Movie Gadget Friday: The W.O.P.R. from WarGames


We're sorry for MGF's delay; some editorial mixups have since led to numerous interns being flogged mercilessly. Last week Movie Gadget Friday took a look at the Memory Erasing Process from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This week, following a genuine reader request (and not just because sarcasm comes so naturally), Josie Fraser takes a gander at the W.O.P.R. from 1983's WarGames.

Ah, 1983—to be honest I can barely remember it, but who could ever forget WarGames—the thrills, the tension, and the fabulous touchtone telephones.

The film's star is the made-up and most likely made of cardboard military computer W.O.P.R. (War Operation Planned Response, pronounced Whopper—apparently Burger King had far reaching connections in the 80s) and a programme called Joshua—ably voiced by James Ackerman who easily wins second place for the all-time Creepiest-Computer-Voice-In-A-Movie Award (you know who gets number #1). W.O.P.R. works for the non-fictional North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), and is programmed to play a limited selection of games, including chess and Global Thermonuclear War.

Unfortunately, Mathew Broderick - playing high-school hacker David Lightman, is unaware that Global Thermonuclear War isn?t fun for all the family at all, but actually America and Canada?s MAD response to nuclear attack?i.e. designed to nuke the communists back. What starts out as a harmless bit of hacking fun rapidly turns into the countdown for World War III.


Lightman?s technical props were actual computer technologies?The Fischer-Freitas Company?s IMSAI 8080 microcomputer, FDC2-2 Dual Floppy disks, and a Zenith 12-inch video monitor. He uses the IMSAI connected to an acoustic coupler and his telephone handset to access W.O.P.R. This may seem a little unrealistic, but bear in mind that in the movie W.O.P.R. was also designed launch both nations? entire intercontinental ballistic missile supply in response to a power cut.

NORAD is still defending the skies, although in recent years has become the friendly face of potential nuclear meltdown with its official NORAD Tracks Santa web site. Either that or Father Christmas is being earmarked as a potential recipient of Guant?namo hospitality.