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Demo Men 4: War Games

by Ned O'Gorman

Science fiction film envisions, establishes, and sometimes enforces proper relationships to technologies, especially new technologies.

In the Demo Men clips here, we look at a series of episodes from science fiction cinema in which orthopraxic relationships to computing technologies are enforced through a regular rhetorical form, the demo. In this form the film audience is invited to identify not with an expert operator of computing machinery, but with a novice escorted by an expert into a specialized space. Before the eyes of a novice proxy, the expert operator then performs a masterful demonstration of the technology – outside of normal operation.

Rather than entering the space of computing mid-process, as we often do in depictions of industrial labor, and rather than identifying with a new user in the process of discovery, as we do in some first-contact narratives, most sci-fi introduces computing machinery by making us witness to a highly artificial, self-contained, and rigidly exclusive performance.

In this way, audiences are invited to barely cross over into the novel use of technologies that dominate the background activity of science fiction’s computing spaces.


What is performed here in this scene from War Games is only in part the computer, an actual unit called the IMSAI 8080- What's more significant is David's navigation of the network, a distributed conglomeration of computers which form the true technological backbone of the film's plot.


The bedroom sequence, complete with a non-operator witness and the requisite entry into privileged space, is immediately followed in the movie by the removal of humans from an underground missile bunker. We watch two soldiers leave their posts, keyboards in hand, while a technician installs a connection to the WOPPR mainframe. Cut to scenes of the mainframe, blinking away like a background computer, un-demonstrated, menacing.

Demo Men 4: War Games

This War Games clip is part of the Demo Men series

from War Games (1983)
Creator: John Badham, Director
Distributor: MGM
Posted by Ned O'Gorman