The original movie starred a pre-Ferris Bueller's Day Off Matthew Broderick as a high schooler who inadvertently hacks into a military computer and has to deal with the aftermath. Today, a six-episode reimagining of the cult classic, called #WarGames, is launching on Vudu.com, Steam, HelloEko.com, and the Eko iOS app.
Anyone who saw the original WarGames will immediately notice two key differences between that version and its 2018 update: First, the hacker protagonist is not a teenage boy. Instead, the lead is a 20-something woman, Kelly Grant, played by Scandal actress Jess Nurse. Kelly is an ex-military member who uses her hacker skills to seek redemption for her mother after she is wrongfully portrayed by the media.
Kelly goes by the online persona L1ghtman, a reference to Broderick's character, and defies the hoodie-clad hacker stereotype: Her computer is located in a bright living room, not a dark basement corner. This kind of representation onscreen matters since, according to a 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study, women make up only 11% of cybersecurity professions.
The second main difference is the way the story is told: The show taps into the growing popularity of the choose-your-own-adventure format to give viewers some agency in the narrative. Unlike the versions of this pioneered by Netflix and HBO's Mosaic, #WarGames is a bit more subtle in its methods. Instead of each scene coming to a halt and asking you to choose which direction to go, the characters appear simultaneously in separate onscreen video feeds — it's as if you're looking at each through the webcam on their computer. Viewers can toggle from one feed to another, with the characters you click on more frequently influencing the story you're told. The show's tagline, "the series that watches you", is a reference to this mechanism.
Nurse, who watched hacking and censorship-focused documentaries including Killswitch and We Are Legion to prep for her role as Kelly, relied on maps of the various storylines to keep things straight. "I tracked the journey for each of them to figure out how the end of every scene could lead into multiple versions of whatever the next set of scenes would be," Nurse told Refinery29.
She compares the process to the butterfly effect: One small change in Kelly's day — waking up two minutes late or putting on a different shirt — could impact her story arc.
Like Mr. Robot's female hacker Darlene, Kelly is "not led by her gender as much as she's led by her own identity," Nurse says. "She doesn’t see her gender as being something that limits her. She sees it as something that shouldn’t matter in relation to her skills, intellect, and smarts on the web."
In WarGames, Kelly struggles with some of the same issues the hacktivists in Mr. Robot find themselves questioning as they walk the moral line between using their tech skills for good and playing with people's lives. But where the complex storylines of Mr. Robot can feel larger than life, Nurse sees Kelly's as one most young women today can relate to.
"It’s about how young people can find a platform and even if it’s scary at first, they can find their footing within it," She says. "The [characters in #WarGames] have to find their power and their voice when they're being looked up to by a community."
The fact that the show's launch date coincides with today's nationwide school walkout to protest violence was not intentional. However, it's a fitting coincident given the the ways that generations of digital natives, including the survivors of the Parkland school shooting, are making their voices heard on Twitter and elsewhere online as they fight for political causes they care about.