Jetset: A [Serious] Game for [iPhones]

Purpose

Jetset: A Game for Airports, created by Persuasive Games LLC, is an interactive satire of airport security regulations worldwide. It is currently available for the iPhone and iPod Touch and can be purchased ($4.99) from the iTunes App Store.

Gameplay

In Jetset, the player assumes the role of an airport security worker. It is his objective to move travelers through the check point as quickly as possible, while also being aware of the rapidly changing list of approved and banned items. Passengers are searched by touching their bodies or personal belongings to allow or disallow certain items through security. Potential contraband includes objects such as pants, shoes, pudding cups, and pet snakes. Players are awarded extra points for combinations of successful passthroughs, but are cited for violations when allowing banned items through the check point or removing safe items from patrons and thus, violating their rights. While the gameplay is mechanically simple, the difficulty ramps up quickly and becomes overwhelming in short time.

Storytelling

Although there is no fixed, concrete designer's plot to Jetset, it excels in conveying its story through gameplay. The player's actions drive a large portion of his own emerging storyline. For example, he can chose to search passengers in strict accordance to the rules or to abuse his power by mistreating them. Inevitably, the player will make mistakes as the game becomes more difficult. Perhaps he endangered the flight by allowing shoes on board or violated a traveler's rights by taking away his sippy cup. All the while, designed game elements convey the satire of the game. The list of prohibited and allowed items is rapidly and perpetually changing in a seemingly arbitrary, and undoubtedly absurd, manner. Furthermore, particularly effective use of audio voiceovers occurs during the game. Anyone who has been in an airport will instantly recognize the monotone, canned, loudspeaker voices that intermittently play. If one listens closely however, these quintessential sounds of the airport carry hilarious messages about rapidly changing security "fashion," officials' "groping" authorization, and the "indiscriminate" dumping of personal belongings into receptacles by security personnel. Overall, the story structure is portrayed and executed well. There is no set narrative and there is no need for one. The truth of travel is that one can never predict what security measures will be in effect from one day to the next. This fundamental reality is portrayed throughout Jetset.

Learning

The main objective of Jetset appears to be a satirical commentary on airport security practices and to this end, it is supremely effective. As explained in the storytelling section, the satire is strong and hits players hard from multiple angles. Users are likely to reflect back on their own travel experiences and scoff at the idiosyncrasies of real life airport security that the game portrays. It makes one wonder where these regulations are coming from and why. Are the rules created aimlessly and nonsensically or are the reasons behind them withheld from the public? Thought, as well as humor, is stimulated by playing Jetset. Although the satire is well done, Jetset could benefit by including more practical knowledge as well. One interesting fact is that all of the items in the game are based off of real airport incidences. Perhaps the real stories behind the items could be conveyed to players, even if only in a story menu that is peripheral to gameplay. Furthermore, there may be more universal ideas that could be embedded to benefit travelers and make their true life experiences more efficient. For example, the last time I was in an airport, I was scolded by security personnel for removing my rings when going through the metal detector, recited a horror story of a man who lost his wedding ring, and informed that I should never have to take them off during the process. Small tips and reminders to users could be very useful, considering the assumption that this game is being played while in an airport. Yet another idea would be to integrate the game with current airline regulations. For instance, if a new rule has been instated restricting a certain item, this content could be added to the game to warn playing passengers and potentially help them avoid another hassle.

User Experience

I had a delightfully positive experience with Jetset. I found myself laughing aloud at the absurdity of the prohibited items that I came across. Yet, I was still inclined to reflect on my prior experience and the general state of airport security. In spite of Jetset's effective execution of purpose, I found a few ways that it could be improved. I felt that the challenge escalated faster than I would like. I had the desire to relax and actually indulge in the pleasurable satire. This cost me dearly during play. If things progressed a little slower, I would have time to laugh for a bit and then focus into the gameplay. There is much replay value and depth to Jetset, considering the inclusion of 100 airports, unlockable souvenirs, and the Facebook application (for displaying high scores, sharing souvenirs with friends, and unlocking achievement trophies). Unfortunately, I was not able to experience much of this seeing as I was not in an airport when I purchased the game. It would be nice if each airport had a unique graphic style and if the specific game items and security regulations reflected the actual location. In this case, players would need a way to access each airport, even if they were not present in that airport. The unlockable souvenirs could remain undisturbed by requiring players to be on site, but at the same time, a passenger who will never travel to all 100 locations could still enjoy the full range of play. Lastly, I would like to see the location mechanism be more forgiving, so more players can experience a greater portion of the game. For instance, a player flying out of Capital City Airport in Lansing (not in the game) could be linked to the nearest included airport, Detroit Metro.

Review (out of 5 violated travelers)

Gameplay

Jetset is fast, fun, and allows players to experience the "other side" of airport security, while simultaneously reliving some of their own and others' experiences. The difficultly escalates a little faster than I would like and takes away from the user's ability to indulge in the satire.

Storytelling

A rich satire emerges from the chaos of gameplay when combined with subtle (and not so subtle) designed narrative elements.

Learning

The satire is prominent, enjoyable, and effective. Players are likely to reflect on their past experiences and question the absurdity of airport security. It would be nice if more practical reminders were embedded into the game to assist travelers.

User Experience

Jetset is simple to play, but sufficiently deep thanks to locational achievements, unlockables, and Facebook integration. I would like to see unique venues and content variations related to each of the real life locations. These features should be open to all players, regardless of where they are, and would add a desirable amount of diversity to the game.

Effectiveness

Overall, Jetset is an excellent game from an entertainment standpoint and a valuable one from a serious perspective. It is certainly worth a try. I can honestly say that I look forward to my next trip, knowing that Jetset will come along with me.

P.S. Is the iPhone a legitimate serious game development platform?

I came across an online interview with Jetset creator Ian Bogost, in which he discusses the strife of creating (and recreating) an application that is acceptable by the Apple iPhone App Store's occluded standards. From the looks of it, the iPhone may not be a practical development platform for serious games. Sure, it has great market outreach and a game-hungry audience, but serious games flourish in an environment that promotes freedom of speech and content. Unfortunately, as reported by Bogost, the App Store is locked down like a well-oiled totalitarian regime. However, for those willing to become rogue developers in order to spread their message, there is always the option to create unofficial applications for users with jailbroken iPhones.

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