WarGames is a 1983 drama/thriller film written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes and directed by John Badham. The film starred Matthew Broderick in his second major film role, and featured Ally Sheedy, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, and Barry Corbin.
The movie was a box office success, costing US$12 million but grossing over $74 million after five months in the United States. With a cost of $1 million, the NORAD set was the most expensive single movie set ever built up to that time.
The opening scene depicts two United States Air Force officers who, unbeknownst to them, experience a nuclear missile launch simulation. One of the men is unable to turn the key simultaneously with his partner to launch the missiles. The man's refusal to perform his duty is enough to convince computer programmers at NORAD that the human element needs to be removed from the "loop" and that command of the missile silos needs to be maintained from NORAD itself. Control is given to a supercomputer, WOPR, which is programmed to predict possible outcomes of a nuclear war.
David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) is a bright but unmotivated Seattle high school student. He is also a computer hacker who uses his 1970s vintage IMSAI microcomputer and modem (connected to the telephone by an acoustic coupler) to perform automated searches for systems connected to the public phone system, which he then cracks. He uses this method to change his failing school grades, stored in the school's computer, as well as those of his friend Jennifer Mack (Ally Sheedy). After seeing an advertisement for a new game company in Creative Computing magazine, David has his computer dial every number in Sunnyvale, California, in an attempt to find their system. When later reviewing the results, he finds one of the systems has a very "basic" interface, which he finds intriguing. After trying a few commands he succeeds in finding a list of games, but instead of the expected results, the games have titles like "theaterwide biotoxic and chemical warfare" and "global thermonuclear war". Further attempts to gain access fail.
Enlisting the help of older hacker friends, he decides the only way in will be to find a backdoor password, and one of them suggests tracking down the Falken referenced in "Falken's Maze," the first game listed. Following this lead, Lightman discovers that Professor Falken was an early artificial intelligence researcher, and from there tracks down every lead he can on Falken's life.
Lightman soon finds that he can use the name of Falken's late son, Joshua, to gain access. He glibly starts a game of global thermonuclear war on the side of the Soviet Union, selecting Las Vegas and his home town of Seattle as first-strike targets. Unknown to the teen, he has logged into a NORAD military supercomputer system called WOPR that was programmed in part by Falken. The events precipitated by Lightman lead NORAD to believe that actual Soviet nuclear missiles are inbound. They manage to figure out what happened, but do not realize that WOPR is continuing to play global thermonuclear war internally and will not cease until it has "won." WOPR continuously feeds false data (such as bomber incursions and submarines sailing from Soviet bases) to the humans at NORAD, goading them into starting World War III.
The teenage Lightman is soon snared by the FBI and is taken to Cheyenne Mountain, from which he promptly escapes. He makes his way to Oregon, where Falken (John Wood) retired after the death of his young son. Lightman (joined by Jennifer Mack) find that Falken has also become despondent due to the death of his family and believes that the world is inevitably on a path to nuclear holocaust. The teenagers eventually convince Falken that he should return to NORAD HQ to somehow stop the march to war. Upon arrival, they are told that the system is using a brute force attack to crack the launch code for the US nuclear missiles. Since the humans will not do so, WOPR assumes command and control has been compromised and it will have to hit the Soviets first to "win."
Disaster is narrowly averted when Falken/Lightman manage to teach WOPR about the futility of war by getting it to play endless drawn games of tic-tac-toe against itself. The WOPR then cycles through all the nuclear war scenarios that it has devised, which all end with no winner. WOPR learns that "the only winning move is not to play" (due to mutual assured destruction) and simply ceases playing. In the end WOPR decides it would prefer "a nice game of chess."
A video game named after the film was released for the ColecoVision in 1983. It played similarly to the NORAD side of the "Global Thermonuclear War" game, where the United States had to be defended from a Soviet strike by placing bases and weapons at strategic points. A real-time strategy game for the PlayStation and PC called WarGames: Defcon 1 was later released in 1998. The movie also inspired the Introversion game DEFCON.
The popular 1980s video game Galaga is used in the movie several times. In fact, when the tour group is being shown around Crystal Palace and the lady is asked to push the "red" button by the tour leader, the sound bite that accompanies the "welcome" message displayed on the big screen is a sound bite from the arcade game Galaga.
In "No Fighting in the War Room", the penultimate mission of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, there is a room that contains a supercomputer modeled after WOPR, bearing the initials ВAПР, the Cyrillic equivalent of WOPR.