Video games and the military go way back. Whether it's using highly detailed simulators to train operators and wargame scenarios, or on the flipside incorporating real-world hardware into virtual universes for authenticity, there are a lot of crossovers and ethical questions. One such military simulator is 2013's Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations (CMANO), developed by WarfareSims, which armchair generals seem to enjoy very much indeed: it's picked up more than a few 'wargame of the year' awards from specialist sites, and in subsequent years has seen multiple expansions.
This got it noticed in the Pentagon, at a time when the Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work was saying: “I am concerned that the Department’s ability to test concepts, capabilities, and plans using simulation and other techniques — otherwise known as wargaming — has atrophied.” One of the proposed solutions was to take advantage of existing video game software, and change it where needed, which is where CMANO comes in. After several years of development there's now a 'Professional' version of CMANO and the Slitherine group has established a military-focused division, Matrix Games LLC, to deal with these contracts:
The latest evolution and development of Command PE, whose advanced features are not available in the commercial edition, has rapidly progressed to suit the needs of the Military and substantial new upgrades were announced at the event. Command PE is now spearheading this innovative new business venture that has become an integral part of the physics-based research and experimentation of the defense sector.
So... here's the thing about 'wargaming'. Generally you're looking at scenarios that haven't happened yet, but may possibly happen. There's no point in wargaming a French attack on Alaska, for example, because it's so unlikely as to be pointless. Which is how we end up with a super-serious military sim that is now wargaming what could happen in Eastern Europe because of Brexit.
A few caveats: the Brexit scenario is one of two pieces of 'Command LIVE' DLC for CMANO, which is the commercially available video game rather than the Professional variant. The developers also choose to focus on the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, rather than the near-future, so this feels more like an alternate timeline than some dire warning.
Finally, the titles for these things are just appalling. 'Don of a New Era' begins as a violent demonstration against the Moldovan Government explodes, with the death of 27 protesters and the city under martial law. The EU declares support for the Moldovan Government, but Russia starts getting involved.
Then we move on to 'You Brexit, You Fix It!'
Set on 23 August 2016, Europe is reeling politically and economically from the effects of the UK deciding to leave the European Union. Both the £Pound and the €Euro are near collapse. The Russian Federation exploits the situation and moves against the Baltic States.
As you can see below, this scenario comes complete with its own fake news report about the crisis, which has lots of explosions and scenes of politicians looking grim.
This is of course a video game, and promo reels like the above are more about selling DLC than making political points. All the same, I was struck by the assumptions underlying these scenarios, and the focus on Brexit as a military and tactical problem waiting to happen. It's not so much that I think another Russian invasion of Eastern Europe is imminent. It's that these developers and military contractors think it's a realistic enough scenario to bother wargaming it, and the interpretation from this perspective is that Brexit weakens ourselves and our allies, while leaving opportunities for the likes of President Putin.
CMANO's not the first game to have a take on Brexit, and one can only imagine there's many more to come. Most examples thus far have used humour to get their points across. In the world of serious military simulators, however, laughter is frowned upon. CMANO casts a cold eye on Brexit. And all this wargame sees is a giant mess, ripe for others to exploit.