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Posted by Big Boo on May 27th, 2009

wargamesBeing into computers from a young age I always found it amusing when films tried to depict some amazing computer hacker doing something highly clever and probably illegal, but the stuff you see popping up on their computer screen is usually complete rubbish.  One of my favourite examples is Speed 2: Cruise Control, where the computer expert has an old parallel port switch box which has been relabelled Laser Uplink Unit, or something equally meaningless but which sounds highly techy.

I’m pleased to say that WarGames was nothing like that.  It’s depiction of computer hacking was actually very very good indeed.  Sure the plot of the film may be a bit unlikely, but pretty much everything computer related that was shown was plausible for the technology available at that time.

The story follows young hacker David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) who is a clever but disillusioned student.  After showing off his hacking skills to school friend Jennifer Mack (Ally Sheedy) by logging in to the school computer system to change their school grades, David sets up his computer to dial into every phone number in the Sunnyvale, California area in incrementing order.  He is trying to find the server for a new computer game he has seen advertised.

During this process he stumbles across a computer system that appears to offer a menu of games from classics such as chess through to some more intriguing titles such as Global Thermonuclear War.  The system invites him in, asking “Would you like to play a game?”, but all the games seem to be inaccessible and are password protected.

One of the games on offer is entitled Falken’s Maze, so David looks into researching this name and discovers an artificial intelligence expert by the name of Stephen Falken.  Falken had a son named Joshua, and it is this name which is the password David needs to access the games.

However, it turns out that the computer system David has hooked into is actually rather more important.  It is a supercomputer called WOPR (War Operation Plan Response, pronounced “whopper”) which is part of the NORAD defence network, and it just so happens to be able to access the US’s nuclear missile arsenal.  Part of WOPR’s remit is to predict the outcomes from different nuclear war scenarios, and the game of Global Thermonuclear War that David starts playing has the potential to be rather more than a simulation…

WarGames is still a great film, and not just if you’re a computer geek!  You may be surprised to hear that the film has even spawned a sequel, even if it is mostly in name.  WarGames: The Dead Code was released straight to DVD in 2008, so I would guess that the original is still the best bet.  Luckily you can get a double DVD pack containing both films, so if you’re curious about the sequel you won’t be completely wasting your money if it turns out to be a complete dog.

Buy WarGames at