Notes on Ingress

1. We are flipping bits on Google’s servers, but we are only allowed to do so if our phones report that we are currently at a given location. That’s all it is. But that’s all it takes to create a powerful illusion – or perhaps I shouldn’t call it an illusion, because that would be a term of the physical world. It’s the blending of virtual reality and physical reality, such that I can almost see the links and the fields stretching over the buildings in my neighborhood. I am running around frantically from portal to portal, trying to make it in time before the checkpoint. I’m hooked.

2. The fact that we can only make certain game moves while we are at a given physical location, and that we cannot tamper with the location-reporting mechanism in our phones, is a game rule, just as any other game rule, albeit a technically enforced one. Perhaps in all games where the players are not physically in the same location, and don’t know each other personally, the rules need to be enforced by technical means.

3. Of course there is spoofing. It wrecks the game. Not much to be said about it.

4. Pretty much the only thing which Google doesn’t allow us to use is computers. The only way to interact with the game is the Scanner app (which is visually nice but not very practical) and a really pathetic display of the game state on ingress.com, literally just a toy map. Even the attempt to augment that map and turn it into a more precise and practical tool is considered illegal and barely tolerated.

5. A great game would allow arbitrary API access to the game state, while still enforcing move legality (the position-reporting bit. I’m sure that can be done). It would allow players to use all computing power and UI design ideas they can come up with to enhance their game.

6. There is no need to worry that this would only benefit one team, because that team happens to have much better programs than the other. There is no way half the world could keep something secret from the other half of the world.

7. The Enlightened are the Resistance. Probably due to popular movie culture, or because of a basic human instinct, far more players choose the Resistance as their faction than the Enlightened. Which means there is, practically everywhere, a crushing dominance of the Resistance. Which, in turn, means that if you want the experience of being a rebel and an underdog, of having to use your wits and creativity to stand up against a much more powerful opponent that seems to dominate the entire world: choose the Enlightened.

8. One of the more fascinating aspects of Ingress is that the goal of the game is not clear. Is it leveling up? Creating farms? Recruiting new players? Having fun? There has been a recent push by Niantic to establish MU – the size of the fields that a faction creates and maintains – as the goal, but there is little agreement among the players that this actually is it. Which doesn’t seem to curb people’s enthusiasm and even passion to play the game.

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