DEFCON (Definition)

Nuclear explosion

DEFCON is probably the most used acronym in war movies and real-time-strategy computer games that feature nuclear weapons. However, it’s fair to say most people have no idea what it means or what the acronym stands for; it’s “Defence Readiness Condition”. This article contains everything you need to know about DEFON including how it has been used in computer games and war movies.

DEFCON itself is a state of alert used by the United States Armed Forces. It states the country’s readiness to nuclear warfare though five levels. The highest rating as such is DEFCON 1, which has never been used as the threat of Nuclear War has never been that close.


Above table is from wikipedia article on defcon

There are many terms and ways of measuring the state of readiness but DEFCON is one of the most popular and well known. This is due to DEFCON’s simple, easy to understand nature and relation to nuclear warfare, especially during the cold war, where certain aspects of the American military reached DEFCON 2.

As such, it has been used in many films with a strong military theme. An obvious example would be the movie DEFCON-4, but the likes of War Games, Independence Day, The Sum Of All Fears and Armageddon all make strong reference and use of DEFCON. It is often used to measure the threat and show the level of danger through higher levels of DEFCON.

The term become common place in many real-time-strategy games, such as DEFCON and War Games, which both make strong use of the state of alert. In DEFCON, the game advances through the various states of DEFCON whilst in War Games, DEFCON 1 can be a losing condition if active for more than 60 seconds.

Fortunately, DEFCON 1 has never been used in real life, as danger has never been that close. Real-time-strategy games are always a different matter, of course, but the DEFCON system still serves to help gamers measure their war game threats.