Ingress Round 2: An online game requiring real-life teamwork
I had just put the final touches on a portal I had claimed for The Resistance, when my phone buzzed and beeped. “Hey, just saw you claim B____ Park,” the incoming message said – I recognized the handle as that of one of the most active high-level local agents in my faction. “We’re at the Safeway – want to meet up?” “Sure!” I typed back, put the phone back in its hands-free holder, and put the car in gear. I was intrigued, and maybe the slightest bit nervous. I had seen this agent’s name on many a portal won for the Resistance, as well as many posts in our secure online group chat, so he wasn’t an unknown quantity. But now, I was going to have my first real-life meeting with a fellow Ingress player.
A lot has happened since my previous blog post about my experiences with Ingress, Google’s new augmented-reality MMORPG. At that time, a little over a month ago, I had just leveled up to Level 2 of 8; now I’m just shy of Level 5. Throughout this time, Niantic Labs, the Google in-house think tank behind the game, had issued a number of tweaks to the still-closed beta, some of which made it a whole lot harder to capture a virtual portal from the opposing faction, others of which allowed you to “flip” a portal from one faction to the other in the blink of an eye – IF your level and action points were high enough to fire this extremely rare weapon.
In this same period I had seen portals in my area change hands time and time again, whole neighborhoods on my online maps switching from the blue of the Resistance faction to the green of the so-called Enlightened and back again seemingly overnight. Obviously, building permanent encampments of one faction or the other could not be the goal of this game, because there was no such thing as permanence. I found myself thinking, “If all there there’s going to be to this game is simply fighting back and forth ad nauseam for the same darned portals, I’m not sure it’s going to keep my interest for too much longer, no matter how pretty the app graphics are.”
But especially for people like me, who really enjoy having real-life meetups with the people I meet in online communities, there is in fact a whole other dimension to Ingress: that of real-life, real-time, teamwork.
Like a number of other MMORPGs I can think of – World of Warcraft immediately springs to mind – there are some in-game tasks and strategies you can only accomplish if you collaborate with other people. A prime example: portals, the virtual markers tied to real-life landmarks all over the landscape, can be built up in strength levels from 1 to 8, just like players – and the only way to build a Level 8 portal is to have eight Level 8 players of the same faction working together, preferably simultaneously. And if you don’t happen to have eight Level 8 players of your faction in your area – as we lack here in my town – you have to make arrangements for some out-of-town folks to come visit.
Which in fact my local faction did just the other weekend. The same Level 8 player I met that night at the Safeway decided he wanted to get at least eight Level 8 Resistance agents together to make a massive number of Level 8 Resistance portals in a local park. A Google+ invite was posted, messages flew back and forth across the Internet, carpools and potluck dishes were arranged. On the appointed day a gang of eight players methodically did the big walkabout and made an impressive number of well-defended Resistance-blue portals. A number of lower-level players also showed up to farm the newly-claimed portals for in-game goodies, chow down on barbecue, and meet a bunch of folks as crazed about this game as they were.
All over the world (literally) similar meetups are happening, including cross-faction collaborations. In this way, Ingress is already making great strides towards embodying Niantic Labs founder John Hanke’s vision: mobile apps that don’t draw us away from reality, but instead creatively connect us to it. And I for one am all for it.
And remember, the game isn’t even out of closed beta yet. I can’t wait to see what direction it takes next.
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