Monday, 3 November 2014

Retropocalypse Now

It's rare that wargaming makes the headlines, and even rarer when it isn't poking fun at middle aged men and their little toys, but regarding serious games - those used in governement, the military and big business to explore 'what if' scenarios to help guide policy and strategic decision making.

The BBC 'broke' the story  The nuclear attack on the UK that never happened 

The National Archives release documents from 1982 revealing a serious wargame exercise undertaken by local government ministers about post-nuclear-holocaust Yorkshire, with the rather optimistically entitled Exercise REGENERATE - unfortunately not digitised online. Predictably the BBC use the piece mostly to promote their (admittedly quite excellent grim dark 1980s post-nuclear TV series Threads - see Newsnight report from 1984
However the 'rest of the media' pick up on one sensationalist tangent:
Its also interesting to note these other pieces are just repeating what Auntie Beeb says and not based on any original research - copies from the National Archives cost at least £1.30 per page, one assumes online journalists all on zero-hours contracts and paid 5p per word, so fact checking and research is out of budget. But in all honestly, isn't "the psychos will take over" that what Lord of the Flies, Day of the Triffids, 28 Days Later and a whole raft of post-apocalyptic media say anyway? Without the system of authority, we shall descend into savagery - so behave and do as your told.

"The history of the world is the history of the triumph of the heartless over the mindless."

Having seen the BBC article I dropped a tweet to wargames historian and serious games expert John Curry, of and it's accompanying blog here (the report of the Matrix game running an ISIS scenario is particularly interesting). Whilst admitting having a book on some Nuclear Wargames (probably not of the Matthew Broderick kind) in the pipeline, John indicates probably won't be for a while, which is a shame because I'd rather like my 1980s Apocalypse game sooner rather than later. Of course, I could go for it myself, but am afraid I'd end up putting rules for radioactive biker mutants and psychoactive snack-foods in there.

A game scenario of Exercise Square Leg would certainly be interesting, as indeed would Exercise Hard Rock which was abandoned as local councils refused to play the 'nuclear war is something we should plan for' game which they saw as being part of central government legitimising the potential use of nuclear weapons.

CND's propoesed SquareLeg Campaign map. via

Gameswise how Exercise Regenerate was supposed to work, but I imagine it was a strategic/tactical level RPG where the players inevitably represented local government officials having to deal with a traumatised and decimated populations food and law and order requirements. What is interesting is how these games took on political dimensions beyond the scenario themselves, feeding into wider social discourse.

See also Armageddon 1981 for earlier musings on the perennial theme.

1 comment:

  1. Now that is one fascinating map! Just imagine the trouble you could get into in todays proto-police state if you were playing an RPG like that with associated ponline communication! ;)