Fictional Chatbot: WOPR from War Games

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Sean B

WOPR or the War Operation Plan Response, is a military supercomputer in the 1983 movie War Games. The WOPR isn’t actually a chatbot, it’s just an AI Supercomputer used by the US Military in the movie. It’s given a voice by a separate device, much like Dr. Sbaitso would be years later with the use of an advanced sound card.

In the movie, WOPR was designed to play World War 3 as a game in every way possible to ensure that the United States would come out as “the winner” but as we all know, there can be no winner in a war where everything is completely destroyed. The strategies that WOPR came up with were supposed to be used by humans launching the nukes, but in the movie it was placed in control of the launch.

The Movie: Major Spoiler Warning!

The movie was written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes and directed by John Badham.

Starring Matthew Broderick as David Lightman, a teenage computer hacker from Seattle who almost starts World War 3. The film also starred Ally Sheedy as Jennifer, his classmate and eventual girlfriend; Dabney Coleman as McKittrick, the Computer Programmer who runs the team managing WOPR; and John Wood as Dr. Falken, the original developer of WOPR.

The movie opens with two airmen from the US Air Force Strategic Missile Wing arriving for their shift at a disguised Missile Silo in the middle of a storm. Within a few minutes of showing up, an alarm sounds for a nuclear attack. The alarm is only a test, but they aren’t aware. One of the men won’t press the button to launch the missles in his care. His companion almost shoots him, but he convinces the man to call in to get a confirmation before launching and killing 20 million people and destroying the planet.

The test was to find out whether the men could go through with it, and 22% of the men failed to launch their missiles. As a result, McKittrick argues (successfully) to take the human element out of the loop once the order to launch has been given. Basically, McKittrick wants to hand control over launching the United States’ Nuclear Arsenal to the WOPR, the military supercomputer mentioned above. The WOPR was programmed to fight World War 3, and has done so as a game “time and time again.”

Meeting David

David is a high school student in an arcade playing Galaga during his lunch break from school. He leaves the game and runs back to his class, arriving late of course to find out he has received an F on the latest test. We also meet Jennifer, who also flunked the test. The two bond over a joke David tells and while David is in the Principal’s office he checks out the latest password to the school computer. Jennifer gives David a ride home and he hacks into the school computer and changes his grade. He changes hers too, but she protests so he changes it back. After she leaves, he changes it again.

Later we see David finding information about a new video game from a company in Sunnyvale, California, the same city where a Space Division had an open line connected to the WOPR is located. There’s a lot of filler where David’s computer is dialing, and David and Jennifer are interacting.

Eventually, the computer reaches the login for the WOPR computer and David believes he has reached the Game Company. He asks the system for “Help Games” available and gets a list of games that includes everything from Checkers to Global Thermonuclear War. He’s still convinced he is on the Game Company computer system and seeks help from some friends at another computer company.

His friends try and warn him that he has found a Military System, but they still give him information he can use to get in. We see a lot more filler about David trying to crack the system, researching Dr. Stephen Falken, the creator of the system, in order to try and get in. It’s when Jennifer visits again that he cracks the system with the name of Dr. Falken’s deceased son, Joshua.

David uses a device to interpret the signal into a voice. The computer asks the famous question, “SHALL WE PLAY A GAME?”

David responds with, “Love to. How about Global Thermonuclear War?” David chooses the side of the Russians and selects Las Vegas and Seattle as his targets and the countdown to World War 3 has begun.

The Home of the WOPR

I know, I’m so sorry, I just had to… Anyway, I’ll get back to it.

Back in NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Complex, the “game” is seen as an actual missile launch by the Soviets and everyone is trying to figure out why they aren’t seeing anything on radar. The President and VP are sent into hiding for security, they move to DefCon 3, and they launch their Bombers… in other words, all hell is breaking loose. The General calls the President to get approval for launch.

Just when David is about to get his Subs involved, his dad calls to make him clean up the trash, so he turns off his computer. As David is cleaning up the trash, a programmer runs in and alerts the command that the “attack” was a simulation caused by a hacker.

The next day we see David showing his report card to his parents when a news report is talking about the NORAD hack. David and Jennifer talk and more filler where David is trying to destroy everything… then the WOPR calls him back and tells him the game is still on… Oops!

This is when things get real for David, because the next day the FBI show up and he’s take to meet the WOPR, well to meet the folks behind it anyway, because they believe he’s working for someone. I mean, a kid couldn’t have done this on his own, right?

There’s a lot more filler where David is placed into a locked room while they are talking about him, then McKittrick is questioning David and takes him to his office. Then David uses McKittrick’s computer to talk to Joshua again and finds out the “game” is real and that 72 million people in the US are expected to die and oh yeah, Dr. Falken is not dead. David gets caught and while he’s trying to explain that the WOPR is still actively playing the game, he is taken back to the locked room. He escapes while the guard is flirting with the secretary and hijinks ensue… sort of kidding, but not really. This part was just bad writing in my opinion.

David rigged the door after his escape and for some reason they don’t break it down when they can’t get in. While they are wasting their time, David makes his way down to the main area where someone conveniently mistakes him as part of a tour group and he escapes out the front door before they are able to lock the place down.

In the meantime, Joshua is still playing his game, which means that NORAD and the Soviets are both reacting to signals put out by an AI Chatbot.

So, David makes his way to the Oregon coast where Jennifer surprises him and they find their way to where Dr. Falken now lives under a new identity. David and Jennifer then try to convince Dr. Hume / Dr. Falken to help them stop Joshua from killing everyone and destroying the earth. But he has been watching everything all along and doesn’t want to help them.

Eventually, something they say changes his mind though and they travel back to Cheyenne Mountain where Dr. Falken tries to convince everyone that what they are seeing is the computer playing a game. The General believes at least a little of what Falken is saying and tells the President. They wait until after the first impacts are supposed to happen and when they realize the Russian Missiles have not hit, they are all very relieved, they call off their own nukes and everyone lives happily ever after.

You really believe that?

That’s not how it ends!

Joshua wants to win the game, so Joshua locks everyone else out of the system, including Dr. Falken and David, and tries to get the codes to the US Nukes so it can launch. So, David and Dr. Falken must find a way to make Joshua understand that he can’t win.

David realizes that Joshua wants to play a game, so he challenges Joshua to a game of Tic-Tac-Toe, a game that nobody can win. He plays a game and then sets the number of users to zero, so Joshua is forced to play himself. After Joshua plays himself over and over. Eventually Joshua learns that he can’t win and starts playing himself another game, Global Thermonuclear War. In time, he learns he can’t win that game either. Joshua stands down with one last comment about Nuclear War, “Strange game, the only winning move is not to play.”

This time, everyone does live happily ever after!

And all it took was a few thousand games of Tic-Tac-Toe.

The Impact of War Games

The movie was both a powerful anti-nuclear statement and a moderate box office success making over $79 million. It was also nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Sound, and Writing. It also has a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

And while War Games wasn’t the first appearance of a chatbot, it was the first exposure many of us had to the concept of a talking computer or a computer with a voice outside of futuristic sci-fi. It was also an incredibly entertaining film that took place at a time when Nuclear Annihilation was a real possibility, and it was also Matthew Broderick’s first starring role.

I would love to hear what you thought about the movie, please leave me a comment below!

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