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Gamers going beyond the realms of the game: war for the world (hindu,)

How a community of Ingress gamers is going beyond the realms of the game with real location mapping, social interactions and teamwork

In the shadows of skyscrapers, amid the oblivious masses, there’s a secret virtual war being fought between two factions for control of territory. This is not a war of swords and guns, but rather of phones, GPS and gaming inventory.

Welcome to the world of Ingress, the location-based mobile game developed by Niantic Labs, a start-up company that spun off from Google.

While Niantic Labs’ newest project Pokémon Go will ring some bells, their original venture Ingress is where the company perfected its skills. From the time it was launched in late 2012, Ingress has steadily gained a dedicated following, with the game downloaded more than 11 million times.

From lawyers, engineers, doctors, journalists, cops, and students, to even housewives and cab drivers, Ingress offers a rare avenue for players to go beyond the realm of the game itself and make it part of everyday life.

Ingress, unlike its sister project, has a complex sci-fi storyline involving otherworldly creatures called Shapers, who want to control the world’s minds through an energy force called ‘exotic matter’.

The two teams — the Enlightened and the Resistance — battle for control of portals (real locations of public value, including museums, sculptures, historic landmarks, monuments, parks and public spaces). Each team tries to connect three portals together in triangles to form a ‘field’. The higher the population density under a field, the more ‘mind units’ (MUs) are controlled by the field, and the team with the most MUs in each region scores points for their team in a timed measurement.

Creating these fields requires impressive planning, coordination and cooperation between teams, who may be states or even countries apart. A couple of times in a year, both Enlightened and Resistance teams gather in massive numbers in cities around the world for ‘anomalies’, which are large-scale portal battles.

“The anomalies are usually times for the community to join forces across cities and countries, with people booking tickets and coming over just for the event. It’s not often you see hundreds of people congregate at one location to play a game. They also require a significant amount of moving around, so it adds to the tourism value of the city. We get to show our city off to visitors and discover it ourselves,” says architect Siddharth Joshi.

One of the biggest credits the game has, is that it gets the player out of the house. Ingress players have to discover their city’s landmarks and quirky points of interest, for real. Many point out that the gameplay has made them fitter, by making them walk and discover new places that are not in their usual commute. Apart from the fitness USP, the sheer thrill of passing a stranger on the street also playing the same game, makes it interactive on a whole new level.

Avinash Desai, a software engineer, says people are generally inquisitive. “We like to meet new people and do activities as a team. The game helped me get to know my city and area better. I travel to Mysore, Hampi and also commute between Vijayanagar and Bidadi, so I cover all the portals on the Mysore Road stretch.”

Naveen Srinivas Murthy, an engineer, says the game got him hooked, since it’s not played in front of a console. “It’s also fun to veer off the usual way to work and explore new routes. The game’s strongest point is that it doesn’t just connect places but also people.”

Any free time or break is used to hack the nearby portal if there is one in the vicinity, and it comes within range of the game’s scanner. In most cases like this, players usually put some amount of effort in coaxing potential players and recruiting them to join their respective factions. The lucky ones, like me, have members of the family, including my mother and cousins playing, that tips the balance of power in the neighbourhood in our favour.

Teamwork

Interaction is at the heart of this remarkably social game. Ingress requires more than one player to be involved in the setting up of a high-level portal, using it as an anchor to make fields and protecting it. Players also have to meet in person to stock up and exchange inventory. These events, called ‘farms’, are usually meet-ups that facilitate them to share a drink, grab some grub, visit new places together and even meet new players in the area.

Bengaluru, for example, is divided into six sectors within the Resistance, to coordinate better. The most active sector, nicknamed fondly The Cookie Sector, has a weekly or fortnightly meet, which often goes late into the night, with treats at one of the member’s houses or in the local café, where people catch up on the latest gaming gossip, exchange keys to anchors, plan strategic operations and listen to fascinating stories by the veterans and even do off-game activities like going for movies or catching up for outdoor games.

Camaraderie

It’s not always loggerheads between factions though. The first Saturday of every month is usually a time to set differences aside and show some camaraderie spirit between sides, with members of each faction helping lower-level members of the opposite faction to level up. The social meet is an opportunity to socialise, meet and greet veterans and newbies, trade stories and, of course, eat and drink! It’s also an excuse for each faction to show off their designed and printed hoodies, T-shirts, wrist bands or other merchandise. Usually, Ingress’ special events automatically get both factions working on special merchandise to flaunt, identify and treasure as memorabilia.

One of the largest operations in recent times was Operation Bleed Blue on August 15 of 2014, when the entire country was covered in multiple layers of blue, with Resistance forces from Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives also joining in to cover an area of 2,869,908 square km, demonstrating the strength and foresight of the Ingress community.

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