“Is this real or is it a game?”
WarGames is a 1983 film, written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes and directed by John Badham. It follows the protagonist David, played by a very young Matthew Broderick (pre-Ferris Bueller). David is intelligent but rebellious and has very little interest in school. He ends up hacking a game system with his phone which sets off a chain of events with a super computer that appears to be starting geothermonuclear war. Believing him to be a soviet spy (classic American hijinks), the feds look him up but he manages to get away and reaches the original creator of the super computer to try to have him convince the powers that be that it is all just a game and that they shouldn’t retaliate…
So, I have seen this before when I was a young kid who didn’t quite understand what the film was about, but I remember feeling really in awe of David because he had all the markers of someone who was really cool. And I guess when you’re a kid you feel pretty darn uncool 100% of the time so any mention of cool will turn your head. In the context of this film, cool looks like an early to mid teen, academic underachiever but actually really bright dude who sneaks into tech he shouldn’t do so he can play games. Which in hindsight, is exactly who I became after I saw this film. I don’t know if I was influenced by the film but looking back I must have been. I mean, not insomuch as intentionally underachieving in school… I attribute that to undiagnosed ADHD, but more the sneaky, sneaky computer behaviour. When I was a kid, my dad – an IT teacher – forbid computer games in the house. He thought they were a waste of time. So I would sneak and install games on his computer, play them for a while and then uninstall and wipe all traces of the game from existence. Which was all fine, until one day it corrupted the hard disk and my plan was discovered…
Anyways, I digress… There was something about David’s character in this film that was effortlessly cool and it’s all down to the actor, right? Because he had that same glib and charm when he did the film Ferris Bueller. You were rooting for him to get away with it, with that darned smile, and those sparkling eyes and his boyish butter-wouldn’t-melt. It feels a bit like WarGames was the prequel to Ferris Bueller. I like to think that, anyways. That he’s still out there, messing shit up and not learning his lesson.
I have to say though, watching it with older eyes this time round, it was pretty hard to suspend my disbelief. I remember saying out loud when they guessed the scientist’s password “well that’s a really shit password, of course they cracked it”. And when David managed to get away from the feds so easily I was like “is that honestly the first person they ever arrested or something?” The incompetence! Also the romantic element was a bit redundant but that’s old films for you.
There were a lot of moments like that but none of that takes away from the joy and exhilaration watching this, of the anticipation for David to convince the adults. And I guess in a way when I was a kid, I left the film feeling like – as a kid – I could do anything. If you could convince an an adult fed or scientist/engineer that what you had to say had merit, even if you needed to get help from someone to vouch for you, then maybe you could do just about anything. If only the adults would listen.
Anyways, overall very fun film. Obviously a cult classic. Loved the ye olde 80s bit computer graphics, particularly when the super computer was flashing map after map. That’s total edge-of-your-seat watching right there. Love that the computer in the end is really poetic. Would watch again (probably many times over).