The entire plot started off as a Jerkass Batman Gambit. Jack Drake, father of the third Robin Tim Drake, had learned his son was Robin and deduced that Bruce Wayne was Batman. Furious, Jack threatened the two with a shotgun, forcing Tim to retire as Robin or he'd reveal Bruce's secret. Tim, however, took becoming a civilian again quite well, but this didn't satisfy his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Stephanie Brown, alias The Spoiler. Determined to prove her worth, she broke into the Batcave with a homemade Robin costume and demanded to take over. Batman, however, saw things differently. He made her Robin on the condition she was fired if she ever broke a rule, but it was a ploy to get Tim back into the costume, either out of jealousy or fear. Tim didn't take the bait and Steph was fired for breaking a rule that actually saved his life. However, Steph wasn't ready to give up. Breaking back into the Batcave, she stole a plan that would gather the gangs of Gotham under the control of one Matches Malone. What she didn't know was that Matches was actually one of Batman's aliases and when the gathered gangs got nervous, they began firing on each other. The resulting massacre left a power vacuum that everyone wanted a piece of...
The storyline is quite infamous for its flagrant abuse towards Stephanie Brown, who was heavily disliked within the Batman editorial group despite being beloved by the fandom. The Status Quo caused by this story would last for two years and the events of Infinite Crisis, with Stephanie Brown returning just in time for Final Crisis. When it was released in trade paperback form, the storyline was split up into three parts: War Drums, War Games and War Crimes.
This story is not to be confused with the film WarGames.
The story provides examples of the following:
- Anyone Can Die: Outside of Stephanie Brown, a few named people were killed, though they were more along the lines of C-List Fodder.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Black Mask ends up filling in the vacuum, murdering one vigilante and nearly killing a second.
- Batman Gambit: The story kicks off because of two of these that failed.
- Corrupted Contingency: After Bruce fires her from being Robin, Stephanie Brown tries to prove herself to him by stealing and executing one of his plans to take down Gotham's underworld. Unfortunately, this plan relies on the presence of Matches Malone, who unbeknownst to Stephanie is an alias of Bruce Wayne. The plan quickly spins out of control and results in a citywide gang war.
- End of an Era: Meta example. While there have been Bat Family Crossovers aplenty since 2004, War Games remains (as of early 2023) the last traditional event to cycle through nearly each and every Bat title as part of a linear multi-book narrative. Following War Games (and possibly in response to it), the Bat books have since opted for smaller scale crossovers (ex. The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul, Night of the Monster Men, Shadow War), or crossovers with the core storyline taking place in the pages of Batman and the tie-in books weaving in and out of the narrative (ex. Night of the Owls, Death of the Family, Joker War, Fear State).
- He's Back!: Tim winds up retaking the Robin mantle after his school is taken hostage by Russian mob goons and Darla is killed.
- Inspirational Martyr:
- When the vigilante Orpheus is killed by the Black Mask, another vigilante, Onyx, takes over his gang and unites others in keeping the Black Mask's gang in check.
- Leslie Thompkins does this with Stephanie Brown to teach Batman a lesson. This is thankfully retconned.
- Locked Out of the Loop: Batman not telling Steph about Matches Malone is seen as this by Selina, regardless of her having been a Robin for about 15 minutes.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Stephanie's reaction to finding out the truth.
- Nothing Is the Same Anymore: The status quo here is changed up due to events here, leading to virtually every vigilante besides Batman leaving Gotham, either because he said so or because they were pissed off at him, vigilantes being banned from Gotham and a whole new gang powerhouse in charge.
- Oh, Crap!: This is basically Selina's reaction when she learns what Stephanie did and why the plan failed, realising that the whole plan hinged on the idea that Matches Malone would be present at the gang meeting to take control when Batman didn't know about said meeting to play his part.
- Poor Communication Kills: If Batman told Steph about his Matches Malone alter ego, something he'd have no reason to keep from her, none of this would have happened.
- Retcon: Whoo, boy, Steph's death is this. It's first implied that Batman kept her back from getting medical treatment, allowing her to die. It's then changed that Leslie Thompkin's purposely withheld treatment to teach Batman a lesson. Years later, it's revealed that Steph never died and was Faking the Dead to protect her from Black Mask.
- Replacement Scrappy: Steph is this In-Universe as Batman had no use of her outside of his Gambit and when she showed up in Teen Titans, they didn't want her around, especially Tim's best friend Superboy.
- Storming the Castle: Oracle's Watchtower is invaded and destroyed near the end.
- What the Hell, Hero?: A lot of characters, especially during War Crimes, was more or less people calling Batman out on his assholeishness.