"WarGames" Talkback (Spoilers)

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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WarGames

I think it's a pretty lousy movie. I think the ending is kind of interesting though. "Interesting game. The only way to win is to not play," is definitely a memorable resolution. But the rest of the movie sucks.

My parents took me to the theater to see this when I was little, and I was bored out my skull. But it's gotten some favorable notices in the years since, and attained a cult following, and I wanted to see if I'd appreciate it more as an adult. As a kid it was too hard to follow. As an adult, it's too stupid to be believable.

My biggest problem is the protagonist David is SUCH a little turd. The premise of the movie is that he mistakes a nuclear defense computer for a videogame and "innocently" starts World War III. I dispute the notion that the kid's intentions were ever innocent. He engages in cheating and piracy as his "fun hobbies", and the fact that the victory at the end is half-attributed to him was wrong. And his defense for potentially getting into legal trouble for his crimes early on in the movie is that he won't go to jail since he's under 18. He's a snotty, entitled, white kid who believes his privilege will protect him legally. The ending actually proves him right there, which is kind of maddening.

But to be blunt, there is something to be said for the government learning why Joshua wouldn't actually work right up-front, especially with somebody present smart enough to feed the unwinnable Tic-Tac-Toe game into it to make it realize the futility of some games. I can't dismiss that. But how could a computer from the 1980's be sophisticated enough to lock humans out and make decisions on its own? That suggests a level of artificial intelligence simply not possible back then.

I thought Lenker was a crappy character with his obsession with extinction. There is nothing worse you can do about humanity's dire situation than just accept it and not try to fix it. The fact that Lenker himself DOES have the tools to fix it makes his talk about the futility of it super dumb. If humanity destroyed itself it wouldn't be because it had its time and had run its course. It would be because Lenker messed up and refused to take responsibility for his mistakes. And that's why I don't like the character. He's not cynical and wise. He's cowardly and foolish.

I recognize and feel that the Cold War Paranoia and fear of Nuclear Holocaust are unfortunately relevant and timely again. Do you know what feels dated? The movie has a strong anti-technology vibe built into it, and suggests computers are too emotionless to handle complex tasks best left to human morality. That's partly why as cool of an ending as Joshua learning is, it doesn't fit into that subtext at all. And frankly, the fear of computers and technology in the 1980's was rampant because people didn't trust them. Many feared they would be the downfall of civilization. They still could be. But doomsday predicters back then always said that their biggest fear was that these emotionless robots would realize the Earth was better off without people on it, and "logically" wipe us out. If we enter into a nuclear war because of computers it will be because computers enabled crazy people who used them to spread toxic lies to get insane people placed into important seats of power. Computers didn't wind up spreading information and logic. They made it that much easier for real people to spew hatred and b.s. instead. I feel like people back then feared computers because the ease on which we could rely on them could make us lose our humanity and self-determination. Instead, all computers have done is highlight the worse humanity has to offer. If they had actually made us coldblooded automatons as feared we might have been better off. Not for sure. But maybe.

I liked the resolution. But I dislike any movie where the U.S. government is dumb enough to leave a computer hacker alone in a room with a computer tied to sensitive U.S. nuclear intelligence. The movie is stupid and unrealistic because I don't believe those types of things would ever happen, even in the 1980's. Maybe the actual conflict of the movie would either be lessened (or nonexistent) if the characters in it weren't so damned dumb at every possible turn. I mean, David wants to convince the government how serious the situation is... so he runs away from the facility and any easy contact he could have with them there. In the long run, it's good he did (the Tic-Tac-Toe idea was Lenker's) but it's still stupid. As is the film. **.
 

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