Today, if you are teenager who likes to play on-line games and is adept with computer technology, that in and of itself doesn’t stigmatize you as a nerd. But in the early 1980s, such teenagers tended to be social outcasts. “WarGames” released in 1983, was one of the first movies to showcase the extent of impact a tech-savvy teenager can have.
Starring a young Matthew Broderick as David, a middle-class high school student who prefers the games that can be played on a computer to those that can be played on a field; “WarGames” explores the downside of what is now known as “hacking.” David’s intentions are quite innocent. Using his computer in his room (a novel concept in the 1980s), he inadvertently breaks into a secret supercomputer that has control of United States nuclear arsenal. Thinking he has accessed a gaming company, he tries to sample a game called “Global Thermonuclear War.” But by playing the game, he accidently starts a countdown to World War III. The military establishment finds David and brings him into custody, but because he is an expert on technology, he is able to escape. As he tries to fix the situation, he is assisted by his friend, Jennifer (played by Ally Sheedy).
“WarGames” earned an Academy Award nomination for its insightful screenplay. All of the human characters are basically good people who find themselves in a totally overwhelming situation as a result of an unthinking decision that led to the empowering of a machine. Even the computer that is counting down to the release of nuclear weapons is rendered as friendly; it just wants to play games with David. Suspense builds slowly and steadily and is quite strong as the nuclear countdown gets close to finishing.
Matthew Broderick is excellent as David. He shows that he is resourceful and earnest. Ally Sheedy is equally great as Jennifer, who sees David as a ticket to an adventure, but soon discovers just how serious a predicament they have created.
“WarGames” is a memorable film that has a fun story and terrific performances. It holds up very well today, even though the technology obviously looks dated.