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Rewind: 1983 in Film – WarGames

David Lightman (Matthew Broderick), computer gamer enthusiast, who doesn’t take much interest in anything else. He sits at home on his computer after dialing up, and waiting to connect. He only wants to play a game. Instead, he enters into the game of all games, to end the world. John Badham’s underrated cult classic is simplistic in its execution of its ideas. But relevantly powerful in its message of the advancement of technology. Themes from the film are still being addressed today, with films such as Steven Spielberg’s latest release, Ready Player One (2018).


The techno-thriller revolves around the removal of man from technology. Lightman hacks into the US military’s nuclear missiles, and engages in a game of ‘Global Thermonuclear Warfare’. Which he thinks is the latest toy game, but instead it belongs to the Defence Department. He discovers the Pentagon are hoping to eliminate the unpredictable and unreliable nature of the “human element” in the event of an actual war. His mission is to stop the game he has started before it is too late for all mankind.

Nostalgically, even watching the film now, the nerds among us can relate to the young Broderick. He demonstrates how the early developments of technology had become accessible to use. As a young high schooler, he uses his techno-mind to his advantage by hacking into the school’s electronic system – “and change his grades from Fs to whatever the F he pleases” (Screen Mayhem). The film doesn’t only speak to its audience through computer language, it keeps is simplistic so not to bother us with too much information. This doesn’t mean it is accurate, but it is convicting in its probability.

The 1983 film can be divided up into two subjects: the topic of technology and the advancement of this in war. During 1983, the subject of nuclear war and the Soviet Union was at the forefront of many discussions. With the advancement of computers entering most households, the future had indeed arrived. More opportunity was at your fingertips than every before.

However, the defence department had gone one step further. WarGames highlights the removal of morality. “If men can’t act according to human decency and conscience, what are the chances their machines will?” (Reflections on Film and Television). Interestingly enough, these subjects are narrated to us by teenagers in the story. Perhaps to bring an innocence to the morbid theme of armageddon.

On the highly regarded rating website, Rotten Tomatoes, the Critic Consensus deems the film “part refreshingly unpatronizing teen drama, WarGames is one of the more inventive – and genuinely suspenseful – Cold War movies of the 1980s.” This technology highlights the 80s era of this film. The old-school techno is emphasised by the computer screens with typing green lettering, start-up whirring noises, and the dial up aspect. Even the distribution of the film, not just its content, dates the movie. “In the 1970s and 1980s, low-budgeted movies spread by word of mouth and by battered VHS tape…” According to CineRobot Blogspot: “What made WarGames work in 1983 is that it’s set in a cold-war world where nuclear annihilation was still a topic of conversation.” Computers only do what they are programmed to do, and they will follow their programs to illogical conclusions.


Even nowadays, arguably humans are becoming slaves to their technology. We all have a phone attached to us that has become an extension to our arm. Yes, we are also enforcing the removal of the human element from some areas of life. For example, online shopping was the beginning of not entering a store physically. In WarGames the computer controlling the missiles is known as W.O.P.R. (War Operations Plan Response), and even has a panel that makes it appear like a face, making it life-like. The famous line from the movie is: “The only winning move is not to play.” It addresses or attempts to answer serious philosophical questions “The first being whether man or machine is better equipped to deal with the decision making process of launching bombs. On the one hand, humans are fallible…” (Pop Verse)

Even though a modern audience may find the film dated in terms of the theme of nuclear war, its playful nature and interesting nostalgic look back at technology makes it a watchable classic. One that may no longer strike fear or excitement into its watches, but certainly something to think about. The intense, philosophical film “will delve into the many and nuanced ethical quandaries involved in military decisions” (Pop Verse). The morbidity of this message is the futility of war. Where there is no ultimate winner, and even if technology advances in doesn’t solve war. The movie has an intelligent futuristic message of technology evolution and removal of the human imprint.


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