About Blowtooth

What is it?

Blowtooth is the game in which you smuggle illegal contraband through REAL airport security in REAL airports. Upon reaching an airport, you will hide your illicit goods on unsuspecting passers-by. After clearing security, you must find and reclaim those goods from your fellow travelers, who will more than likely have dispersed to various gates and shops throughout the airport. The game is designed to only work if you are inside a real airport.

Blowtooth being played in Heathrow Terminal 5
How does it work?

Of course, no real drugs are necessarily involved. The game runs on Android mobile devices and polls a player's vicinity for nearby devices that are advertising their presence using Bluetooth (such as phones, tablets, laptops and guns). There is no interaction with these devices, or their owners, and any reference data is anonymised. Usage of device tracking in this way is common - even by airport authorities.

Why is it interesting?

Blowtooth is a playful critique of the simultaneously thrilling and banal experience of international air travel. The game plays on the absurd relationship between ordinary people and the oppressive security theatre in which they are forced to perform, and aims to provoke players to think more deeply about their experience of that environment. The game transforms the weird airport environment into a game board, and fellow passengers into unwitting game pieces. As such, Blowtooth is an example of a critical design, which exists to subvert expectations and break taboos in order to provoke critical reflection about values inherent in products, places and interactions.

We have chosen airports as the setting for this game due to their unique and unusual special features. They are dehumanising public spaces where the constant and intrusive surveillance of law-abiding and innocuous behavior by mysterious and opaque organisations is normal, and jokes are considered illegal. This high-security environment can be simultaneously thrilling and frightening. The possibility of harnessing these sensations in a game, or indeed any other art form, is fascinating.

Blowtooth is an example of a "pervasive game" that uses a player's real-world surroundings as a game board. However, Blowtooth is provocative - most pervasive games are generic are not tied to specific categories of place. We argue that many places, of which airports are an excellent example, are already exciting and don't need a complex fantasy layer to make great games. The odd structure of the airport environment invites games like Blowtooth to exist, just as a patch of grass invites a game of football. Likewise, Blowtooth would not be fun, and would not make sense, in anywhere apart from an airport.

Again, note that all contraband in Blowtooth is virtual. While the smuggling is real, the contraband is not. As far as we know it is not illegal to smuggle things in your imagination.

Publications

Blowtooth has been discussed in a couple of academic publications. If you want to find out more about the academic aspects of this work, we link to authors' versions below.

If you have any further questions about the Blowtooth project, or have found a bug, please contact Dr Ben Kirman at the Lincoln Social Computing Research Centre.