This Android game mashes up geolocation and science fiction

August 21, 2013

In a million places around the globe, a strange form of energy is coming through from what seems like another dimension. We don't know anything about it — only that it appears to make some people more creative and intelligent. Those people are called The Enlightened, and their goal is to blow those portals wide open. But working against them are the members of The Resistance, people who believe this new energy can't be trusted.

That's the lore behind Ingress, an emerging augmented-reality game from Niantic Labs, a startup within Google. The portals are real-world landmarks and points of interest that fall under the control of either in-game faction when nearby players power them up. The idea is to get people out and exploring parts of their own city they may never have been to before, said John Hanke, who oversees the game's development.

"We wrapped it in a science fiction game that borrows from the spirit of J.J. Abrams," said Hanke. "There's a little bit of World of Warcraft in that it's a massively multiplayer game and everybody is in the same environment, and it's a little bit like geocaching in that it involves visiting real world locations."

Depending on your attitude toward technology, you might find yourself gravitating toward either The Enlightened or The Resistance. Hanke insists otherwise, but it's striking as a kind of metaphor for our shifting conversation about tech and how it might be transforming us. You've got, on the one hand, tech skeptics who think society is being eroded by what we haven't fully grasped. Then on the other hand you've got enthusiasts who think embracing new advances could yield vast benefits. It's ironic that by getting people outside and joining with others in huge meet-ups to play the game, the simulation itself is an argument for the latter.

Hundreds of people descended on Washington last weekend for one such meet-up on the Mall, to "bring the Capitol under alien influence." It's part of a worldwide series of events for Ingress players — other participating cities include Boston, Chicago, Tokyo and Dusseldorf.

The game is still in closed beta and for Android phones only.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecom, broadband and digital politics. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Business
Next Story
Timothy B. Lee · August 21, 2013