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The Ludus of WarGames

by Evan Pondel

This clip provides a nice example of the intersection of ludus and narrative.   Ludus, as defined by Gonzalo Frasca’s article, “ Ludology Meets Narratology,” is a set of possibilities that will lead a player to a specific endpoint.  In the case of “WarGames,” there are two possibilities:  the world will suffer the wrath of thermonuclear war or Professor Falken and David solve the puzzle and save the world.

The ludus of this scene sets off the narrative sequence of the world on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. The ludus of the film produces a series of sequences that depict the fragile relationship between man and machine.  Man is attempting to help machine think more like a human being and machine is attempting to help man think more like a human being, too.  Eventually machines and humans realize the parallel between the futility of tic-tac-toe and nuclear war.  

Frasca poses the question whether “every kind of ludus produces narrative sessions.”   And I say, yes they do.  The sequence or path a player takes to reach an endpoint will almost always produce some form of narrative.  In fact, I believe ludus is necessary in a film unless the filmmaker wants his or her audience to run around in circles without any sense of plot.

I suppose that would be an example of paidea, which WarGames is not.   

WarGames, AI, and the Millitary-Entertainment Complex

The fate of the world depends on the ability of a super-computer to "learn" the parallels between the unwinnable game of Tic-Tac-Toe and the lose-lose situation of the Cold War.

from WarGames (1983)
Creator: John Badham
Distributor: MGM
Posted by Critical Commons Manager