Is This A Game…Or Is It Real?

Now I understand why Ferris needed to take a day off.

Before he was stealing Ferraris and reservations in Chicago, Matthew Broderick came close to instigating World War Three as teen hacker David Lightman in WarGames (1983). Honestly, the characters start off pretty similar: high school slackers who butt heads with authority figures, and who hack into the school system to make themselves look better. David however does not stop there; he loves his computer (unlike Ferris), and uses it to try to hack into a game company’s system to get information on a revolutionary upcoming game. Instead though, he accidentally stumbles onto a military system and starts a strategy war game with the computer, who is self teaching and who won’t stop playing until the game is over.

Before we are even introduced to David though, a cold open supplies us with exposition that sets up a deeper meaning of the film. We first meet two government employees (one being Michael Madsen in his first film role) who are instructed to deploy missiles, but fail to do so when the commanding officer loses his nerve. Immediately after this incident the department decides to replace the staff with a computer system that would not hesitate to fire the missiles if need be. It is only after this fourteen and a half minute introduction that we meet our hero. After seeing this, and knowing that it was going to backfire, I expected the film to be a commentary about the issues that arise when we rely too heavily on computers.

However, by the film’s end I realized the real message was much greater than that. The computer (WOPR, pronounced Whopper) puts the US military in a frenzy, as they think the game is real and that the Soviets have launched a full scale attack, and then plan to retaliate. World War Three is imminent as David has to try and end the game; the problem being that WOPR doesn’t understand the concept of having a game with no possible winner. Finally (Spoiler Alert) David is able to overload the system, and it lays out every possible war scenario and spits out the same message: Winner – None.

Suddenly the message is much more clear: there are no winners in global thermonuclear war. The message appears time and time again; it is beaten into the audience’s brain. And if that weren’t enough, the computer displays this message saying that “THE ONLY WINNING MOVE IS NOT TO PLAY.” Released at a time when the Cold War was still very prevalent, this anti-war statement turned out to be a huge success.

Still, I had to wonder if the film has a lasting effect. The Cold War has been over over two decades; would it still prove as powerful to today’s generation? Personally, I enjoyed the film, but I don’t know if I would hail it as a great movie. Though, war is still a very real problem in today’s world, so I’d think it could work. With a possible reboot being kicked around Hollywood, we should be able to see first hand how successful WarGames would be in today’s world. It’d surely be an interesting film considering how much technology has grown since 1983, and how the conflicts in the Middle East have become like the modern day Cold War.