How WarGames Paved the Way for Silicon Valley
By Nick Nadel
With its depiction of a teenage computer whiz (Matthew Broderick) who nearly causes World War III, moviegoers got an early glimpse of hacker subculture.
For anyone who grew up during the 1980s, the Matthew Broderick/Ally Sheedy thriller WarGames is a potent flashback to the days of video arcades, bulky personal computers, dial-up modems and Cold War paranoia. And through its depiction of a teenage computer whiz (Broderick) who unwittingly accesses a military supercomputer and nearly causes World War III, moviegoers got an early glimpse of hacker subculture.
When WarGames was released in June
To achieve this accuracy, screenwriters Walter Parkes and Lawrence Lasker did their homework on the tech geek world, consulting with Willis Ware, a computer security expert who had worked for the RAND Corporation. Ware offered the scribes tips on the plausibility of David accessing a government computer through “demon dialing,” an early hacking technique that involved calling random modems in order to gain access to a vulnerable network.
With WarGames bringing computer hacking into the mainstream, one viewer
Viewed today, WarGames is a retro blast thanks to John Badham’s tense direction, a smart Oscar-nominated screenplay and strong performances from Broderick, Sheedy, Dabney Coleman and the rest of the cast. While David and Jennifer (Sheedy) using a computer to book bogus plane tickets and change their grades may seem quaint, the film paved the way for everything from The Matrix to Silicon Valley. And in the age of Russian hackers and Siri, an artificial intelligence program that controls nuclear missiles being compromised isn’t all that far-fetched. 35 years later, the WOPR’s famous query to David (“Shall we play a game?”) is even more spine-tingling.