"WarGames" inspires bursts of nostalgia, a kind of time capsule to the very early days of personal computing, when hacking was still viewed as the stuff of geek pranks. The movie, in which a teenager gets into a U.S. military supercomputer, thinks it is a videogame and nearly starts World War III, came at the height of the Reagan-era cold war, when Hollywood was positing a Soviet invasion in films like "Red Dawn" and a nuclear holocaust in movies like "Testament" and "The Day After." In contrast to the cold war of the 1950s, when public service movies actually believed that the keys to survival were bomb shelters and to "duck and cover," the fears of the early 80s were of annihilation, enough to trigger a large-scale movement for a nuclear freeze.
Bob Kazel, a Chicago writer and longtime friend who writes for Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, recently interviewed the director of WarGames, John Badham, to talk not just about the making of the movie but how it was prescient. There is the obvious fear about continued nuclear proliferation, this time to rogue actors or in a terrorist attack. But Badham identifies the whole idea of cyber warfare.Badham says, "A lot of what 'WarGames' is talking about is technology taking over on us, and even though we may have good intentions and are trying to do our best, it could bulldoze us.
"Of course we see evidence of this all the time. Larry Lasker and Walter Parkes, the screenwriters, and I, started talking back in those early days about the possibilities of cyber war, and what could happen if what was then innocent hacking became really serious stuff. Of course, that’s what we’re watching now. I don’t think we were prescient. I just think we were letting our imagines say, 'Where could this go to?'"
He adds, "Our government’s going in and messing with Iran’s system. The Chinese government is coming in and tapping the New York Times’ addresses. It is sort of spooky. We’re in that age. Information is just flying everywhere, with nobody able to control it the way they’d like to control it."
As Kazel and Badham point out, what made "WarGames" different from other at-the-brink projects of the era is that it set out to be first and foremost entertaining, not to send a message.