games have something in common?

CD: It’s often said that you are the sum of your experiences, well I really feel that about the games I create – they are the sum of all I’ve been inspired by and whatever I’ve been watching, reading, playing at the time. I’m always drawing on real life for ideas and I’ve also been inspired by places I’ve travelled to – they can really help determine ideas for a great game setting. In a way that’s the only common thread I can find in any of the games we’ve made so far, or are working on now, although it’s definitely true to say that the 80s and all the cultural influences I grew up with as a kid during that time, have no doubt had their influences.

Q: To you, is DEFCON a war game, an anti-war game or just a game?

CD: This is a tough one, I didn’t set out to create something that could be specifically labelled as anti-war in sentiment but of course you could certainly argue that the take-away from DEFCON is very bleak in its assessment of the use of war to resolve disputes!

Many people have asked us whether DEFCON’s theme does in some way reflect a desire at Introversion to produce games with more serious issues or whether we are concerned with the ethical issues surrounding the game. To be honest, at the end of the day our main concern is to make great games and promote the reputation of Introversion Software as a fearless independent developer – to try ideas that other publishers might shy away from because of the risks involved. I guess this is our reaction to the depressing state of the games industry today where everything is based around making money and producing lots of games as quickly as possible. We wanted people to play our games simply because they are Introversion games – and they know they will be playing something incredible, creative and unique.

Q: Your claim for DEFCON is “Everybody dies”. Is DEFCON a serious game in terms of presenting (nuclear) war as useless? What is the message you might have thought of?

CD: Definitely there’s a real sense of the abject futility of war in DEFCON. Our tagline was – “It’s Global Thermonuclear War and nobody wins. But maybe – just maybe – you can lose the least.” And that really sums up everything I wanted to say about nuclear war – there can be no winners in this type of scenario.

Q: What is fascinating about killing millions of people (“Lives are numbers”) in a simulated nuclear war?

CD: Well there’s something really fascinating about the psychology associated with warfare generally. You saw a lot of interesting psychological warfare during the Cold War period – take the concept of deterrence theory for example which asserted that you could deter potential aggressors by threatening them with massively damaging retaliation if they attacked. At the end of the day it was all about mindgames and enormous paranoia, and we really wanted to create something similar, which is where the idea for the alliances system in DEFCON came about.

By giving players the opportunity to make alliances and team up with other continents you open up the chance for misunderstandings, false promises, back-stabbing, betrayals…all the darker sides of human psychology to come out into the open. After all at the end of the day, even in an alliance, you’re out to win, and your score remains independent of your alliance’s progress. Ingame, things could get pretty ugly, as players could line up the perfect attack on a teammate and then swiftly betray them by switching to the enemy alliance and decimating then in one short, sharp strike. DEFCON has in-game irc between players (public and private) and I remember watching the ‘wheeling and dealing’ that goes on between players as they desperately try to secure alliances. Whole conflicts are born out of simple misunderstandings; for example alliance members shooting down friendly planes because they believed the planes were scouting the area for targets in preparation for a strike. This leads to arguments in the chat channels, followed by skirmishes at sea, followed by retaliation, before finally the whole alliance collapses and everyone starts nuking the hell out of each other.

Q: Did you ever consider DEFCON to be either immoral or amoral?

CD: Not at all. As I say, I actually think DEFCON had an important message in highlighting the utter futility of nuclear war. DEFCON is brutal and almost grotesque in its bare, understated reporting of the facts behind global warfare. You launch a nuke, it decimates your opponent’s city and all you see is a small pop-up indicating the number of dead in one full sweep. You are entirely removed from the horrific reality of the situation and this is probably not far off from the real-life detachment of nuclear warfare. You simply press a button and the deed is done but you are not there to witness, and in this respect, take responsibility for the heinousness of your actions. In that sense, DEFCON has a very serious message.

Q: Some parts of the design (like the Cyrillic looking “e”-characters) etc. refer to the historical cold war. To what extent does the whole game refer to a “historically motivated” fear of an atomic war? How does this mix up with up-to-date fears of atomic threat, e. g. in the Middle East? Do you feel these background narratives when playing DEFCON?

CD: Of course our number one aim here at Introversion is to produce exciting, innovative and addictive gaming experiences. The fact that such a game may be topically relevant is an added bonus – when you are playing something that is relevant to you it takes on a whole new meaning. If you like, the fact that nuclear weaponry is such a major talking point within international politics these days adds a sense of drama to the game. You are engaging in actions which could feasibly become a reality and that is very scary!

Q: Why is the player able to command nuclear powers which are no nuclear powers in reality? How much fiction is in the game, e. g. all powers having the same amount of weapons, ships etc.?

CD: Well obviously we had to stray away from factual realities in order to create a game that worked from a gameplay mechanics point of view. In order for the game to have longevity you need to make it a game about skills and tactics rather than just about luck, because you happened to pick a country with more nuclear warheads before another player. We needed to weight things evenly so that as much as possible, no one continent had more of an advantage over another.

Gameplay

Q: What’s your strategy when playing DEFCON yourself?

CD: I actually don’t have a particular strategy believe it or not – I usually just go with the flow! That said I usually choose South America because it’s easier to move your ships around – you can then place ships in either the Atlantic or the Pacific.

Q: Would you compare DEFCON to any other games? Which ones?

CD: Nothing springs immediately to mind!

Q: The game is advertised as “The world’s first genocide ‘em up”. Is this aiming to shock and to attract attention to the game or is it the description of what the players are actually doing in the game?

CD: I think there is a shock factor about DEFCON even without the tagline, although certainly the tagline describes that shockable factor very succinctly! And as all publishers will tell you, whenever you’re selling a game, it’s important to get the core concept of the game across to is audience as succinctly as possible, which is where the tagline plays an important role in grabbing your audience’s initial attention.

Q: Do the developers encourage ironic handling of the game, as the instruction (at least the German version) suggests? Why is the game completely serious about the issue, but the instruction isn’t?

CD: This is interesting because the instruction manual for DEFCON is actually compiled from real-life documents detailing what to do in the event of a nuclear war! No kidding – those diagrams, all that talk of how to build a nuclear fall-out shelter, how to make a nuclear suit, were all taken from official government leaflets handed out to the public during the 1980s. They’re all available to see in the Imperial War museum here in London – we really couldn’t quite believe they were for real and had to include them in the manual – they may look tongue-in-cheek now but they were very serious at the time.

Q: You chose a very depressing soundtrack. How should this affect the player in your opinion?

CD: The sound in DEFCON is probably the most serious piece of content in the game and central to creating an atmosphere of oppression and starkness within DEFCON. The music is made up of short segments which are mixed and filtered in real-time in response to major world variables – like the number of people dead, the number of people dying right now, the number of nukes in the air etc. So for example as your population decreases and if you’re losing the game, the music actually slows down to add to the sense of impending doom!

This really comes down to the fact that with a tiny dev team we have to look at ways of immersing the gamer in their environment which don’t rely on intensely laboursome techniques like photorealistic graphics. The beauty of concentrating on things like the music, is that if you get it right, you can create that immersion in an instant.

Q: Is this game the simulation of a military control centre like the NORAD War room, where people “play god”? Or should the players believe they’ve hacked into a military system (like in Uplink)?

CD: The idea is that you play a war general, hidden deep within a bunker and you therefore have absolute responsibility for every click of the mouse button. The culpability aspect is important – it really builds the tension and sense of loss as your population dies.

Reception, Community

Q: Why do people play genocide/apocalypse-games? Why do YOU play DEFCON?

CD: Why do you play any game? I don’t believe people play games only because they’re “fun” – there’s more to it than that, there are much more complex reward factors involved, whether it’s because a game is interesting/exciting/different/thought-provoking/controversial/entertaining/educational – and if you’re lucky all of those! I played DEFCON because I loved the strategising element – the fact that it was a thinking-man’s game, rather than a click-fest. I also enjoyed the psychological component, the tension and paranoia surrounding it, nor knowing what anyone else was thinking or planning was captivating. By the end I felt like I’d lived through something.

Q: What is your favourite DEFCON-Mod?

CD: Without a doubt, the DEFCON xmas mod – check it out here (on Youtube). Instead of launching nukes at your enemy cities, you deliver presents making all the children in that city happy. Hilarious to watch.

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Q: Do you know female players (company-internal, test-players, community)? Do you think DEFCON rather settles male consumer needs than female? (We were just thinking about our girlfriends/wives decorating the room with the original DEFCON-Mushroom cloud-poster)

CD: I have to be honest – I don’t know of many female DEFCON players although I believe there are a few on the Introversion forums.

Q: In the user forums, there are few contributions on films like “The day after” or “Threads”. Do you think background narratives play a big role for DEFCON-players anyway – or is everything about tactics, like the forum discussions suggest?

CD: The tagline “How about a nice game of Chess”? from Wargames was used a lot in conjunction with DEFCON. I think primarily because for a lot of gamers DEFCON was primarily about tactics and warfare strategising. Certainly if you look at the forums at that time, the vast majority of topics were centred on what was the best strategy to use in order to win. I think having an interesting subject matter is no bad thing though and DEFCON definitely inspired a lot of comment about many of the issues you’re raising today.

Q: How do you explain that DEFCON, in spite of being (morally) controversial, was well received even by the critical German press (regarding warfare in games)?

CD: Well I guess that all depends on whether you agree that it was morally controversial to begin with, as I say, I’m not sure it was J. The game was also sufficiently abstract I think for it not to upset people. In the end I believe that the serious subject matter was an aid to our good reviews rather than a deterrent and that above all the great ratings came down to the fact that it was a great game to play! At the end of the day, there’s no point us creating games if no-one enjoys playing them.


Q: Did you receive any critical responses regarding the setting of the game like „How can genocide be fun etc.“, “Can we seriously play Genocide?”?

CD: I think I only ever received one complaint from a gamer about the use of the word “genocide”. His criticism was that it was an insensitive use of an extremely loaded term, that we had used it deliberately to shock. I couldn’t argue against that, he was absolutely right!

Generally speaking though we are always prepared for mixed responses to all our games. When you are attempting to do something different, when you are trying to approach ideas from a new angle, there will always be some people who like what you do and there will be others who don’t, perhaps because people don’t always ike the unexpected.

Q: What do you think about the different ratings of DEFCON? In Germany, it’s rated as suitable for persons older than 16 years of age, the PEGI system rates DEFCON suitable for persons over 7 years of age (7+). Do you think violence or adult content in games today are rated on grounds of superficial criteria (like death animations, blood & gore etc.)?

CD: Yes that’s absolutely true. When we first tried to register DEFCON with PEGI it came out ostensibly as a 3+ because they didn’t have any category for inflicting violence that was “off-screen” i.e. violence that you inflicted but couldn’t personally see its effects. DEFCON was very unusual in that respect and I remember calling PEGI up and voicing our concerns that this game was not necessarily suitable for kids as young as 3! Off the back of that PEGI made some changes to their criteria to allow for DEFCON’s peculiar characteristics. But yes it did very much throw into the open the fact that our ratings system can be based around very arbitrary criteria which don’t always work for all cases.

Q: How did your family members and your cultural environment receive that you developed an atomic war game? (Maybe you have photos of your Grandma playing DEFCON?)

CD: I honestly don’t remember any negative reaction about it – as soon as I mentioned to friends we were making a game inspired by Wargames, I think they all thought that was pretty cool J. I’ve been lucky to have a very supportive group around me who I think are genuinaly pleased and excited for everything we‘re doing at IV.

Q: Thanks for the interesting interview!

Wir bleiben an diesem spannendem Thema dran. Denn obwohl die Gewalt bei DEFCON sehr abstrakt dargestellt wird, handelt es sich um Gewalt. In vielen Egoshootern wird Gewalt explizit dargestellt. Beide Darstellung haben eine entscheidende Gemeinsamkeit: Es handelt sich nicht um reale Gewalt. Dennoch sind noch viele Fragen der Medienwirkung ungeklärt. Wie beurteilen die Leser und Spieler den virtuellen Völkermord? Ist DEFCON ein Kriegsspiel, ein Anti-Kriegsspiel oder einfach nur ein Spiel?