The Making of an iPhone Game & Things That Make Apple Uncomfortable

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Posted February 2, 2009 - By TylerColfax

Ian Bogost, Founding Partner of Persuasive Games was kind enough to give us a few moments of his time to chat about their newest iPhone game Jetset, a Game for Airports that's steadily climbing the App Store charts.

Ty Colfax: So what made you want to create a game about airport security?
Ian Bogost: Well, we’ve been interested in airport security at the studio for a long time.  I think what it comes down to is, I travel a lot for business, and so, I’m always at an airport.  And there’s that old adage about writing what you know, and we sort of apply that to game design. The whole idea of the kind of arbitrariness of security policy as it relates to safety, and then the inconvenience that you experience as a traveler – that was something that we were interested in doing. I wanted to take that idea and update it, and in fact one of the most hilarious things between our web game and our iPhone game, is that on the web game we made up a bunch of absurd to stuff to kind of highlight the arbitrariness of it all and with the iPhone game, every single item is taken out of a real story from airport security in the last two years.  So, truth is stranger than fiction as usual.

TC: In the approval process with Apple, did they censor the game at all?
IB: Well, the thing you need to understand about the App Store, is that Apple can do anything they want, right?  So when you sign up, you are not guaranteed to have anything put on sale at the App Store.  They’ve got complete control, and there’s no way to negotiate on that point, of course.  But the approval process is daunting in that it’s very slow, and very opaque, and it’s hard to get feedback.  Their first gripe was about what they claimed was offensive sexual content in the game, which amounted to a couple things that we had included based on these stories.

There was this guy in Chicago a couple years ago, who had this penis pump that he was trying to take in a carry on.  Someone asked him what it was, and they thought he said it was a bomb, or he was joking and he said it was a bomb.  And there was this kind of international story about this whole thing because it was funny but also it really highlighted the kind of embarrassment of having a personal item exposed to the world.  And so that was one that they were uncomfortable with.

We had also included a woman’s underwire bra, because there’s just a whole mess of stories about the underwire in women’s brassieres setting off certain metal detectors when their sensitivity is raised.  And this has led to actually quite a large number of complaints about, you know, inappropriate groping by agents.  So these are two items that Apple found offensive I guess.  And you know, the thing about the penis pump, is that yeah ok maybe it’s a little off-color, but I can also buy Austin Powers on iTunes, which is just riddled with penis pumps and the consumer in that case is given the choice about what to think about that content, Apple’s not making it for them. So those were some of the issues that we had, and we ended up taking some of this stuff out, you know, to get through the process.  It’s just interesting to note the kind of double standard at work, where with music, with television, with film, all products Apple sells, there are mechanisms by which content can be described…

TC: Like an explicit tag or something.
IB: Right, and Apple has the final say. The whole process of finding out exactly what they’re griping about is also quite opaque, so you get these emails that say “Sorry, you’ve got inappropriate content in your game,” and you have to somehow figure out what they mean. On the one hand to see Apple struggling with this question of, “Well, what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate?”

For me, just as a creator of video games, the offensive part of the whole experience is seeing these apps that are just throwaways, just really seem to have nothing to offer me, being cleared and then I guess people want them cause they’re selling well.  We were delayed many months.  We missed Christmas and we missed the holiday travel season, which for us had some relevance, and we had this snow globe concept, and we missed the holidays with that. We had been ready months in advance. 

TC: How did you get into creating video games?
IB: I’ve been working for years in technology and software development.  First in the 90’s boom, and then in entertainment and games, and now I do both.  I’m a professor at Georgia Tech where I teach game design and criticism, and then I have the company.  So, those things have always been a part of my world, and we try to make games that say something about some condition in the world or some experience in the world, rather than just focusing on entertainment.  Although I think some of our games can also serve that purpose.

TC: Is there anything else in development at Persuasive that you can tell us about?
IB: Well we recently finished a game about bird flu, which was done in collaboration with the UK Virology Network.  And that’ll be coming out soon, so a whole game about how seasonal flu works and how it spreads, and then how pandemic flu is different.  It’s kind of an anti-panic game, you know?  Trying to get people to understand the way that the flu virus works rather than just reading the scare reports about how "we’re all gonna die.”

We’re releasing a web game soon about wind energy, and how we need to balance trying to generate clean power with people’s ire at having wind turbines in their neighborhood or in their general area. We like to focus on this notion of meaningful location-based play, which is something we tried to explore with the Jetset game, and I think is one of the things the iPhone offers that hasn’t really been taken advantage of yet.

TC: Right, because it always knows where you are.
IB: Yeah and the interesting thing about that is not necessarily that you can pull up a map, and anywhere you are you can find your way somewhere, but rather that now we can take people’s patterns of behavior and incorporate that into the gameplay.  So, you know, we have a game about airport security, about the experience of being a regular traveler, and ok it makes sense to give players something to do at the airport that’s kind of meaningful and also extends that experience, and sort of comments upon it, and maybe improves the 5 or 15 minutes of time that they spend with the game every time they travel.  So that kind of model is something that I’m really interested in, and we’re extending to some of the other games we’re working on.

You can download the game from iTunes by clicking here.

The Making of an iPhone Game & Things That Make Apple Uncomfortable


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