How Ingress, Google’s Real-World Smartphone Game, Got Me Out of the Water
Getting out of the house and meeting new people is difficult. For a long time, I let inertia limit me to the same neighbors and daily routines – until I started playing Google’s mobile augmented reality game Ingress . In just a few months, I’ve explored places I’ve never seen before, met many new and interesting people, and walked hundreds of cumulative miles – all thanks to a simple video game on my phone.
What is Ingress?
Ingress is a story-driven augmented reality game , which is short for “you install the game on your phone and the game takes place in the real world, so you have to leave the house to play.” The video shown above gives you a short course on the history of the game, complete with the full “you are a secret agent” atmosphere. Here’s a breakdown:
This world around you is not what it seems. Our future is at stake, and you must choose a side. A mysterious energy has been discovered by a group of scientists in Europe. The origin and purpose of this power is unknown, but some researchers believe that it affects the way we think. We must control this, otherwise he will control us.
The “enlightened ones” strive to embrace the strength that this energy can give us. The Resistance is struggling to protect what is left of our humanity.
I’m oversimplifying here (a lot), but in the game, most of the action takes place on “portals” or places of human creativity that bring people together. This is why you will usually find them in museums, sculptures, historical sites, parks and public places, and other attractions. The plot and in-game knowledge is very fun, but you don’t have to like them to play. If so, it includes several books and comics, as well as many background videos .
Ingress is GPS based, which means you have to navigate the real world in order to play. As you approach portals, you can “hack” them for equipment, capture or empower them for your team, free them from the opposing team, and tie them together to form “mind control fields.” Completing these actions earns your faction points and, like any good RPG, earns you the points and achievements you need to level up and access better and more powerful equipment.
I must mention here that Ingress is by no means new. In this article in Vice Niantic noted that there are over seven million players worldwide. Our very own Eric Ravenscraft wrote a review of the game at Android Police a few years ago. Kevin Purdy, a Lifehacker alumnus, loves the game and wrote a great getting started guide here . Ingress has been an invite-only opener for a long time, but last year Ingress opened its doors to all players, expanded from Android to Android and iPhone, and expanded its user base significantly. Niantic even teased the next game. There is a lot in the game, and its learning curve can be a little steep, but if you stick to it, you will reap many real benefits.
Play hard and discover new places: let the game be your guide
Ingress encourages you to go out and explore your community. To play, you must be physically present at the portal locations in the real world. In the beginning, you’ll level up quickly and earn badges and achievements, and it’s really nice to see the results of your work. In addition, in the game you have a limited range of actions. This “circle of action” is relatively small – only a few meters, and any portal you want to interact with must be inside it. You can’t just sit at home on your phone (unless you’re like me and have multiple portals within reach of your couch – but that’s boring!)
The game also encourages exploration, so you’ll be incentivized to try new restaurants, visit museums, or just take a walk. You get in-game badges by hacking or hijacking portals that you have never visited before. There are also “missions” (which give you special badges for each mission you complete) that involve interacting with multiple portals at a specific location. For example, if you go to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum , you will find a number of missions you can complete while enjoying the exhibits (and in some cases, it will even direct you to ones you might not have noticed). Some missions are easy to complete, while others require real strategy before you start them. Some of my most exciting evenings in town began with the words “hey, let’s look for some missions today,” and ended at the Washington Monument, for example.
Also, since many portals are in parks, museums, and other public places, you have an incentive to spend time there while playing. There is definitely an aspect to “experience the world … while you search your phone”, but if you remember to take your eyes off the game from time to time, you will have a blast. Exercise is helpful too, especially if you are usually sedentary. We’ve discussed how beneficial walking can be , especially for creativity and mental health , and Ingress is a great way to get some work done with light walks on your day while doing something fun and exploring new and exciting places in your area or city.
Make new, real friends: join your faction’s community and get involved
When we discussed the best places to meet new people , many of you recommended Ingress . I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s true: when you start playing, you may feel like one person staring at your phone , but you are on the verge of a huge community of players. When you sign up, you may even receive messages from players offering to help you level up. As soon as I started playing, the friendly player reached out to the local community with an intro. I even got messages from a nearby enemy player urging me to change team and join him.
I can’t tell you how many times I got inside and bumped into someone else playing the game – either by accident because I saw it on their smartphone (or they saw mine!) Or because someone was nearby and we decided to say hello. I came across enemy players fighting for the same portals as me. We declare a temporary ceasefire, say hello and introduce ourselves, maybe have a beer, and then resume hostilities.
If this confuses you a little, I should also mention that it mostly happens in the text, and everyone I spoke to did a great job of giving you as much space as you need. After all, the Ingress community is pretty big, but I like to call it the largest collection of introverted extroverts I’ve ever seen. Everyone plays at their own pace, and while some people are aggressive, others are relaxed and laid-back, and this combination makes the game great for all types.
To find out more, visit the Ingress page on Google+ . He has over 3 million followers, and the Ingress community on Google+ is about 200,000. But the really close communities depend on the location. For example, my local players Enlightened and Resistances have their own Google+ communities where they help each other level up, discuss strategy, share screenshots and achievements, plan events and of course support each other.
Take it to the next level: participate in (sometimes global, sometimes local) live events
When you’re ready to move to the next level, you can take part in the live Ingress event . Live tournaments bring together hundreds, if not thousands, of your fellow players from all over the world to play together. Sometimes these are large-scale, coordinated, strategic events that can affect the plot of the game, and sometimes they are funny, local, inter-faction events.
Ingress’ First Saturdays, for example, occur every month (as the name suggests, the first Saturday) and are part social and part competitive. Likewise, # NL1331 (# NL1331 is the name of the Ingress mobile van you can see at these events and in the photo above) takes place in a restaurant or bar, is open to players of all levels and only lasts a few hours. It’s a great way to meet people, get some badges, and just have a good time.
On the other hand, XM anomalies are major global events that affect the history and course of the game. They happen about once a quarter, but they involve thousands of players. Part of the inspiration for this post was the Persepolis XM anomaly here in Washington DC , just one in a series of coordinated global events on the same day. This was my first major live event, I met dozens of people, made new friends and seriously can’t wait for the next one. These events are massive campaigns in which operations centers, dispatchers and boots on the ground do the dirty work of capturing portals and defending them from enemy players. You have the opportunity to participate as actively as possible during such events, so you can be as active or passive as you like, it’s up to you.
Whichever you choose, you’ll meet people from all walks of life and from all walks of life, visit places you’ve never been to (especially if you go to one of the event venues – I’m lucky my first major visit was on my own city!) and plunge into the game on a level you haven’t had before. Before that event, I would never have thought of getting involved in anything this big, but all of a sudden I was there planning, fighting on the ground and helping my teammates drink and feed in the field. Best of all, during the day I met people with whom I had common interests and we exchanged contact information to communicate.
Remember Ingress is just a game
Even though Ingress has real-world components, you must remember that it is still a game. This means it has everything that multiplayer games have to offer. There are over-aggressive players who take the game too seriously, trolls who make your life difficult or offend you, creepy people and other bad actors. Some players will hunt your specific portals, while others (the worst in my opinion) will maintain databases to make it easier to hunt other players. There are a lot of jerks out there, but they are in an extremely minority. You must maintain a certain separation from the game.
The game also encourages this separation. You can only influence your immediate surroundings, and while you can recharge and defend distant portals from attacks, you must be prepared for enemy players to nullify your work – sometimes moments after you’re done. You can even engage in a duel with enemy players . It can be tricky, but it’s all ephemeral. You have to let go of it and develop a kind of Zen mindset in relation to all of this.
At first it was very difficult for me. I used to get very upset and came close to quitting the game several times, but I’m glad I didn’t. Engaging with the local community can help (especially to give you the opportunity to voice your grievances and plan your next attacks!), But I came up with a saying that my local friends love to repeat: Inhuman talk doesn’t give you AP. “Stick to the positives of the game, ignore the bad actors and have fun. Remember to use Ingress to get out and practice, but look at the places you see. Use it to meet people, but talk to them when you do it.
I have met people for whom Ingress is the main source of interaction with others. I have met people with disabilities who use the game to find a community they can join, as well as people who are socially concerned and prefer to speak through text long before meeting people in person. I have met people who have lost weight thanks to the walking they do while playing Ingress. I have met people who never left the house (like me) until they started playing. When I say it requires all kinds, I mean it, and I found a welcoming, extremely diverse community that I don’t feel weird or lonely a part of. If you stick with it, I bet you will.