There is a battle going on in the streets of Calgary and you can’t see it. There are no gunshots, no tanks rolling down 9th Ave or artillery shells raining down. No, this is a sort of cold war. Agents from two factions fighting, over territory in the dark of night. Portals to be exact. At least this is the narrative we’re going with, for this is a new game being played by the nerds of Calgary, called Ingress.
A couple of weeks ago I got an email from the mysterious Niantic corporation informing me that I had been granted access to Ingress. The game is a project from the brains at Google, an augmented reality game. If you’re familiar with the concept of geocaching then this will be easy to explain. Basically, users submit gps tagged photo’s of locations all around Calgary to be turned into portals. The two factions, the Enlightened and the Resistance run around vying for control of these portals. All the work is done with a free app available only to Android phone users. The game is still very early in it’s beta testing (the time when a company invites a limited amount of users to freely play the game to see how it handles).
Last week I met up with a couple of friends who are well established and they took me on a training run. Somber and K3nnyNapalm pull up to me as I stand on 6th Ave and I feel like I’m up to no good. Our mission, hack our portals for equipment then launch an assault on our enemies portals and take them for our own. After an hour of driving around, loading up on the tools we’ll need for our attack we head to 12th Ave and 4th St SW where a high concentration of blue Resistance portals reside. They take turns weakening them and let me finish them off and claim them for our side. After a little while we spot another man walking around the park with his cell phone in hand, searching. K3nny takes to the game’s chat room and inquires if anyone from our side is in the area. He gets a response and we meet this new player. He goes by the handle Tuatara. Turns out he’s from Kelowna and in town for Christmas. He joins our little raiding party.
It’s now 2 a.m. and despite having car chargers, our phones can’t keep up. But we managed to convert 2 blocks of blue Resistance portals into the green glow of the Enlightened before turning in for the night. By morning I awoke to an email. Some jerk had already recaptured one of the portals I had worked so hard to take. Oh, it’s on.
Ingress is an interesting concept. It’s certainly interesting using Calgary as a map and forcing you out into the streets. It’s almost old fashioned in that way. Playing outside…weird. What’s the point of all this augmented reality then? Well for Google one thing is clear, they’ve convinced a bunch of nerds and gamers to run around for hours at a time constantly updating their locations. The opportunity for mining this data is huge. In the future I wouldn’t be surprised if I had to go to a Starbucks or a Future Shop to hack an enemy portal and also pick up the complete series of The Wire on Blu-Ray while I’m there. Don’t look at me like that, I got double the experience points.