I found myself walking in circles and driving in laps around the downtown corridors of my hometown yesterday. Given I was driving a black vehicle with tinted windows and foriegn plates I was a tad worried. Strange looks abound from security guards and strangers rushing, eager to get nowhere. Excuses aside, my reality was augmented and I probably looked like the masses of morons with handsets glued to their eyeballs waiting for the right bus to clip them out of this world. Really though, I was hacking portals, harvesting exotic matter (XM) and trying to take down the Enlightenment - I am Resistance.
If you haven’t happened on an invite as of yet, Ingress is a project made by Google's Niantic Labs. Their second attempt at a game, Ingress is making quite a splash (or at least a lot game geek water-cooler buzz). Though in 'closed-beta' the game already has seen over 8k installs on the Google play store as of this publishing. I was dialed in by a industry buddy and mentor a little over a week ago.
The premise is highly compelling, though as a narrative designer (read as user-story designer), I can't do much about my lack of suspended disbelief. A secret form of matter, XM, has been discovered. Characterized as both energy and matter (like all things no?) it is capable of controlling and altering human consciousnesses. XM is leaking into our world through 'portals', two factions have formed, and a new war is afoot. The first, the "Resistance", is doing it's best to safely gather and store XM preventing the Enlightenment from seeing out it's plan of changing mankind using XM. The battle ground centers on "Portals" - key geo-locations (landmarks) that have been augmented by the Ingress app and its players. They appear grey, green, or blue depending on their state.
Play is my primary method of research. So quite naturally, I started on the shitter, but I had to quickly wipe my arse and rush outside (after I pulled my pants up of course). Once I chose my “Agent ID” and align with a faction I was trained in hacking portals, which basically consists of clicking buttons and waiting for some undisclosed (I can only assume random) process to play out. It was fun, but not quite as meaningful as one might like to think.
There was a portal in my yard. I mean sure, I placed it there (for training purposes) but I found myself driving around my neighborhood collecting XM and looking for actual “Portals”. Hacking a portal consists of dropping "XMP Bursters" to take out enemy "Resonators" then deploying friendly resonators to take the portal for the player's chosen team. Once portals are equipped with eight resonators they can be linked to other portals.
I put it away and didn't try the app again until I was at my favorite coffee spot some days later. The place was happening - a hub for XM harvesting. For the first time I actually walked around the block and realized that I was in fact in a historic district loaded in American Civil War battlegrounds and trail heads left by pioneers of long ago. I wandered about, hacked a couple portals, received some items for my button click and went about my day. You see, portals are kinda like pinatas. You click a button to "hack" them and wait to see what goodies you get. Personally I find hitting small paper animals with a big stick more meaningful, but it's compelling. It’s not robust, or challenging, but compelling and as a result of the sheer novelty of experiencing my first fiction-drive augmented reality (AR) experience it keeps me engaged.
It wasn't until yesterday that I spend a couple of hours trying to level up and still haven’t quite made level two. The grind is long and little information is disclosed about the game state. I found myself struggling to find meaningful play. The "Comm", a basic chat system, is cool. I knew there were others around me playing locally (not too many mind you) but I could see what was happening in ‘real-time’ on regional and global scale as well.
Though really meaningful gameplay seemed to be lacking, It was clearly transformative play; the bloody thing got me off the couch (and the toilet), out the front-door and away from the TV-set, smiling and exploring my world like never before. That said, I struggled to find any real meaning until this morning. I received a few emails from “Niantic Project Operations”. It read “2 Resonator(s) were destroyed by Hatchepsut at 05:27 hrs” - WTF! I knew I should have deployed a "Portal Shield" (if I had known that’s what they were for at the time). I mean really do you know how many bloody hours I spent putting resonators on those portals? At least two, which might not seem like much, but for mobile games the compulsion loops tend to be less than five minutes let alone multiple hours. Then again, I suppose for a game that is intended to arch over the course of a year, two hours doesn't seem like much. So I have a choice, and my lusory attitude is quickly waning, should I head back downtown to recharge remaining resonators, deploy more and defend my virtually-real turf or just keep playing Triple Town? Fact is, the PvP player in me no longer cares. I don't have that much time for, well, research.