Back at the start of 2013 I heard of a game called Ingress. I downloaded an app on my phone and started playing casually, and as the year went on, I found myself becoming addicted.
Think of a global game of capture the flag, with an element of geocaching, the idea is that you go to a real life location, known as a portal, turn on your app which uses GPS to work out your position, and capture it for your team. These portals are landmarks and places of interest, quite often plaques, churches and castles, though also much more. Each time you visit a portal, you can acquire items, resonators to build portals, weapons to destroy the opponents portals and keys. The overall aim is to own as many of these portals as possible and link them up using these keys to create triangles called control fields. The more of these your team own, and the bigger they are, the better your team’s score.
Back to early 2013, when I loaded the app at home in Williton, I was confronted with a black map of nothing. In Taunton I found two portals, the Market House and the Burma memorial on the roundabout in the centre of town. With both of them owned by my team and a link running between them, I could do nothing for a few weeks except ‘hack’ to acquire items each time I walked past them.
In fact, it wasn’t until I took a trip to Swansea that I was able to do some destruction spending too much time firing my low level weapons at a green (Enlightened faction) portal, eventually killing it and deploying my blue (Resistance faction) resonators and feeling very pleased at myself with my first capture.
Over time, the game became more interesting as I moved into Taunton and players, including myself, submitted new portals that were then approved and added to the game. Over the summer, Taunton acquired around 30 more portals and I started wandering around town with my phone, claiming them, linking them all together and levelling up. Once my team had control of the main Taunton portals, I started to go further afield.
Which is where the car comes in. The game gave me an ideal excuse to get the S2000 out at the weekends, regularly driving to Wellington and Bradford on Tone in search of green or neutral portals I could capture for more points. Over time, I met other players from both teams, all of the regular Taunton players being Resistance meant we were able to build up our portals to higher levels to acquire better items. There would be the occasional visit from the opposition, leaving the town green, but this meant more points for us in the rebuilding. Eventually, one of these visits in August gave me the last push I needed, and wandering around Vivary Park I was able to reach the 1.2 million points needed to reach the maximum level.
So, what now? Uninstall? No, this game had a hold of me now. I guess it’s a pride thing, I couldn’t sit back and watch my home town be overrun by the Enlightened. I had to carry on and defend our honour and devise ways to make bigger and bigger fields. This was made easier with new portals still appearing, the church in Williton down the road from my family has become a weekly visit and regularly holds up a blue triangle right over the top of Bridgwater. The biggest satisfaction in this is that that’s where our biggest rivals are. Oh yeah, rivals. Yeah, this game becomes fiercely competitive.
I started going further and further, playing when out for a drive to Minehead, playing when visiting other family in Gloucestershire, even playing when on the road around Europe. Meeting other players and keeping in contact with them allowed for even bigger plans. The biggest of which involved meeting another player from the Forest of Dean, exchanging our local keys and then driving to Bradford on Avon and covering the whole of Bristol (a city overrun with Enlightened players) with six overlapping triangles of blue, enough to obscure the roads on the map. This is relatively small fry compared to groups who execute plans to cover entire countries, one such plan just a week ago covered the UK from the Faroe Islands, to Belgium and the tip of Cornwall.
As I’ve become more and more hooked, I have met with players from Highbridge and Trowbridge who maintain a covering of blue from Wiltshire down to Taunton, I’ve done a 200 mile trip with another local player around North Devon to extend our control as far as Okehampton and a view point on top of a hill in Ilfracombe. In the quest to find the most difficult to reach portals to make our opponents lives harder I’ve been up Glastonbury Tor and Brean Down whilst we also keep control of Burrow Mump. I dragged my mum out on a portal hunt over the Forest of Dean and up hills over Christmas. I’ve bought touch screen gloves and a battery pack, even changed my phone network for this game. And when I’m not driving between portals, the app tracks your walking, of which I’ve knocked up 300 miles so far. I don’t know any other game that does so much for your health.
The game is always evolving, most recently including achievement badges to unlock and with new portals popping up everywhere. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to walk into town any more without opening my app and keeping the control of the 20 portals I walk past. Instead I find myself looking at prices to get into country gardens and putting another tank of fuel in the car, all in the pursuit of the invisible game…
No matter where you are reading this, if you’ve got an Android phone, take a look. If you’ve got an iPhone, it’s rumoured to be coming soon. And do the right thing of course, join the Resistance ;-)