25th Anniversary of WarGames

Just a quick hit tonight, as we are in a hotel, it’s late, and I’m going to have to hog tie the kiddos soon and put them to bed.

Tonight, after a day of doing some pre-Feast work here in Branson, my family and I watched the last half of the the 1983 movie WarGames, with Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy. June 3 of this year will be the 25th anniversary of its original release apparently. (I feel old…) The movie was playing on AMC, so thankfully most of the profanities were edited out. Regrettably, not all of them were.

This movie really affected me as a teenager, and was one of my very favorites. I enjoyed the technology side of it and the “geek in an adventure” quality, as well as the artificial intelligence flavor of the story. The final scene [watch out: spoilers!], with Joshua learning from the increasingly fast sequences of tic-tac-toe games, followed by the mind-numbing sequence of scenario after scenario of simulated nuclear exchanges — really awesome. Well executed and powerful to watch. Even after 25 years and knowing exactly what he would say word for word, Joshua’s “lesson” was still moving, and I don’t think the two-and-a-half decades have dulled the movie a bit.

Even though all I had was BASIC to program in, WarGames inspired me to dabble in some of the early AI programs that were floating around at the time — which is where I met the Turing test for the first time. I desperately wanted to create my own Joshua.

(I know… Some of my younger readers must think of programming in BASIC as the equivalent of communicating by Morse code — or, worse yet, with two cans connected by twine. Still, those were good times! Sitting in front of those Apple IIe machines as a kid and typing in that code was like nothing I had ever felt before. But I digress!)

I remember writing a paper in high school about the doctrine of “Mutually Assured Destruction” in which I was critical of a pure reliance on nuclear deterrence. It wasn’t meant as a slam on the approach in general–rather, I was trying to argue for the national need to invest in what was being billed at the time as “Star Wars”: the Strategic Defense Initiative. It is hard to imagine that the last scene from WarGames was not playing in my mind as I composed the paper.

As I matured, I saw the message of WarGames in more depth than when it first came out. Surely intended as a warning to our politicians at the time of the deadly “game” they were playing with the arms race, it seemed to miss the subtle truth that the arms race was, in a large part, motivated by the truth at the very heart of the movie’s not-so-subtle message: there are some games that no one wins. Our arms were meant to insure that the other side never took the first move. In that way, the movie actually was more of a confirmation of America’s strategy rather than a warning to change course.

Whether I wholly claim the message of the movie or not, the ending is still one of my favorite moments of cinema.

In other news, the Feast-related work we are doing here in Branson is going very well. I was reminded of what fantastic condos and cabins the Thousand Hills Golf Resort has, and our meetings have been productive. We should be able to update the website soon with helpful information for those of you doing housing research.

Well, I’m off to bed — aren’t you tired?

3 thoughts on “25th Anniversary of WarGames

  1. mom t

    Mr. Smith.. “Hog-tie”? My brothers used to do that to show who was the toughest! Hadn’t heard that expression in a coons-age.
    My sons used to use the Atari 64 for their programming, have you ever worked on those?
    This “star wars” thing always made me think of one Nation trying to Bully another Nation into submission. Won’t work, as the ego of the other Nation will be forced to look for ways to Bully back, if for no other reason than just to save face. All of this is born out some form of fear.
    God’s way is the only way, and won’t it be wonderful, when all people will learn not to Bully or be a Bully?
    Sleep tight and don’t let the bed-bugs bite.

  2. I have fond memories of programming in BASIC. I’d say many high school students still have experiences with BASIC; it’s common on most student-used graphing calculators. This is a stark platform difference from your Apple IIe, but you do whatever you can to keep your mind occupied while in class.

    Once I got a fancy University of Science and Technology, however, I got to take a big step up. That’s right, they taught us FORTRAN. You want to talk about communicating by two cans connected by twine? You better make sure the twine is exactly the right length and the cans are precisely the right shape and density such that they resonate harmonically. Otherwise, FORTRAN will spew nonsense onto your screen. It was in FORTRAN that I successfully completed my own first AI. Even though it only played the aforementioned tic-tac-toe (on an nxn board!), it sparked a deeper interest in the topic of AI while simultaneously throwing up an aversion to ever going through the low-level programming again.

    I wrote the past two paragraphs mostly so I could justify commenting, when I really just wanted to say that WarGames is one of my favorite movies too.

  3. KiwiGeek

    Hey Mr. Smith,

    WarGames is and has been one of my favourite movies for the longest time (and useless trivia of the day, it’s the reason that, for the longest time “Joshua” was still one of the 6 most popular passwords).

    Programming in Applesoft BASIC on the old Apple ][e was a lot of fun too; and just goes to show what a good job MicroSoft (with the capital S as they liked at the time) did of programming Apple’s operating system… Yeah, I’m a Microsoft Fanboy 🙂

    Anyway, my point in all this was to let you know (in case you didn’t) of a marvelous little game called “DEFCON” (www.introversion.co.uk) which sets out to recreate Wargames as closely as possible, while making it fun at the same time. A previous game of Introversions also included a “WOPR” clone, but Defcon’s a huge improvement.

    And finally, if you’re still feeling nostalgic, there’s an Applesoft BASIC emulator implemented in Javascript: http://www.calormen.com/Applesoft/ – Today is apparently the 44th anniversary of BASIC!

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