Someone recently recommended “Airport Security”, a mini-game about being an airport security worker trying to keep up with a constantly-changing set of rules about what can and cannot be brought onto a plane.
While I sympathize with the message of the game, it didn’t really work for me, for two reasons.
First, the game is irritating to play. It’s impossible to undo mistakes (if you accidentally confiscate someone’s pants instead of his shoes, for instance, as I did repeatedly) and the list of banned items is posted at the opposite corner of the screen from the passenger luggage list, which means that you have to look back and forth quite a lot. Many of the frustrations that constitute the “message” of the game result from game design decisions, even screen layout decisions, and not from the system being emulated. This is the game-design equivalent of a rhetorical cheap trick.
Second, the game doesn’t argue the issues. I agree that TSA guidelines tend to be arbitrary and that they don’t make us safer, but this game doesn’t really argue that; it takes these facts as read. It felt more like an exercise in whipping up the indignation of people who already agree with the central premise. There’s much to be indignant about in the American political environment lately, but I don’t think my inconvenience in going through transport security is the most important issue by a long shot.
Here’s what I think is the issue: we cannot keep ourselves safe from terrorism. There are too many avenues of attack. But that’s a reality we don’t want to look at, and airport security procedures are designed to distract us from it. The airport line is the secular equivalent of ancient religious purification procedures: you purge tainted objects from your possession, you take off your shoes, you submit to the examination of members of the priesthood, and finally, when you are ready, you pass through the sacred doorway.
I’m partly joking. But only partly. Completely bogus as the whole thing might be, the psychological effect is generally (I think) to promote the feeling that the other passengers are a) innocent and b) a little to be pitied for being put through this nonsense, so we’re discouraged from suspecting them.
Still, yeah, I miss the good old days when you could meet incoming passengers at the gate and getting through security mostly just meant taking any coins out of your pocket.