So this is ingress.
Looks pretty dope, right? There's some mysterious thing going on and you have to open portals and shit. Buddy of mine was one of the first alpha players back in the day, and has been playing religiously ever since. He actually tried to talk me into switching to Android so that I could play Ingress with him.
I watched every now and then and tried to understand what the hell he was doing, because he ended up face-in-phone an awful lot. I ended up joining him in making a "L8 Portal" wherein I accompanied him to a restaurant none of us ate at while 7 other dudes milled around staring into their phones to exult over something that made no visible difference in the world then despair as someone going by "toadkiller" drove by and "jarvised" whatever they were doing thereby rendering their work moot. I heard the complaints of his girlfriend, who would have to "hack portals" as he drove.
And I realized that Ingress was Farmville with commuting.
Of course, the minute an iOS client came out he was texting me. Showed me exactly which of the two factions I should join (Enlightened). Added me to two Google Hangouts. And I started playing. So this is Ingress:
Basically it's Google Maps run through The Matrix. Every time you fire it up it says "headphones recommended" because as you do stuff it makes sounds like William Gibson's Pachinko parlor. You cruise around doing tasks which earns you points. Yay Augmented Reality Gaming (ARG).
And it's fucking addictive.
I am, ostensibly, a big booster of ARGs. I like that they require you to go outside and do things. If you want points in Ingress, you have to get off the couch. You are rewarded for strategic thinking, you are rewarded for cooperation, and you are rewarded for activity. I spent 8 days among the top 100 players in Los Angeles, running around making fields and hacking portals. It's sort of like capture the flag. That funky video aside, here's how you play Ingress:
The "yadda yadda" of Ingress is Space Aliens are trying to move Humanity on to a new level or something. If you're green, you want to help. If you're blue, you want to hinder. You help by turning statues and street art and curious things you find out in the world into "portals" (a process whereby you take a picture and upload it where humans judge its worthiness - they seeded the game with the National Historic Registry), that you then link together to create "fields" whereby you control the brains of everybody under your field. You can't make a field under another field so if you can turn a city blue by grabbing all the right portals the green guys can't do anything until they blow up your portals and turn them green.
To do this you need energy, weapons, and building blocks. Walking around gives you energy. Hacking gives you energy, weapons and building blocks - hack something of your own color you get more shit, hack something of someone else's color it may sting you. Attack something and it will definitely sting you. Attacking and building both require energy.
There's a strategy to hacking and building above and beyond "make big triangles." There are "glyphs" that you have to repeat, simon-says style. And there's that pachinko parlor stuff, and magic green glowyness. Really, Ingress turns a stroll into a points-earning, mind-engaging adventure. So that's pretty dope. And you're interacting with real people, ostensibly - everything you're doing out there in the world was done by someone else, and you can see their handle. You have to go out and tend your portals - they decay over time - and if there's a burly enemy portal out there you might be able to wait them out. It's seriously fun and seriously addictive and should be awesome.
And then reality kicked in.
I spent seven days using Ingress every time I went walking. Running. Getting groceries. Commuting to friends' houses. Ingress definitely rewards people playing with their phones as they drive - by handing my phone to my wife and giving her some simple instructions, she was able to level me up with a 45 minute drive to a friend's house, just hacking portals and planting resonators as we drove. I guess it's much better on a bus because you can give your phone your undivided attention (like you don't already).
I'd take my daughter running and Ingress. I'd take a break at work and Ingress. I'd go get groceries and Ingress. It was pretty cool for the first few days. And of course, everything I turned green would get knocked down by blue and then you have to build it back up again - the game hinges on conflict. The more conflict there is, the more people level up. And both sides are competing to control more of the world - every 20 hours, Ingress measures how much area each side controls and awards points based on that.
Every 20 hours. Not every 24.
And what you do during the day doesn't matter if, say, the period resets at 2am and somebody comes by at 1:45 while you're asleep.
Thus do the dynamics reveal themselves.
I didn't mind when a Level 13 blue dude and a level 15 blue dude came to my work and nuked all my hard work - it meant I got more points when I finally got around to fixing their shit. Problem was as a Level 4 player there was literally nothing I could do, so I had to wait until another Level 15 green dude and a Level 14 green dude came by and gave my neighborhood back.
I didn't even mind spending every spare moment walking my neighborhood and feeding the meters. After all, it got me out and about and exercise is good. Never mind that my daughter's stroller now had a mophie to deal with the power drain, or the fact that I was literally using my phone every spare minute.
I even started arranging my runs based on what Ingress Intel Total Conversion told me to do - a haxie running on the Ingress data that allowed you to see more than Ingress wanted you to that you could only access from a desktop. I was literally planning my forays into the world based on magic points on google Maps, then moving five steps to the right with a stroller so that my fields would be stronger. I was gaining a level or more per day and would be L8 in a day or so. The future was so bright I had to wear shades.
I even went out and took down a big blue field that my green friends considered their turf. It was a great place to walk my kid. I told my wife I was taking her to the playground and went out there. Except instead of playing on the swings, I spent an hour wandering amongst bird houses, blowing up portals and placing resonators. I ran the mophie down to 50%. And my daughter?
Yeah, my daughter was bored. I wasn't paying any attention to her, I was giving it all over to my phone.
Once I'd done my work, we went to the playground. She had fun. Me? I watched in horror as a L13 blue dude walked behind me methodically erasing my work. I messaged him in the game- first and only time I've done that - and said "can't you at least leave it up for an hour or so?" he sympathized with my plight, but no. So really, nothing to show for it anyway.
I went for a run later that day, also with the stroller. Also with my daughter. I went places I never run, took longer than I should. For the points. My daughter? She was done halfway into the run. I cut the run short (7 miles) because she wouldn't stop crying. And then I went to work, one of my late night shifts. I'd be there until 4am.
And as I was sitting there mixing, i started getting all sorts of messages from Ingress. The stuff I'd built at work? It was all being destroyed. And not by one guy, by eight guys.
See, "resonators" come in levels. You can't place a resonator of a higher level than you. The higher level ones, you can only place so many. It takes 8 resonators to make a portal, and no matter how high a level you are, you can only place one L8 resonator. So if you want a L8 portal, you need eight people, all of them L8 or higher.
And Team Blue had rounded up a posse. They came by my work and took down all my portals and replaced them with L8s. In other words, making it so that nobody was going to touch them until they wore out, or until 8 L8 green dudes came by to do the same thing. And I knew I'd be fine in a couple-few days because they'd wear out, and besides, you get more points for hacking higher-level portals. I was low on weapons and resonators from my afternoon adventure at the playground.
Then an hour later, they did the same at home.
Picture that - eight dudes in a van at 2am on a Sunday, coming to my work and tapping on their phones for an hour and a half. Then they turn around and drive 26 miles to my house and do it again. to send me a message. I'd been playing the game for 7 days. None of them were under L13, all of them playing for over a year.
That's when it really hit home: Ingress is a game won by people willing to hang out with 7 other nerds at 2 in the morning in someone else's neighborhood. You advance not by being good, but by being willing to do shit in the middle of the night when the people with lives are asleep.
It also struck me that the "drive-by" analogy is pretty accurate - you do maximum damage by cruising around in a car. If you want something protected, you'd best find it away from a major road. The fact that Los Angeles is divided into "crips" and "bloods" was also pretty striking, and the fact that there were people driving around my neighborhood at 2 in the morning to get back at me was deeply disquieting.
My wife had gone to bed 3 hours earlier. She texted me to say that my daughter fell asleep with "Daddy" on her lips. It broke my heart - she'd had a rockin' day with Daddy and Daddy hadn't been there. Hadn't really thought about her. Had been using her as an excuse to wage digital warfare on his fucking phone.
And all the "portals?" Points of interest out in the real world? Ingress weaponizes them. Turns that statue into something to bomb. Turns that fountain into a pinch point. Someone spilled a bucket of yellow road paint on the sidewalk by my house. It looks like a sun. Someone else had painted a smiley face on top of it that says "smile and be happy." The sidewalk surrounds an elementary school. Prior to Ingress I thought it was a cool sign of how laid back my neighborhood was. Ingress turned it into a strategic target.
Eight fuckers from the Valley drove to my neighborhood at 2am and turned my smile and be happy" paint splotch into an enemy L8 portal.
And I realized it affected me because it was letting it.
I didn't delete the app then. But I never opened it again. That was maybe a month ago, maybe six weeks. I've been sitting on this and cogitating about it to see if I feel differently. I don't.
I think Ingress is a cool idea that's implemented in a terrible, socially-destructive way. Never mind what Google is getting out of it because you're damn right they're collecting all the data. From a human needs standpoint, Google has created a game where nerds with no life drive around in the middle of the night texting at each other and thinking they're gangsta.
I just don't need that in my life.