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.