British Police Investigate A Programmer Developing A Nuclear War Game

Henry Smith, a software engineer from Bristol, has been working on a game called — wait for it, 1980s movie fans — "Global Thermonuclear War." He was drawing concepts on a whiteboard, which proved to be unfortunate, since someone mistook it for a plan to nuke Washington, D.C.

The sketches caught the attention of Smith's letting agent (in the UK, that's a person who facilitates an agreement between a landlord and tenant). A week later, he received an email informing him that the matter had been referred to the local police.

The Guardian reports on what happened next:

"At first I was ridiculously frightened by the whole thing," Smith says. "When they said they'd told the police I absolutely bricked it. I ran home to check if the police had raided the house or something. It was definitely very frightening to think that the police had a report in their system alleging that I was up to something suspicious involving nuclear warheads. Knowing how the police here deal with suspected terrorists, I was worried they'd do a dawn raid or worse. It was genuinely scary for a while."

The whiteboards in question show a grand circle trajectory between a "launch site" somewhere in the former USSR and a "target" on the US east coast. The "explosion" and "blast radius" are also marked on to the map, which was accompanied by two further whiteboards diagramming how various aspects of the game would work.

The police have not yet followed up the letting agent's tip-off, and Smith now thinks they're unlikely to, especially if they have seen photos of the diagrams. He says he doesn't hold a grudge against the letting agency, who "just wanted to act responsibly".

That is understandable, he says, "but their judgment has let them down for sure. Nobody is planning an intercontinental ballistic missile attack by Russia on Washington from a rented house in a Bristol suburb. And definitely not by drawing their missile trajectory freehand on a whiteboard.

"And even if they were, they wouldn't have left those whiteboards out on the pre-agreed day of a visual inspection."

In the meantime, a prototype of "Global Thermonuclear War," which uses Google Maps to simulate a multiplayer world apocalypse, is available online.

Shall we play a game?