Video Gaming (EL 250)

2 Jan 2006

War Games

In the early 1980s, with communists declaring martial law in Poland, three soviet rulers dying in quick succession, and assassination attempts on both Ronald Reagan and John Paul II, tension was running high regarding the threat of nuclear war.

In the Latin I texbook I had as a freshman in high school, I penciled a nuclear mushroom cloud on every page. Not because I was violent or anti-social, but because I was so afraid of the possibility. As a teenager, I remember having nightmares about "the bomb."

While the Soviets had achieved military and political success in Viet Nam and in Easter Europe, the communists could not compete with the US economic power. Reagan's arms race policy -- which ultimately proved successful -- involved forcing the Soviets into an expensive arms race. The set built to represent NORAD (which is not actually an acronym, but stands for North American Aerospace Defense Command) was considered lavishly expensive at the time, but the filmmakers decided it had to be huge in order to meet the public's expectations of what this secret facility would look like.

Joshua: "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?"

The political message is not subtle.

MT QuickPost | Check Latest Trackbacks


It was intriguing to watch how the NORAD workers in the film had such a high reliance on computers and the computer war plan. It is hard for me to think back to a time when computers were so primitive by todays standards and yet still had such an immense impact, like in this movie. Today with technological advancement at such a peak it’s easier to understand that so many people are in fact being replaced by functional machines. Is there a sub-text about technology here?

Posted by: Leslie Rodriguez at January 2, 2006 11:04 AM

No doubt technology was an important subtext! Artists have been fascinated by -- and sometimes repelled by -- machines for as long as there have been machines.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 2, 2006 11:08 AM

I like how, in the beginning of the movie, the second officer hesitates to turn the key. This goes along with the whole idea that computers are based in binary code. Things are either yes or no for a computer. In my opinion, it would be extremely difficult--if not, impossible--to emulate hesitation in a machine that only recognizes two options.

That being said, Joshua--unlike the human--doesn't hesitate; he either plays or doesn't play. This is an interesting look into the political rhetoric of the American Culture Wars (you're either for us or against us).

I think this film transcends its date. The message, like you said, Dr. Jerz, comes very clearly: "the only winning move is not to play."

PS: It's Easter in Europe?! ;-)

Posted by: Evan Reynolds at January 2, 2006 11:46 AM

Good point, Evan. Computers are fast and powerful because they don't have to think in shades. But even when survival is at stake, we are programmed -- sometimes -- to hestitate when faced with a binary choice: flight or fight. Sometimes, the action of fleeing will draw the attention of a predator; sometimes pausing to think one's way through a problem is the most sensible course of action.

Of course, much of military training is designed to get soldiers to follow their training without pausing to think. This is necessary for the smooth operation of the military unit. And the US military has in recent years begun relying on games for recruitment and basic training. (The ethical and geopolitical issues raised by the military-funded game "America's Army" would make a great paper topic.)

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 2, 2006 11:52 AM

Did you see the stark contrast in the arcades between the movies Tron and WarGames? WarGames had a spacious, well-lit arcade while the arcade in Tron was crowded and dark.

I also noticed that in Tron, there were people watching other people playing games, but not in WarGames. I like the two very different interpretations of an arcade. This shows much about the perceptions these sceenwriters have of the gaming culture.

Do you think this was intentional, subconscious, or pure coincidence?

Posted by: Evan Reynolds at January 2, 2006 12:54 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
1 02 03 04 05 06 7
8 09 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31