I’ve recently been playing something new, a mobile phone GPS based augmented reality game called Ingress.
The game has a story based around exotic matter portals (Which can be found overlayed over real world features near where you live such as fountains, subway stations or statues) and sets two factions of players to take control and create links between the portals.
You pick one of the sides in the global campaign and then you set out to explore the surrounding area and the portals you can find there. You can extract energy and items by “hacking” the portals, you can claim ownership of free portals and reinforce them with various shields and defense turrets, and you can link them with other portals belonging to your faction. And of course you can try to damage the defenses of the enemy portals and try to take them over.
I’m playing on an android phone, my Samsung Galaxy S III
,the game is only available for android devices at the moment but it’s expected to release an iOs version for 2014. A data plan connection is required since you need to be constantly in touch with the server, but data use is not too large, about 5 mb per day.
I go running and I tried the game on my usual route, the portal discovery process is similar to geocaching, as you find the places with the aid of your phone’s GPS on the game map. Distance to the locations is somewhat innacurate compared to other apps, I’m not sure if this is intentional for gameplay reasons or not, the map overlay is also devoid of information other than stylized streets in glowing blue lines, but it’s not too hard to get around. The distance counter seems to undercount severely as google my tracks gave me 17km for Ingress’s 5.
On the pro side the searching process can be fun, and you discover a lot of new features of an area you may have thought you already knew well. There are a lot of small urban statues I had never noticed in my area. Also I imagine if you get into it the social aspect (There is a full featured chat app bundled in to talk with your faction and coordinate) would probably be fun.
On the con, having to stop and start constantly my run is probably not something I’ll be doing in the future. Although the distraction did make me run more than usual without noticing. Speaking of distractions, the app is VERY distracting, with swirling colours and computery voices and sound effects, and I notice myself less aware as I move along the streets, which is not a good thing. The screen also attracts attention, another possible danger if you end up wandering into the wrong neighborhood in search of a portal.
All in all an interesting experience, only a few years ago with was the province of near future science fiction novels, like Charlie Stross’s Halting State in which Intelligence agencies used augmented reality MMORPGs to get people to do their dirty work for them.