Playing Games with the Cold War: Introducing ‘WarGames’

LUDUS is the UCLA Cinema and Media Studies program’s graduate student organization dedicated to video game theory, history, and play. LUDUS members are video game enthusiasts who have, over the past several years, sponsored lectures from industry professionals, programmed machinima screening series in conjunction with Melnitz Movies, worked closely with designers in the UCLA Games Lab, and coauthored publications and collaborated on conference presentations with one another.

The WarGames screening on November 26th was part of a continuing series that interrogates how cinema has engaged the medium of the video game. This text is an embellished version of the introduction I gave the film prior to the screening. —Harrison Gish

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Good evening and welcome to WarGames, and what will hopefully be the first of several LUDUS screenings that will, as a whole, interrogate the intersection of cinema and video games, displaying the numerous ways in which cinema has represented, adapted, and translated game play and game culture into film form.

To understand WarGames, one must understand that the early 1980s was a period of transition for both Hollywood and the growing video games industry. Both Star Wars and the contemporary blockbuster were less than a decade old, and Hollywood producers were still attempting to figure out the best way to monetize the suddenly massive genre of spectacular science-fiction. Well aware that the video games industry had made more money than Hollywood’s collective box office in 1982, film producers were eager to play upon the growing interactive medium to appeal to youth audiences. Results vary: while many of my friends’ childhoods were defined by The Last Starfighter (Nick Castle, 1984), and numerous contemporary scholars have a love/hate relationship with Tron (Steven Lisberger, 1982), no one remembers the teen sex comedy Joysticks (Greydon Clark, 1983), for good reason. In a period prior to Nintendo’s U.S. release in 1985 and the sweeping penetration of game consoles into middle-class living rooms, Hollywood attempted to draw youth audiences out of the home and into the movie theater by representing and idolizing the game culture of which many from that demographic were a part. Released in 1983, John Badham’s WarGames is emblematic of the time. Continue reading “Playing Games with the Cold War: Introducing ‘WarGames’” »