23: DEFCON (2006)
Developer: Introversion Software
Publisher: Introversion Software
DEFCON is the strategy game most likely to make you wake up in a cold sweat. It’s an abstract simulation of thermonucler war, in which the tension rises along with the DEFCON level, and frantic deals lead to bitter betrayal. It’s a game in which people are reduced to numbers (and ashes). Scores are measured in megadeaths inflicted and, in the default setting, causing a megadeath on an opponent’s territory is worth two points while losing a million citizens in your own territory only loses one point. The value of life.
The presentation is immaculately sinister and minimalist, and while DEFCON is unlikely to keep you playing through the night, you might lose sleep anyway. The closest strategy gaming comes to horror.
Notes: 1983 film Wargames was a direct influence on DEFCON’s theme and aesthetics, and the film’s hacking sequences were an inspiration for Introversion’s first game, Uplink.
What else should I be playing: Chris “Dragon Speech” Crawford’s Balance of Power tackles Cold War brinkmanship, while New World Computing’s Nuclear War offers a satirical , cartoonish approach to mutually assured destruction.