The initial screen of the app game Touchtone for iOS (via Mike Boxleiter)

In the midst of an Angry Bird obsessed society, I have opted to keep games off of my iPhone with the fear that I may become like the preteen zombies that line coffee shops and shopping malls. It seems like every month there is a new game shocking the nation or inciting Flappy Bird rage. This game is the latest game on iTunes that is both entertaining and provocative. TouchTone was co-created by Mike Boxleiter. To summarize his own game, Boxleiter told Timothy Seppela of Engadget, "The system we have is very focused on finding brown people with beards, and very focused on keeping people who commit billions of dollars of fraud out of jail."


I couldn’t summarize TouchTone any better than this. It is a satire on the NSA, Wallstreet, and the American public that supports and allows their heinous acts. You start each level by hacking into private emails and phone call transcriptions by solving puzzles that are similar to BioShock: you have to connect colored ‘laser beams’ using the correct colored mirror to complete the hack. Once you successfully hack the transmission, you have to read the correspondence and decide whether the messages present a security threat. As the game progresses, it seems that everyone is considered guilty except stock brokers.


The game adopts the ridiculous criteria that the NSA uses to find ‘terrorists’ and goes further to demonstrate their ridiculocity. For instance, racial profiling is not encouraged, but it is actually required in the game. If you question what satirical message this is making, then you should promptly go through airline security and see which passengers are repeatedly taken through the private rooms for further screening.


Once individuals are considered suspicious targets, you follow their social circles and relationships to gather further evidence and put them in jail or in Guantanamo Bay. Then, you follow a connected suspect that may have been in their circle of friends, gather evidence, and continue the cycle of incriminating people who are socially connected based upon extremely biased means.


TouchTone has been in the making for over 2.5 years now, but it isn’t until recently that the satirical points of the game can really hit home due to the recent unveiling of NSA actions and the government that protects them. However, the game is also very entertaining. The puzzles are hard enough to be addictive and the incrimination of innocent people becomes mindless fun. The storylines and satire also becomes richer, making you want to continue on to the next mini-game.


At its core, TouchTone is also asking the gamers to question themselves. As the actions required of you, as an NSA agent, become more heinous, they also become more mindlessly fun. In the end, it seems the true satire is on a society that balks at injustice and does nothing to stop it. In fact, humanity is so desensitized to acts of injustice that we can easily download a game to our phones and join in on the fun – in an antiseptic, imaginary world. However, I have come to think that the basis of this game may not be far from the truth. Play the game and join the conversation.

Demo video of TouchTone (via presskit)



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