David Lightman is a young computer whizz kid. More attracted by this science than by high school, his favorite passtime consists in entering on distant servers to hack the latest computer games. Thinking that it concerns the central computer of a new game company, David and his girlfriend Jennifer Mack enter onto NORAD's computer, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which is in charge and supervising the reaction to any aerial attack.
This computer more commonly called WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) is a high tech generation computer able to make decisions by itself thanks to an artificial intelligence system. WOPR is self-learning and developed by a professor Falken, today exiled for state reasons. This computer is in charge of imagining all possible enemy attack scenario's and to find them a solution.
When David, thinking he is playing a new recently developed game, tries a "Global Thermonuclear War" game, the world just misses an interplanetary catastrophe. But the FBI rapidly spots the young pupil and arrests him. David is then driven to the NORAD centre to be questionned by John McKittrick, the computer engineer responsible for the center, and by the General Jack Beringer commanding NORAD. They suspect David may work for a foreign country and accuse him of spying. But David notices that the game he began with Joshua, the incarnation of Falken's dead son represented by WOPR, has not ended and that the computer makes a point to lead it to the end of the game. In others terms, Joshua is on the way to trigger a nuclear war in 48 hours...
Spoiler ! the end of the story is revealed below…
Using his ingenuity, David escapes from the FBI guards and leaves the NORAD to attempt to find Professor Falken. Helped by Jennifer, they find back the scientist who, after a certain hesitation, agrees to help them. While the alert level has come to its final phase DEFCON 1, Falken, David and Jennifer must convince McKittrick and the General Beringer that the attacks visualized on all screens are only virtual. Despite the end of the alert orded by Beringer, Joshua continues the game and attempts now to decrypt the security codes for the launching of missiles of the US.
Thanks to its calculation power, Joshua will be able to launch the missiles in the next six minutes, equally locking all access to its own system to deny any intrusion. Fortunately David finds an unforeseen way to put the computer safely to normal. By proposing a computer vs computer Tic-Tac-Toe game, Joshua uses all its system resources to learn the game and to attempt to find a winner. The computer packs and to the last moment, finding no solution, stops its countdown. Joshua finally accepts the fact that it is not always possible to find a winner and a loser in a simple game. A game that nearly lead the world to its loss.
The North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) is a binational military organization formally established in 1958 by Canada and the United States to monitor and defend North American airspace. NORAD monitors and tracks man-made objects in space and detects, validates and warns of attack against North America by aircraft, missiles or space vehicles. NORAD also provides surveillance and control of the airspace of Canada and the United States.