Ingress is probably the best implementation of an augmented-reality game to date, giving a positive connotation to portals second only to the game of Portal. It involves you, and a phone, going around the real world trying to collect “exotic matter.” You fight the opposing faction, either Resistance or Enlightened, for control, though “fighting” involves getting to an area and poking your phone. It’s like the most exciting version of Google maps ever! However, this Google beta does have quite a few downsides, as my weeks of playing on my own have revealed:
1. No, I Don’t Have an Invite
One of the genius moves that Google has pulled off with Ingress is to make it exclusive, thus making it more special than it would normally be, and thus way more desired. That’s one of the problems if you are lucky enough to have gotten an invite to this game; others also want in. Badly. People have engaged in all manner of craziness to get the Ingress invite, from begging, to making rap songs about it, to…well, here’s a whole Google Plus community full of artwork. So, if you do have an invite, it may be like having the One Ring in a city full of Gollums, with the same attendant sympathy/fear factor Frodo had towards him.
2. The First Rule of Ingress Is that You Do Not Talk about Ingress.
One thing about Ingress is that you do not talk about Ingress – or you do. The story background, that you are part of a secret organization determined to save or control the world, does lend itself to a little paranoia. Not the serious kind of “lock this person up” type of paranoia, but the kind of paranoia you might have about a secret obsession that your friends would not approve of, like watching Russian dashcam videos. Also, you’re always wondering if maybe that person standing on the street corner is merely texting their loved one or blasting your resonators all to hell. I mean, there you are, both with your secret shame – how do you say hello? Do you say hello? Do you just smash their phone to protect your resonators? So many choices.
3. Those Damn Codes
Google has special codes for the game, hidden. These codes, when entered, give you additional goodies, like mp3 files with story content, more resonators or the gift of eternal life. I don’t really know; I’ve never gotten one to work. The thing is, as soon as you locate a code, it has a limited number of redemptions before it becomes inactive, and it’s almost always inactive because those redemptions have been used. I’m sure some people have redeemed codes, just like I’m sure someone has gotten a TV as a Black Friday “doorbuster” for $50, but I’ve not been one of those people, and if you still have all your bones and sanity intact, chances are you may not be either.
4. You Will Have to Go Outside
Ingress is very well constructed, even for a beta. As such, it’s really addicting. Actually, it’s got all the ingredients for nerd crack – it uses Android, which nerds love; it’s got a sweet center of an MMO and it’s got Tron-like graphics. If it contained scantily-clad Japanese girls, I’m sure we would have deaths from malnutrition and exposure in the hundreds. Thing is, unlike most nerd activities, Ingress is going to require you to be outside. This is fine if you live in San Diego, but in a place like Chicago there’s a very real chance you may contract frostbite on your way to Level 7. On the other extreme, there’s Phoenix, where if you leave your phone in the car for five seconds, it may explode, or if you stand outside for five minutes, you may explode. Then there’s a place like New York, where someone may steal your phone and start giving information to the other faction! I’m just kidding – they’ll probably steal the phone then smash it, then shank you with the broken pieces….for fun!
5. The Competition
There’s just something about a game with a competitive aspect that brings out the truly insane in some people, whether it be Ingress, or sports, or the Presidential election. So, if you’re the type of person who doesn’t like this, be warned: no matter how much you play any game, there’s always going to be someone who is way, way, way, way, way more into it. You could have no job and play Ingress 24/7 while chowing down amphetamines like popcorn, and there will be someone else in your city who will somehow manage to freeze time and play 34/7. You may spend a day, every day, destroying enemy portals and putting L8 resonators on them, but there will be someone right behind you undoing your handiwork.
6. You Need More POWER!
I’m somewhat surprised Google hasn’t sold official Ingress battery chargers yet, as phone use playing Ingress is anything but normal. Not only is your phone screen constantly on to play the game, but your GPS and Wi-Fi are also, so your eight hours of battery life quickly become two. This will not do if you are going on a run through a block of portals downtown, or if you are going far out of your way to get that one portal out of town located on the statue of Paul Bunyan at the truck stop.
7. You Will Hate Your GPS
The tiny satellites of the Global Positioning System are a real marvel, and incredibly helpful when you need to find a place on a map, but frustrating for playing Ingress. If you’re twenty feet off on a map, you still pretty much know where you are. If you’re twenty feet off in Ingress, it can be absolutely maddening. You could be physically right on top of the location of a portal, but your map has you positioned juuuust out of range. You will try all sorts of magic to fix this too, from switching your phone on and off to moving in circles and rubbing your phone because you heard somewhere that your GPS only works when warm. Eventually the only way people will tell the difference between you and the local crazy hobo will be that you have a phone in your hand, while he has a pigeon.
Some you may find yourself at a portal that just happens to be at a Jamba Juice or a Target, or a ZipCar rental location. This is no coincidence, as these companies have paid for the privilege of being a part of this super secret battle to control the world. I mean of course, Google has to make a buck, but it does kinda break the fantasy of your being part of an underground society trying to control exotic powers, doesn’t it? “Oh, that’s interesting, this super-powerful portal to a mystic location just happens to be at a place where I can pick up a wheatgrass smoothie!” It’s sort of like joining the Freemasons only to find out they really just sell Avon Products. Then again, you are volunteering to have Google not only track your every move but direct you to locations as well, so this willful submission to control may be about as close to a secret society as some of us are going to get.