Airport Security


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Rating: 3.5/5 (24 votes)
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dancemonkeyAirport SecurityWhile drawing up my packing list for an upcoming trip, I quickly became confused. What's allowed on-board aircraft these days?

Can I bring a bottle of water, or is that still banned?

Will my laptop be confiscated at the border?

Will I need to remove my pants before boarding the plane?

These questions and, well, pretty much questions just like these are posed in Airport Security, a fast-paced and thoughtful Flash game from Persuasive Games ("We design, build, and distribute electronic games for persuasion, instruction, and activism").

You play the role of an airport security agent screening passengers at a security checkpoint. As they pass through your scanner you can see what they are wearing and carrying, and what is packed in their carry-on. You must confiscate the banned items before you allow them to pass through. You lose if you let too many insecure items through, confiscate too many items that are not banned, or let the line get too long. Simple enough.

The catch is that in the game, as it sometimes feels like in real life, what is banned can literally change by the second. Via a little ticker at the bottom of the screen you are notified of which items are banned and which items are then once again allowed. There is also a row of reference boxes at the top of the screen that shows the banned items' icons.

In this simple package Persuasive Games has managed a scathing indictment of our current state of "security theater," highlighted most recently by this posting about an Average Joe asked to remove his sunglasses at an airport, then flagged as a security threat when he declines. The ridiculousness of our airport security policy is lampooned in this game where you find yourself removing passengers' pants and sunblock, but allowing the packed snake on-board.

Though the game has three levels of difficulty, the easiest one was embarrassingly hard for me to get very far. I must admit I never played for longer than several minutes at a time, though I tried several times. The banned items icons are nefariously placed so far in game real-estate terms from where you must make decisions that I never found myself referring to it. I would just chant my list to myself, something like "no pants, no hats, toilet seats OK".

This game is not intended to be won, it's intended to be played in order to "persuade and instruct", and in this goal Persuasive Games has succeeded. Airport Security is a fast-paced and fun game that also manages to raise thoughtful points about a serious issue.

Now go forth and confiscate.

31 Comments

a little too slow on my computer, but funny... We should be able to give back an item though... because when it changes after you removed, you can't do anything...

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Now, don't get me wrong, I'm no happier about the way things are in the world currently than the editors of this 'blog appear to be. Nonetheless, three persuasive 'games' in a row is laying it on a little thick, isn't it? Not that the games don't have any amusement value, but it's a little annoying to see three games from the same studio posted here in a row, especially games with such an obvious political bias and considering the timing, just before you merkins have your mid-term elections.

If I want to find out about political issues, I do that via other sources, but I come here to find fun games to play when I have a spare moment. It's a shame to see the line between reviewing casual games and political posturing blurred.

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Correction: just 2 games from the same studio.

Consider it our 'political' games feature, not unlike our recent 'Halloween' games feature in which several games with similar themes are presented together.

If you're really annoyed by that you might want to come back after Tuesday, cause you ain't seen the end of 'em yet. =p

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My apologies, jay. 2 studios it is.

"Consider it our 'political' games feature, not unlike our recent 'Halloween' games feature in which several games with similar themes are presented together."

Fair enough, except that the hallowe'en games feature wasn't intended to push any agenda, as I'm afraid it appears the publication of these three games is.

But yup, it's your blog to do with it as you see fit, and I'll certainly keep checking for more casual games :)

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I actually ended up playing this after Toy World, found it when clicking around the site a bit... it's pretty funny.

And jay, I applaud the 'political' games feature - keep 'em coming! I find it refreshing that people come out and express their opinions and/or raise awareness about important things *everywhere*, not just in 'the appropriate forums'...

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I think I am enjoying the posts more than the games... :D

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I agree with the political agenda behind these posts - but I think the games are kind of rubbish. I say have political posts, have posts with great games and if you can combine the two then fantastic - but if you can't, keep them separate.

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I just looked at Persuasive Game's website. On the one hand, they have made Oil War!, the subtext of which is that we urgently need to reduce our dependence on cars and other oil-using products. On the other, they have made at least two games as part of automobile marketing campaigns aimed at making us drive more (and not even in low emissions cars) - how disgustingly hypocritical.

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Also casual games are a part of culture!

And personally I love to see that there is also small sector of a little more profound culture...

By games, everybody says, Ohh .. its just a game, but paintings, songs and stories can have messages, so why can't game have messages?!? Sometimes they have! But there is also a big amount of trash-paitings/songs/stories who don't have much cultural thought behind them.

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Mortice:

I'm curious if you can find any political games which have a non-liberal bias that are not simply "Shoot Pelosi in the head" or some nonsense.

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I don't think its a 'liberal bias' at all, really. It's just a mockery of instances when the government doesn't get things quite right. There's nothing in this game about an invasion of privacy, etc. I mean, those little guys look quite happy to have their bags checked!
Left-leaning politics doesn't have a completely clean record from screwing up either.

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I like the themes-
around Christmas, (oh, excuse me, "Holiday Season")I expect to play Christman (whoops) games.
around Halloween, I like Halloween games
near election day, i like election games
There's nothing worng with this.

As for liberal games, yes, some of these are more liberal based, but that's because Congress is currently more conservative. If Congerss is more liberal, there will be more conservative based games.

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I agree that it's rather odd and a bit frustrating that you can't give back items once they've been removed.

As for the whole political thing, I tend toward the position that both sides are pretty screwed up and not really worth voting for. I also think that as long as the "voice your opinion" thing truly extends to those of different opinions it's a good thing to say; however it sometimes seems like it only gets said when people voice opinions on one side of the debate, and generally not on the other, which bugs me.

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Brandon:

I'm not asking for political games with a non-liberal bias. I'm stating a concern about political posturing on this 'blog.

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it's ironic that you post this game, because i just came back from a weekend out-of-state. i'm the type of guy who drinks a lot of water. eight 8-oz glasses a day? i have that down by lunch. i usually carry a large water bottle with me when i go places. but since i couldn't take one on this plane ride, i was pretty much screwed for water the entire weekend. it was either buy four smaller bottles at the hotel for two bucks each and carry them around with me, or die of dehydration. i may be thirsty, but i'm thrifty first. :D

this game really is tough! and yeah, i know it's supposed to be. i tried the chanting technique, but not with too much luck... it just changed too fast for me to process. i agree with everyone's give-an-item-back gripe, and i'd like to add... the shoes are really small! to take them away, you have to waste time on precision clicking, rather than click-and-go. why couldn't we have a bunch of people with clown shoes walking through security?

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Best I got was 1,800. Getting a easy streak for combos really helps...but IE YI YI, that line gets long fast >.<

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I think it's an interesting game. My only complaint is that I can't return items that I've removed that are returned to the safe list. Every time I've lost it's because I confiscated 3 things that I shouldn't have because I was unable to return them to the passengers before I sent them along :-/

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I'm still kinda confused over parts of it, but I'm scoring around 1,000.

Good game, good game company.

-MANAX

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I'm in a downward spiral.

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Hi all, thanks again for the comments. I want to reply to RP's comment on the perceived inconsistency between Oil God and the advergames we've done for DaimlerChrysler. I have a number of comments.

First, our funding model at the studio is a lot like some independent film studios. We do advertising work to pay for our independent work. So, I'd invite you to see it more like Robin Hood, absconding with corporate wealth that we reinvest in games like this or like Disaffected.

Second, it's too bad you can't play Xtreme Errands, the Jeep Commander game, because I think you'd see that it's very tongue in cheek -- I mean, as the title implies, it practically mocks big SUV owners.

Third, Oil God is really more of a model of the way the global petroleum market works -- it doesn't have an explicit statement about fossil fuel consumption. You can read it a number of ways, but I think that the issue is very complex and not as one-sided as RP makes it out to be here.

As for the comments about political games here on the site, I could turn the point around: finally some political games instead of all those anonymous, trite casual games all the time :P. I think there's plenty of room for all of us, no?

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@elric
My only complaint is that I can't return items that I've removed that are returned to the safe list.
Yeah, we did it that way on purpose ;). I really considered making it possible to replace items, but the experience of frustration was central to the game, and I wanted to preserve it.

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Ian: So what you're saying is that it's less a game and more a simple exercise in frustration?

Whether or not I agree with the political agenda, in terms of gameplay I think that was a really poor choice. I know the game is not supposed to be realistic, but to give players a fighting chance we really need the ability to return items.

Of course, if the whole point of this is to be unfair to players and frustrate them, then that's fine. But don't call it a "game." Call it an "interactive experience in the futility of security theater," or something to that effect. Call it a "game" and you are naturally going to have people complaining that it is poorly designed--because as a game it is poorly designed.

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@Suho1004
I think you're misconstruing the design decision. It also serves as an incentive to work quickly, thus lowering the likelihood of policy changes during search. This draws attention to the cursory nature of airport search in the first place.

That said, I'm not going to let you hold the term "videogame" hostage. I make design decisions with expressive purposes in mind -- not simply the empty production of "fun." The value structure in this game is not meant to maximize pleasure, or even playtime. That doesn't mean it's not a game.

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'That said, I'm not going to let you hold the term "videogame" hostage. I make design decisions with expressive purposes in mind -- not simply the empty production of "fun." The value structure in this game is not meant to maximize pleasure, or even playtime. That doesn't mean it's not a game.'

Ian, I'm afraid you're the one holding the term 'game' hostage. On any definition of the term, fun and amusement are intimately bound up with the concept of 'game'. I think you need to argue more convincingly that the fact that something isn't fun doesn't entail that it's not a game, because that appears, at least prima facie, to be precisely the deciding factor in whether or not something is a game.

I'd also object to your "empty production of fun", as if producing games which are "just" good fun were somehow a negative thing. Surely that's the primary aim of the medium, and anything else secondary?

A parallel: you can write a satirical comedy and it can still be a good comedy, but if it isn't funny, the fact that it is satirical has no bearing on how good it is.

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I agree with most of what Mortice said. If what I posted holds the term "game" hostage--and if by that you mean I am defining the term according to my own standards--then that is exactly what you are doing as well. But I don't think we need to resort to such extremes as accusing each other of holding parts of the English language hostage. I was trying to point out that different people have different ideas of what "game" means, and most people here (as you've seen by the comments above) seem to think that the decision not to allow you to give items back was a poor one in terms of gameplay.

Also, I should point out that you first justified the decision by saying that "the experience of frustration was central to the game." Now you are saying that it "serves as an incentive to work quickly, thus lowering the likelihood of policy changes during search." I find the second justification more persuasive, even if I still don't agree with the design decision.

And I also object to the "empty production of fun" line. I am open to the idea that fun might not be the primary aim of a game, but it certainly should be an important one. You seem to look down on fun, as if it isn't a worthy design goal. What about the idea of art for art's sake? Can art be valuable if it only has aesthetic value and no didactic content? That's pretty much the issue we're talking about here, just with games. Games are an art form, and "enjoyment" is one measure of aesthetic value.

All that being said, I believe you do have a point about my statement that this is not a game. So I will retract--or rather modify--that statement. It may be a game, it's just not as good a game as it could be, in my opinion.

And finally (this is getting long, I know--sorry), I want to say that I generally share the views that your games express. If we were to talk politics, we'd probably get along fine. But for some reason when I play some of your games (some, not all--see my note at the end), I feel little inclined to listen to your message. Maybe it is the gap between my expectation for a game and your design goals. Your games preach, but they do it in such a less-than-entertaining way that even the choir is starting to file out of church. We may still agree with the message, but the sermon is just not to our liking.

I know I'm being a little harsh here, but I'm just trying to be honest. I hope you appreciate that. I'm not saying that anyone here is right or wrong. But you have to understand that people are invariably going to react in this way to your games if they have expectations similar to my own.

Can I make a suggestion on a gameplay level? Allowing players to give back items would still penalize them for working slowly, since it would be time wasted. In fact, with slower players it might even turn into a comical farce involving a guard taking away one item only to give back another, ad nauseum. I think this would just as effectively convey your point as not allowing players to give back items at all. You might even add an "annoyance" meter that went up every time an item was taken away and then given back, but also which went down over time. Just an idea.

(By the way, I don't feel this way about all your games. The one with creating terrorists in the Middle East? That hit home hard, and I thought it was quite good. What's the difference between that one and this one? I honestly don't know. I just can't put my finger on it.)

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I have to agree with the previous posters. As good as the message is, it is a poor design for a game. I've never found going through airport security to be frustrating though, even in the middle of the day. The line is never long and always moves fast, the biggest problem is being without certain things. (Five hour flight with two small cups of water? Agh...) Of course their policies are still ridiculous, just not nearly as inconvenient as we all like to pretend. =P

I do wish you would revise the game to make it more fun. I'd really enjoy playing it.

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i tend to find airport security just about this level of frustrating- but then maybe it's just me. i've been so unpatriotic as to try to bring pencil sharpeners onto planes, although for some reason they do usually let my wacom go through.

other than that, i think a lot of these posters are confusing "frustrating game design," which it is, with "touchy game subject," which it is regardless of your 'side'. i find it interesting that

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Heh heh, Wired Magazine puts this as one of their favorites.

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Karin M Designs Author Profile Page April 30, 2007 10:20 PM

Lucky Kat that she or he, has never been in a long time for airport security. I have been in line for air port security for over ONE hour and that was in the States. So, yes, I find that frustrating and annoying etc.

As to the person who challenges the political posturing on this blog - it's their blog, they can do what they want. If you don't like it, go read and play on another blog. Simple as that.

The game is silly and absurd, and I like that.

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Yeah, I agree with the VERY first post--I would confiscate an item, and then it would be allowed, and I had no choice but to send the person through. Very frustrating that you can't put them back

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upgraded version with the breaking of civil liberties anyone?

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