The Glorious '80s Gadgets That Made WarGames So Great
IF YOU’RE LOOKING for middling sequels, schlocky science fiction, and substandard fantasy, it's hard to top the summer of 1983. Sure, there was Return of the Jedi—but between May and August moviegoers were also subjected to movies like Superman III, Jaws 3-D, Psycho II, Krull, and Yor, the Hunter from the Future.
Thankfully, it wasn't all just franchise fever and phallic rock formations. Slotted right in the middle of all that mediocrity was a film that not only launched the careers of two '80s icons—Ally Sheedy and Matthew Broderick—but also helped legitimize hacker subculture and steered many an awkward teen toward a life-long love affair with technology. That film, of course, was John Badham's classic Cold War thriller, WarGames.
To this day, the tale of narrowly averted Armageddon serves as a landmark film for geeks who came of age during the '80s. At Google's special 25th anniversary screening in 2008, Sergey Brin called WarGames "a key movie of a generation, especially for those of us who got into computing." Even the name of the world's largest annual hacking convention, DEF CON, is an homage to the film.
Part of its enduring legacy has to do with some lucky timing: WarGames coincided with the emergence of hacker culture. Publications like 2600: The Hacker Quarterly were gearing up, BBSes were growing in popularity, and former phone phreakers were starting major Silicon Valley companies.
Even non-enthusiasts were beginning to interact with computers on a daily basis. In 1983 the New York Times splurged on its first newsroom computer, and Apple introduced the Lisa (with the help of a young Kevin Costner), the first personal computer with GUI.
WarGames also debuted during a time of fevered product placement in Hollywood movies. A year earlier, Hershey had struck Reese's Pieces gold with E.T., and producers were eager to exploit similar product tie-ins. As you'd expect of a movie about accidentally hacking into a top secret government super computer, WarGames is littered with all manner of awesome '80s tech—from microcomputers to microcassette players.
These gadgets not only lent a sense of realism to the movie, but also proved to be powerful tools for impressing cute girls, changing your high school grades, and potentially starting (and averting) WWIII. Now, with renewed talk of a WarGames remake, what better way to celebrate this genre-defining film than by revisiting the wonderful gadgets that introduced us to the wonders of war dialing, synthesized computer voices, and AI. So....