John Badham's cult film WarGames (1983) is widely recognized as one of the most influential narratives shaping the popular image of the hacker. Research and critiques are, however, conflicted regarding what that influence is. Some see it as troubling and countercultural, others as light‐hearted and conservative. Little attention has been given to the fact that WarGames is a convergent narrative working across multiple media. In a study of David Bischoff's eponymous tie‐in novel, this article reveals a composite genre vehicle focused on the new kind of kid rather than the new technology. The protagonist is presented as an outsider by means of literary science fiction devices, only to be made more “normal” and recognizable as part of the school story, love story, and thriller. This refamiliarization gives WarGames a conservative potential, less evident but still present in the film. While it cannot completely neutralize the countercultural character of the hacker gestalt, it seeks to affect the audience's interpretation of WarGames as a media ensemble. The article's result brings nuance to the conflicted assessments of WarGames and contributes to the understanding of the narrative's influence on digital youth discourse at the peak of the personal computer revolution.
WarGames and the Refamiliarization of the Hacker
Christian Mehrstam is a literature scholar specializing in work-oriented response aesthetics in popular fiction and games. He is a senior lecturer at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, where he teaches comparative literature, media history and digital humanities. His latest article is “Silver Lining: The Emblematic Exemplum of Silver Surfer #40–43 (1990).”
Christian Mehrstam; WarGames and the Refamiliarization of the Hacker. Genre 1 December 2022; 55 (3): 235–258. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-10146764
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