war games: the real surprises

A few weeks ago, Liam announced that he was going to be a computer hacker when he grew up and that for his first hacking endeavor, he thought maybe he’d go into his school’s main computer.

When I pointed out that that sort of hacking is pretty much a felony, he was devastated. “I’m not going to do anything,” he said. “I just want to see if I can.”

We had a lovely little teaching moment about such things as trespassing, privacy, and respecting the rights of others. I am fairly sure that my laptop hard drive is still intact and I’m reasonably sure that when I think Liam’s playing “League of Legends,” he isn’t busy writing code to break into the UAE central banking system.

I think.

But you can see why the movie “War Games” would be a natural choice for family movie night, right? Lest you’ve forgotten this deathless bit of cinematic history, let me refresh your memory: a teen-age kid, David Lightman (played as always by Matthew Broderick, who looks alarmingly like Liam might, after Liam gets his braces off), slacks off at school to spend all his time with his home-built computer system. He inadvertently hacks into the NORAD computer and almost starts World War III when he activates what he thinks is a game but is actually a military simulation of a nuclear attack.

David’s high-tech computer system looks like this:


 (Yes. that’s Ally Sheedy playing a teen-ager, as she seemed to do for decades until suddenly she was a bitter drug-addicted middle-aged photographer, in “High Art.”)  Note, please, this computer, which is huge, and which worked in sync with the multi-colored buttons and whatnots in the background. But in 1983, this system was the pinnacle of home computing.

Liam and Caleb took the big computer in stride.

This high-tech gadget, however, threw them for a complete loop:


“That,” said Husband, “is how we used to look things up. It’s called a microfilm machine.”  I almost couldn’t look. I spent hours and hours and hours peering into microfilm readers and–even worse–microcfiche readers during graduate school.  The machines lurked in the basement of the library and a more perfect migraine delivery system has never been invented.

As David races the clock, trying to figure out how he could stop the NORAD computer from launching missiles into the USSR, he relies on his wits and other high-tech research aids:


 “More looking up,” said Husband sagely.  The children were flummoxed. All this…labor…just to figure out the name of the scientist who’d created the computer system?  The boys didn’t ask, but I could see their shared, incredulous thought: there was a time before google?

As the movie winds to its climax, David finds himself in a phone booth (which my children recognize because they’re New Yorkers and know that those are the little kiosks used for ads), and consults yet another research tool:


“I know what that is,” said Caleb, “that’s a phone book!”

“I’ve never seen a phone book,” says Liam. (Yes he has: they used to pile up, unread, outside our apartment in New York.)

“I have. They have really, really small writing inside,” says Caleb, in tones used by oracles and other prophets.

Liam shakes his head. “This movie is old.”

After the movie, Caleb said, “I might have nightmares about World War III.”

I might have nightmares about microfilm.

Liam still thinks being a hacker might be pretty cool.


image sources

war games still


microfilm source

card catalog

yellow pages



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13 Responses to war games: the real surprises

  1. Christie February 10, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    Omg. I loved the movie High Art! And this post. I wish I understood computers.
    Christie recently posted..I Love My Sports Bras Because They Turn Two Breasts Into OneMy Profile

  2. KSB February 10, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    Love this post! Am laughing so hard, tears are running down my face.

    My favorite part is the library index cards. I can just see Liam’s and Caleb’s totally puzzled and flummoxed faces!

    Oh dear, oh dear, still chuckling….

  3. Lady Jennie February 10, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    Oh my gosh – I so have to show my kids this movie when they’re old enough!
    Lady Jennie recently posted..Gulliver’s GiantsMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn February 17, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

      Your kids will love it, although there was some gagging on the part of hte eight-year-old when Ally Sheedy kissed Matthew Broderick. : )

  4. Arnebya February 11, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    I love showing the kids something from “back in the day” except when they start with the you guys are really old comments. I will admit to being actually happy that my oldest seemed to respect that I could operate the microfiche machine.
    Arnebya recently posted..SometimesMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn February 17, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

      The microfiche will make grown men cry, that’s what. God I hated that thing…even though I sort of loved looking at the ads in really, really old newspapers. Which suggests that A) I am myself really old; and B) I myself am a serious nerd of the highest-order. And not the kind of nerd who goes on to make a gazillion bucks, alas.

  5. Stacie @ Snaps and Bits February 14, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    I love this so much! War Games was one of my favorite movies back in the day. It’s so funny how outdated it is now.
    Stacie @ Snaps and Bits recently posted..Missing PiecesMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn February 17, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

      You know, I’d never seen the movie & watched it mostly because, you know, how many times can a person watch “Pirates of the Caribbean,” but it was actually a good movie, despite the outdated tech & some pretty ham-handed performances.

  6. IASoupMama February 14, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    Oh, too funny! I had to explain to my kids that there was a time when phones had cords and you couldn’t walk all over the house (and the planet) with them. They were amazed…
    IASoupMama recently posted..I’ll Nancy Drew You!My Profile

    • Deborah Quinn February 17, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

      The first time I saw a guy talking on a (huge) cordless phone, I followed him down the block, stalker-style, because I was mesmerized…
      thanks for stopping by!

  7. Erica M February 14, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

    Hey, the yeah write editors added this piece to the new invitational grid this week. Come check out your competition. We miss you on the grid, mamma.
    Erica M recently posted..yeah write #96 weekly writing challenge voting is open: editors for the invitational, popular for the challenge gridMy Profile

  8. Mod Mom Beyond Indiedom February 15, 2013 at 3:12 am #

    I loved “Hight Art” too. I have it on DVD. Matthew Broderick looks so young there. Where have the years gone?
    Computers used the be the size of a closet. Hard to believe. And now we’re walking around with them in our back pockets. I love the future.
    Mod Mom Beyond Indiedom recently posted..Bait and SwitchMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn February 17, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

      thanks for stopping by – so funny: the “floppy disks” in that movie were the size of albums (But of course, who remembers what THOSE are anymore, either?) Sheesh.

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