Take off your shoes

I just got back from a trip to China, and after having gone through airport security about seven bazillion times in the last week, I was pleased to discover that this experience has now been released as a game: Airport Insecurity. It’s a political game — a bit of game-as-speech — produced by the brilliant folks at Persuasive Games.

I actually got a chance to see an early demo of Airport Insecurity when company founder Ian Bogost blew through New York a few weeks ago. It’s really a hoot: The game forces you to manage a queue of people waiting in line to go through the metal detectors; if you hold up the line too long, they all start to freak out. The fun begins when you try to see whether you can sneak through “unallowed” items like scissors or cigarette lighters. Even cooler is the fact that the likelihood of getting busted is statistically determined by the real-life stats of the airport you’re in. Bogost actually researched how often “unallowed” items were actually getting past security officials at various well-known airports, and programmed them into the game.

You can thus travel to La Guardia in New York and, while waiting in line at airport security, play a round of the game in a virtual replica of your environment! Indeed, Bogost suggests that “to consider the game’s implications fully, players are encouraged to play the game while waiting in line at airport security.” That’s just lovely. When the underslept minimum-wage-slave who’s piloting the metal-detector wand asks you what you’re doing, the world will be sucked into a wormhole of recursive irony. As Bogost writes in his press release for the game:

Airport Insecurity is a game about inconvenience and the tradeoffs between security and rights in American airports. While the government wants you to believe that increased protection and reduced rights are necessary to protect you from terrorism, the effectiveness of airport security practices is uncertain.

You can buy the game here for $3.99, and play it on many java-enabled Nokia handsets!

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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