How to simulate what has never happened before: Nuclear weapons and their video game simulation.

by Florian Galleri

One specific characteristic of video games compared to other media lies in the singularity of gameplay [1]. For many games the main part of the pleasure of playing is not found in the narrative or the aesthetics but in the enoyment of the gameplay itself, which is probably the case for many game licences such as Super Mario [2] or Doom [3] . However, very early on, video games also tried to give a feeling of realism through their gameplay [4]. This was found in sports simulation games such as BMX Simulator [5] or other driving games. The pursuit of realism went as far as the desire to simulate life experiences, that could be described as unexceptional with series such as Eurotruck Simulator [6] or Farming Simulator [7]. But as Eugen Pfister’s has shown in his essay ‚This (Historical Authenticity) means war!‘, realism in video games often concerns a warlike pseudo-realism [8]. Some companies have specialised in this field. One can mention Bohemia Interactive, which has produced the ARMA game series [9]. These games are characterised by a particularly rigorous and complex gameplay, giving players a great freedom of action, but not pleasure by itself. Thus, the game mechanics are designed more to serve a sense of realism that would itself provide pleasure than to create immediate and instantaneous fun. Other games like Red Orchestra [10] make their „realism“ an asset. Indeed, the player’s avatar dies with a single shot, tanks are slow, and the aim is deliberately imprecise. Here, the rigour of the gameplay, unlike a game like Battlefield [11] , is meant to make us „feel like we’re there“. The extremely deadly infantry charges take us back to films like Stalingrad [12] and the memory of what the Eastern Front might have been like. Far from the overpowered hero of an FPS, the player is cast here in the role of a man whose goal is to stay on the ground, alive, rather than to accumulate military feats. Of course, these games are only as realistic as they can and want to be. 

Some studios have specialised in the field of realism adapted to strategy, such as Paradox Interactive. This studio works on strategy/management games with mainly historical themes. Despite an intended realism, these games want to offer players the libertx to change history. One of these anachronistic liberties freedoms can be the use of nuclear weapons outside of their historical context.

But how do you simulate a weapon that was at the same time extraordinarily powerful and complex and almost never used in history. For most games it is not a question of simulating nuclear deterrence, but rather the actual use of nuclear weapons to destroy an opponent. The paradox between games that want to put a certain historical verisimilitude and the opportunity for the player to use nuclear weapons raises the question of the function  of nuclear weapons in games. In order to better understand videogames use of nuclear weapons in a „realistic“ or „plausible“ context, it is necessary to differentiate between games in which the nuclear weapon is one element of the gameplay among many others and those in which it is at the heart of the gameplay. How to simulate what has never happened before: Nuclear weapons and their video game simulation. weiterlesen