War Games (Movie)

War Games movie

The famous movie ‘War Games’, released in 1983, arrived at a time when many people did not own or use a computer in daily life. The movie set the scene for a new genre of computer gaming – real time strategy. The film is based around a computer hacker (David Lightman, played by Matthew Broderick) who believes he is playing a computer game whereas, in actual fact, he is interfacing with a nuclear war simulation hosted on a United States Military super computer.

The plot of the film itself revolves heavily on the simulation computer known as WOPR, short for War Operation Plan Response; a fictional super computer given control of nuclear missiles and tasked with running simulations constantly to learn. David Lightman is a hacker that gains access to the supercomputer, believing it to be a game.

Lightman and WOPR play through a series of games, starting off with classic tactical, turn-based games such as chess. The games eventually turn into a real-time simulation of nuclear war, of so Lightman believes. Of course, the game isn’t a simulation and the computer believes nuclear war is imminent.

The film was very much in the heart of the cold war, touching on many political themes. Lightman ‘plays’ as the Soviets, for instance, whilst WOPR was originally implemented because humans were found unwilling to launch nuclear weapons so easily.

After finding the original creator, the computer is tasked with playing tic-tac-toe against itself. Using these findings, WOPR concludes that there is no way for one-side to win, finding mutually assured destruction to be the only outcome.

The movie highlighted a lot about computer technology when it was still very early on. It highlighted the potential for computer AI to learn and adapt, but it also highlighted the use of real-time strategy and computer AI as a form of virtual warfare or gameplay.

It was these key concepts that later helped inspire modern strategy games today, as the film explored them as a conceptual evolution of chess. War games and real time strategy games, which favour real-time simulations (against other people or computer AI) instead of turn-based, simplified gameplay, owe a lot to this 1983 movie.