Follow TV Tropes


Headscratchers / WarGames

Go To

  • The film's premise is supposed to be that David inadvertently starts the Wargame-turned-real when playing around with Joshua, which is how I remembered it. But then they go to see Stephen Falken and he acts like the nuclear war was going to happen anyway, and goes on about how nature replaces "bad" species etc. He even says that he has planned in advance by locating himself just 5 kilometres from a Russian target site. What's up with that? Did he use David somehow to set the thing off? Did I miss something?
    • Falken believed that an all-out nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union was inevitable in the long run, and that while he might delay that war by calling NORAD as per David's request, this would not really change anything. Hence the line that "Humanity planning its own destruction; that a phone call won't stop."

  • Hasn't the ending pretty much left the US defenseless against a real nuclear attack? If it came, the computer would want to play chess...
    • There is no practical military defense against a real nuclear attack as it happens. America's nukes won't defend bupkis in the event of an actual nuclear attack; the defense they provide is in convincing potential attackers that it's not worth it to fire in the first place. And anyhow, now that WOPR isn't hellbent on "winning" the game scenario started by Lightman, removing it from control of the missile system is probably not a problem. So, no, the USA isn't any more defenseless than it was before the movie started.
    • Advertisement:
    • In fact, it's probably more so- since WOPR won't start a nuclear war by accident.
      • There's also that they can, and almost certainly will, go back to using manual control on the missile silos.
    • If the Russians found out about the scenario in the movie, they'd know that the few days afterward (the confusion of unplugging WOPR and going back to the old procedure) would be a perfect time to attack. This assumes they wanted to attack, of course.
      • Except for the fact that there are over a dozen American SSBNs patrolling the seas, silently, waiting for the order to glass Russia. Taking out the land-based forces is easy; it's the submarines you really have to worry about, because a single one has as many nukes as China, and they can hide deep and quiet.
      • Also, it's explicitly stated in the film that tensions between the US and USSR are not especially high at the moment, which is why the commanders at NORAD are persuaded to accept that it's WOPR that's to blame for the apparent "threat". So there's no reason to assume they'd kick off WWIII just because the US was temporarily caught with its guard down ... and that's assuming they believed WOPR'd gone rogue any more easily than the NORAD brass did.
  • So why, after going through the Falkan's Maze "security" feature, did it activate the option of starting a thermonuclear war between the U.S. and Russia? If you play as Russia, the screens show Russian missiles attacking the U.S., and presumably, if you play as the U.S., it launches an attack on Russia. Therefore, the only conceivable use for the system would be to let Falkan tell them "I told you so" in the hours before complete and utter destruction of a third of the human race. It has been suggested that they just didn't know to separate the Global Thermonuclear War "game" from the weapons defense system after setting up the supercomputer for missile detection, but it seemed to me that the programmer did it on purpose.
    • The movie explains all of it. First off, missile launch was originally done individually by silos, with launch officers turning keys. In the movie they switched away from this system after a full-scale dress rehearsal showed that too many of the silo launch officers were not psychologically capable of actually turning their keys. (That's the opening scene of the movie, remember.) So they rewired the silo launch controls to the central control panels at NORAD HQ, with two safety measures: 1) the ten-digit launch control key and 2) the missiles could not be launched unless General Beringer ordered DEFCON 1. WOPR used a series of false alarms to trick General Beringer into setting DEFCON 1, at which point it did a brute-force hack of the launch key. Or to put it more simply: nobody actually gave WOPR control of the missiles, it did a social and then a crypto hack on the NORAD HQ systems.
      • But when WOPR started trying to brute-force the launch key, they clearly noticed it and wanted to prevent it. So why didn't anybody order a step-down from DEFCON 1? Wouldn't that have prevented the launch?
      • They explicitly try that in the film, watch it again. It doesn't work because WOPR is also in charge of setting the DEFCON level (which in retrospect was a really stupid decision).
      • WOPR was by that point no longer responding to commands. Note that they don't reset DEFCON to 5 until after WOPR has been convinced to relinquish control of NORAD's computer systems.
      • This is actually in the movie as well; General Beringer orders one of the operators to lock out future changes once the situation he's convinced is happening for real gets to what he feels is the point of no return. When they try to stand down, before realizing that WOPR is hacking the launch code, there's even a brief shot of the blinking light that pressing the lock out button turned on to remind you of it, suggesting that this is the final thing WOPR needs to act of its own accord. This is in tune with how the entire problem is caused by removing humans from the loop, it's the logical conclusion; once they hit the point of no return, human input is no longer needed. If this seems like an illogical extreme, remember that this is the eighties, or at least the eighties as viewed through the lens of a populace suffering from, if a small degree of, nuclear panic and Red Scare in their daily lives. The humans who set up the system would, at some point, think "What if NORAD, in a million to one chance, is infiltrated by a Soviet agent? Even if it means a suicide run, they could, possibly, interfere with our nuclear response. Better make a point-of-no-return switch that takes the humans in NORAD out of the loop too." To say nothing of the idea that since the missile commanders had problems going through with it, who's to say that General Beringer wouldn't, and if he fails to order changes locked out, the new doctrine would be to assume that he's not up to it before it comes to the actual launch?
    • Advertisement:
    • As to why it didn't do that until after it was hacked? That's more speculative, but my guess is that Matthew Broderick's character, in his ignorance, made the mistake of issuing WOPR an open-ended command that WOPR interpreted as being given permission to do what it did. Which makes this less of a story about a computer that went crazy, and more the ultimate cautionary tale about Garbage In, Garbage Out.
      • Because before David, they didn't even knew about hackers. Remember that this movie didn't just popularice, but kickstarted the hacker's figure in Hollywood! Would a Roman centurion have any plan against aerial attack?
  • When Broderick brings the girl over to show off his mad computer skillz, he tells her not to touch the keyboard. She says she won't, and the leaves streaks of fingerprints down the screen. It's not a plot hole, but it really, really bugs me.
    • Well, maybe Broderick is the kind of guy who doesn't mind people touching the screen (as that can just be cleaned), but doesn't want people touching the keyboard and typing in something stuPENIS.
    • If 1983!Ally Sheedy wants to put her fingers all over my computer screen , I've got no problem with that at all, as I'm sure David didn't.
    • The computer was auto-dialling at the time, he just didn't want her to terminate the program by accident.
  • It's been a while, but why does NORAD's supercomputer have Global Thermonuclear War installed on it?
    • Mc Kitrick probably didn't know about it. I haven't seen it in awhile either, but I seem to recall that part of the problem was Falken, out of grief for his dead son, putting a lot of crap into that thing that wasn't supposed to be there. Nobody believes David at first when he starts, seemingly out of his gourd, ranting about how Joshua is playing games, so they probably didn't even realize the WOPR was apparently sentient.
    • Joshua was a computer designed to make the "perfect" moves in case of a global thermonuclear war, faster than human operators could think or react. The description of Joshua's system is basically a neural net - you train it up on simple tactics using simple games, eventually culminating in a simulation that matches what the computer would be doing in real life. Joshua just got confused near the end about what was real and what was a game.
    • WOPR was meant to run attack/defence simulations. A real-world simulation is called a "wargame". So the simulations were put under 'games'.
    • The whole point of WOPR was to be able to make strategic decisions. They started training him simply, with checkers and chess, and worked up to more complicated games. You can see that in the list of games on the main page. The reason Global Thermonuclear War is in there is because that's exactly what WOPR was built to actually do— the other games are just training materials.
  • Who's idea was it to pull that alarm prank on the tour group? Someone's getting fired...
    • Probably the same person who thought civilian tours through high-security military bases would be a good idea.
    • That bugged me too. Those boards are going to have all sorts of classified information on them, such as silo locations, not to mention the VIP bunkers. Why are they letting civilians see them?
    • I would just like to point out that nuclear missile silos aren't generally hidden in American doctrine - they were in the USSR, but not in the US, where they were usually sited in the middle of absolutely nowhere for a few tactical reasons
    • But they'll see the big board!
      • It's really not that strange. My father worked on another Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, but he had no trouble getting a tour arranged for me and my elementary-school-aged friends. And yes, we saw the big board.
      • I added it to Insecurity System. Cheyenne Mountain nuclear bunker is not open to public tours, never was and never will be as long as nuclear weapons are controlled there. Regardless of tours being done at Air Force Bases. No one gets in there without a reason, it was Acceptable Breaks from Reality to give them a way to escape.
      • Um, no. I can tell you that they did in fact let civilians into the Mountain, as I am one such. I was part of an Air Force science-teacher outreach program and in 2001, they took us out to Colorado for professional development. That included a half-day tour under the Mountain. (Now, this program was likely instituted after the Great Political Mess-Up, and has since been terminated. But it clearly isn't beyond the realm of possibility, as it actually occurred.)
  • How was Matthew Broderick's character able to hack into a DoD mainframe using just a Commodore 64?
    • Not a Commodore 64 - this was released in about 1985. He was running an IMSAI Intel 8080-based S100 box; released in the late '70s as a copy of the Altair.
      • No, the movie was released in 1983, and probably filmed in 1982.
    • There was a little more to it than that, obviously; he had a ton of other hardware attached to it (IIRC, Word of God holds that he got most of it by Dumpster-diving). Plus, he's pretty damn tech-savvy.
    • Not to mention that the mainframe's original programmer left a great big whacking backdoor hole in the security; an unsanctioned, undocumented hole.
    • It doesn't have anything to do with the power of the hacking computer, it has to do with the system having a completely open phone line to the outside world, and a secret backdoor password. (Both mentioned explicitly in the movie, so I'm not sure what the confusion was.) Given that, he could have hacked it with a TELETYPE machine— it wouldn't require a computer at all. In fact the only thing his computer does in the film that a teletype couldn't is the war-dialing part and of course the text-to-speech module.
  • Building on that last one: why did the Department of Defense have one programmer write both the AI and the security framework for the computer on which they were to run? These are very different tasks, and it's unlikely that any programmer who is as good at AI as Falken is supposed to be would be proficient enough to write military-grade security protocols.
    • Remember, 80s. This is before the invention of software firewalls. This is when you dialed-in directly to a mainframe. The 'security framework' is Joshua's own authorized user list, which Dr. Falken obviously has access to, since he has a root account. Joshua's primary 'security framework' is that you are not supposed to be able to even get to a terminal connected to the machine, as its NORAD-internal only. Again, the ability to dial-in from an outside trunk line was a grave switching error.
      • Security framework in this case includes, but is not limited to login/password. The system would have to be modified to allow certain users to log in without a password, which would never happen on a timesharing system, if for no other reason than preventing people from tying up the phone playing Spacewar! after they had used up their time budget. Allowing this sort of a backdoor would require rewriting large portions of the operating system.
      • Aaaaaand, who wrote the kernel for Joshua OS again? Professor Falken. Shazam.
    • Falken didn't work on it alone. Mckittrick worked with him and then when Falken left he a brought a team in who took it further. They then sold it to the Military. Mckittrick however appeared to not check what Falken originally put in it.
  • One thing I don't get: Wouldn't the kids face jail time for...I don't know...NEARLY BRINGING ABOUT THE END OF THE WORLD?? The movie just seemed to imply that they all went home happy despite this glaring fact.
    • One assumes the people in command are bright enough to see that the real fault is not the kids' for nosing about computer networks, but in the faulty implementation of WOPR. As for putting them in jail afterwards: they just saved, y'know, the entire human race. Find me one court that wouldn't consider that little thing as grounds for a full pardon.
    • Not to mention that sending this case to trial requires admitting that all this shit happened, as well as explaining in detail how it happened. On the public record. Imagine NORAD's lack of enthusiasm at that idea.
    • In the novel adaptation for the film, presumably based on an earlier version of the script, after the events of the film, David was actually offered a job due to his know-how on computers. Though it might seem unlikely, however there are some real world hackers who have been caught and ended up working with government agencies to find and fix holes in security systems (and even some corporations have hired hackers as well). Since David was smart enough to gain access into Joshua, wouldn't you want a brilliant kid like him working with you to make sure something like what happened wouldn't happen a second time?
  • Why is it so unbelievable that someone living in Seattle wouldn't know how to swim? Is Seattle underwater like Atlantis or something? That line always bugged the crap out of me.
    • It's more of how super-woman athlete is surprised someone can't swim, unless they have spent their lives in a desert. Most people in the USA can swim, it's not unusual to be surprised if someone can't, especially if they live only a few miles from the Pacific ocean.
    • This is probably an example of Hollywood Provincialism. The water off the coast of Seattle is too cold for recreational swimming, but you might not realize that if you were accustomed to the warmer climate of southern California.
      • Because of the lack of the Gulf Stream, the water off of most of California is far colder than the water on the same latitude on the East Coast. Those in Southern (or Northern) California do tend to have access to swimming pools however (due to the extremely temperate climate allowing you to be in swimwear comfortably for over half the year). Especially upper middle-class suburban white kids. Proximity to a large body of water has nothing to do with it, because of the heavy tides, nobody sane would teach anybody how to swim in the Pacific Ocean.
      • So the US doesn't have municipal indoor swimming pools like... well pretty much all of the UK? Or school swimming lessons?
    • Simplest answer: David had interests other than swimming, which is why he never took it up and had it on the lower half of his "list of things to learn." I mean, he's a video gamer and is really smart with computers. There are people who don't know how to play certain sports, let alone have any interest to learn said sports. Yet people seem surprised that these people have zero interest in sports. And just because you live near a body of water, doesn't mean you're gonna learn how to swim. It's like the old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."
  • Something that bugged me while watching WarGames 2: Dead Code. Why is the protagonist thought to be a terrorist just for knowing about Sarin? Hell, even I could get some infos on Sarin anytime on The Other Wiki.
    • Actually the knowledge of Will's hacking skills and the knowledge of Sarin were only what fueled the belief further. Even without RIPLEY, simple deduction of the amount of money he bet (Well his friend increased without him knowing.) when playing the game is what sparked it. Long story short, they didn't believe a Playful Hacker would have $50 000 dollars to bet. Not to mention at the time they believed that RIPLEY doesn't lie so....
  • What exactly is the "primary target" within three miles of Goose Island, Oregon? Goose Island, Oregon is a real place and there's nothing within three miles of it. In fact, it's in the middle of the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge. There's certainly nothing of any military importance there.
    • The name being that of a real place in Oregon is coincidence. It was intended to be a fictional version of Anderson Island, Washington. The "primary targets" are thus Fort Lewis and McChord AFB.
    • Even if they didn't mean the real island, they did specify that it was in Oregon. Fort Lewis and McChord AFB are over fifty miles from any place within Oregon's borders.
    • Nothing there as far as we know! Maybe Falken knows different, having had Top Secret clearance. Maybe there is really nothing there, but he knew that the Soviet intelligence services thought they knew otherwis and had designated a target despite its worthlessness. Maybe it has been designated America's Nuclear Whipping Boy.
  • Falken claims that, in all the years Joshua had been operational, it had never learned futility. Later, when Lightman asks Falken if there is any way to get the computer to play against itself in tic-tac-toe, Falken answers, "Yes. Number of players: zero." If Falken knows how to make the computer play tic-tac-toe against itself, that implies he'd actually made Joshua play tic-tac-toe against itself in the past. So why didn't Joshua learn futility back then?
    • At the end, Joshua doesn't learn futility from playing tic-tac-toe; tic-tac-toe is a game that's winnable thanks to a person making a dumb mistake. Global Thermonuclear War, on the other hand, ends with the world in ruins, with no side having any kind of strategic edge over the other. Aside from that, Joshua learns from playing out all the attack simulations, eventually having to draw more and more power just to run through them to find some kind of acceptable outcome, of which there's none. That's how it learns futility. Though, Falken really wasn't thinking outside the box; he probably could have gotten Joshua to learn it by running a program to "Add 2+2 in base 10 until it equals 5, quit when you want".
      • Tic-Tac-Toe is fully mapped by a "perfect" player. Hell, there's a computer made from *tinkertoy* that you can't beat. Joshua/WOPR basically play an endless series of "War Games" over and over again against itself, as our arsenal changes, as well as intelligence about what arsenal the enemies have. It doesn't assume "dumb mistakes", it assumes the enemy is also a most optimal player.
    • Another possibility that no one considers: Maybe Falken learned that there was futility in Tic-Tac-Toe, but not Global Thermal Nuclear War (which might have not been installed into Joshua's systems until after Falken left). You notice, he started with Tic-Tac-Toe, but then started applying it to GTNW, meaning that Joshua was reminded of the futility of Tic-Tac-Toe and then started applying it to GTNW, realizing that both have no win scenarios (which the Government never wanted Joshua to learn because, as Falken stated, those in the war room believed in acceptable losses).
  • How did David know that Tic Tac Toe was missing from WOPR's game list? it wasn't on the original list when he originally dialed in. along the same lines—if every game load command was met with "changes locked out," why did WOPR allow Tic Tac Toe?
    • Because tic-tac-toe is such a simple game, it might instead be in place as a built-in logic test subroutine. Which is why it doesn't show up in "list games" — it's NOT a game, for WOPR. It's fully winnable, perfectly, every time, with no inputs that will ever change. It's been "solved". Ergo, WOPR doesn't consider it a game. (As a note, we only solved Checkers in 2007). Running that logic-test might then have caused WOPR to realize that everything else it was doing was in question.
    • The background files that David found on Falken included a large photo of the child Joshua playing tic tac toe on a computer. He made the guess that it was meaningful to Falken and in the system.
    • There is actually a Meaningful Look between Falken and David which is basically David suggesting Tic-Tac-Toe, and Falken telling him that it might work. The spoken part of the conversation ("It's not on the list!" "Go ahead, it's got to be in there somewhere.") doesn't make sense otherwise.
      • Falken knows he installed Tic-Tac-Toe, but it could be possible that the Government removed it from the official programming list after he left NORAD (meaning they removed it's listing, but it was still accessible, hence Falken's "it's got to be in there somewhere" line).
  • Related to above: at the climax they're locked out of WOPR and only have access to the command prompt logon screen that David had access to earlier. They're only able to ask for help and list games, whenever they try to start one of the games, they're informed that they're not allowed access. David is able to get into Tic-Tac-Toe because it's not on the game list (and as suggested, may have been some sort of utility or diagnostic program). However they are able to try and start Global Thermonuclear War, only to be informed that the game is currently in progress and can't be reset until finished. Shouldn't they have just gotten the locked-out message?

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: