“Shall we play a game? “
Home computers were quite the fad in the early 80s but most people didn’t know what exactly could be accomplished with them other than very simple word processing programs and rudimentary games. WarGames, released in 1983, showed the world the advantages (and disadvantages) to be had from computers’ increasingly important role in our lives.
The protagonist is David (Matthew Broderick), an intelligent underachiever, who would rather play with his computer than devote any sort of time to his high school homework. David’s curiosity and budding hacker skills lead him to break into a Pentagon database, where he unwittingly makes contact with a national defense supercomputer named WOPR. Mistaking WOPR for a gaming platform, David gleefully explores its programs, including one called ‘Global Thermonuclear War.’ Like every teenage boy out there, he shows off to his girlfriend, Jennifer (Ally Sheedy), and the two teens yuk it up pretending to launch strikes and counterstrikes.
WOPR, however, takes David’s instructions seriously and begins the countdown to a real nuclear missile launch, sending the military scrambling to abort the sequence and track down the security breach. The FBI pays a visit to David and brings him to Colorado where military brass and scientists want to “debrief” him and discover his motives behind such a dangerous maneuver. David realizes the enormity of his mistake but the government has him pegged as a Soviet spy and naturally, they won’t listen to his protestations of innocence. He manages to escape from under their noses and contact Jennifer who helps him elude the military. Together they go in search of WOPR’s creator, a lonely genius living like a hermit, who may be the only one that can convince WOPR to stand down from the impending nuclear annihilation of the planet. After some emotional conversation about the sanctity of life and a trip back to Colorado, the trio watch helplessly as WOPR discovers on its own that nuclear war is nothing to screw around with and that there can be no victors in that scenario.
WarGames struck a balance between humor and poignancy, reeling in audiences with its fast-paced action and suspense. The Cold War continued unabated in the 80s and the movie highlighted that paranoia but also the absurdity of nuclear proliferation. It also served as a handy advertisement for personal computers and influenced the nascent genre of the computer thriller.
If this timeless film encouraged (or discouraged) you from exploring the strange new world of 80s computers, or if you simply count it among your favorites, we welcome all of your WarGames recollections in our comments section.