In the 1983 film WarGames, Matthew Broderick’s character David Lightman played a huge role in shaping the public image of computer hackers. But for co-writer Walter F. Parkes, it’s left a complicated legacy. “When I look at that movie, certainly there were some things we got right. Mainly, I think, that the world would not change because of things that IBM and Ma Bell or the government would do — but it would change because of things that people in their garages or bedrooms would do,” Parkes told an audience at SXSW during a panel on film and technology. “But the thing we didn’t think about was the dark side of David Lightman.”

Lightman’s character, said Parkes, “sort of reflects an attitude about hacking which was very specific to the time, the kind of tail wagging antiestablishment hero.” Lightman was one example of this archetype, and so were characters from Sneakers, the 1992 hacking film also co-written by Parkes. “I don’t think we ever got a hold of — because I don’t think we ever imagined the extent to which the systems of this planet would be shared and become one big cybergrid — the sort of destructiveness of the hacker side, of hacker activity,” he said. “At times, I’ve actually felt somewhat guilty about that. Did we overly romanticize something? But luckily it turns out that it also inspired people to get into [computers.]”

Parkes appeared alongside screenwriter Julie Bush, who hosts the podcast Threat Surface, and Brian Knappenberger, director of Aaron Swartz documentary The Internet’s Own Boy. The three of them shared a disdain for tired and unrealistic hacking tropes, although they also emphasized that high-tech know-how should be used in service of developing a story and characters. “Good ‘cyber’ movies are no more about the hardware and the techniques than the way a good Western is about the way a rifle works,” said Parkes. Bush cited the Laura Poitras documentary Citizenfour as a good example — “that was an incredible movie that was paced like a thriller, and it felt dangerous on every level,” she said. “And there was no this,” she added, miming furious typing. “There was no actual activity of liberating information.”

Knappenberger said that lazy depictions of “hacking” can fuel dangerous misconceptions, including a scene in Bridesmaids where a police officer casually tracks a character’s location through their cellphone. “I thought, that’s illegal! That’s completely illegal what he just did, and it seems so kind of normalized,” he said. “I think it’s important to get those things kind of right in an era where technology does infringe on our civil liberties."

A WarGames remake was announced a few years ago, although updates have been sporadic and vague. Parkes, however, described a direction he thought a new version of the film could go. “I was meeting with a really smart young director a couple weeks ago, and he said — I’ve been thinking about it, there’s a good way to redo WarGames,” he said. “He said that it should be more like WarGames: Breaking Bad, which is, today, that David Lightman character would realize, ‘Wait a minute, I have an amazing amount of power.’ … Instead of ‘the cute kid almost starts a war and stops it in time,’ is this a world about a cute kid who realizes [that] and starts to mete [out] a certain justice, and also selfish behavior, under the guise of social equality through the power he has.” We can only hope he’ll still ultimately decide he prefers a nice game of chess.

An interesting read via The Verge – All Posts

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