200km in a single month, because of a game! Walking! I guess that’s more than I would usually walk in a whole year. And that’s actually one of the points in favour for the game. But the frequency of having a bad feeling after a session of Ingress, an emptiness if you will, has steadily increased. And last Friday was the tipping point, I have decided to stop playing it. For the next month, at least.
In case you haven’t heard about Ingress here comes a very short introduction. Ingress is an augmented reality game by Niantic Labs (a Google company). You play it on your GPS enabled Android or iOS device. Your smartphone acts as a scanner for your physical environment. Think Tricorder from Star Trek. Basically you have to go outside, walk around, discover, conquer, link and defend portals.
Portals? Well, a portal isn’t something were you walk through, like you would normally do. The story behind the game clears the name up: recently CERN discovered some new kind of matter: exotic matter (XM). XM is very mysterious and it’s amount seems to steadily grow. The term portal refers to a gap where high concentrations of XM leak into our reality.
XM is used as the power source in the game, every action requires some amount of XM. Their are two factions fighting over the usage of XM. The Enlightened, who take it as a good thing, that should be exploited. And the Resistance, who think it’s bad and influences the free will of humankind.
Noteworthy real-world things, made by humans: a monument, a graffiti, a historic building or bridge, a train station, some statue, a wayside cross, an information board … are – or can become – portals. There are tons of portals around you (at least in densely populated areas). Usually they were previously discovered by other players (called agents in the game’s jargon). The game encourages you to discover even more portals and you get an achievement (Seer badge) for accepted portal submissions.
I submitted well over 1000 new portal candidates and 187 were accepted by now (as you can see on my stats page, below).
There are quite a lot more badges and of course an experience points system (called AP in Ingress). To reach higher levels you have to gain AP. Which you get through capturing portals, modding them, connecting them through links and fields (a triangle of connected portals), and destroying such things from the opposing faction. Until level 8. Afterwards you additionally need to achieve badges in specific colours (bronze, silver, gold, platinum and black). The current maximum is level 16.
The game encourages team-play for higher level agents. Since you need eight high-level agents (level 8 and higher) to establish a level 8 portal. Only high-level portals emit high-level items. Which you need to fight the opposing faction and equip more portals.
As you can imagine, the game has no end and no winner. Despite the fact, that their are areas that are dominated by one faction, sometimes even to the point of extinction of the opposition.
Meet New People, World-Wide
This is really fascinating. Regardless of the place you are visiting, everywhere are some agents of your own faction, playing the game. They give you a warm welcome. They are happy, that you are there. They volunteer in taking you around. Amazing. That gave me a little bit the feeling of being at home everywhere.
Just after a few days playing Ingress, I was invited into the local communities (I played in my hometown, as well as the city I work) and they were nice and eager to help out. As always I was skeptical and started it slowly and became really “involved” after a little more than a month.
Learn About Your City And It’s (Hidden) Treasures
Even if you decide to be a lone wolf – play alone, ignoring your local community – you will learn a lot about your city. Many things that are worthy portals I haven’t noticed before and I was passing them quite often. One example: wayside crosses. There are really, really a lot of them around here. And I haven’t noticed even one before.
I even did some background research and learned quite a lot about the local history and the story behind some statues, historic sites and architecturally important buildings.
Visit Areas You Wouldn’t Otherwise
To achieve the Explorer badge you have to visit, for the Pioneer badge to capture distinct portals. To get them you will go, where you haven’t been.
Your team members will propose farming spots or field-operations (e.g. creating some big fields to provoke the other faction) that requires you to go to even more unknown locations. You will become an expert regarding the neighbourhoods, towns, villages and the streets that connect them in a pretty wide circle around your usual whereabouts.
Be Outside And Become A Little Fitter
You have to leave your house to play. You are outside. All-around-the-year. You are exposed to all kind of weather, which should help strengthen your immune-system. You walk most of the time. You will exchange a big, lengthy and lazy meal with some more Ingress-time. You will loose some weight and you will get fitter. I did, at least.
Develop A Keen Eye For Note-worthy Exceptional Things
Because you can propose new portals and you even get a badge for that, you will develop the “ultimate-portal-submission-vision”. I found myself watching TV and always looking for things in the background, in the scenery, that might be, or become, portals. But you definitely should keep that to yourself in front of outsiders, it’s really annoying them.
Good Feeling Of Achieving Something
A successful field-op, e.g. creating big layered fields (many thousand mind units) alone or with a team, is something that gives me that “yeah-I-did-it-feeling”. That good feeling of accomplishing something. The same is true, but a little less, when you completely cover your neighbourhood with fields of your colour.
Walking around and looking most of the time on your smartphone in your hands creates tension in your neck muscles. That really hurts when you play too much. It’s even worse when playing while driving. My phone is attached to the central ventilator and I have to take a suboptimal position to reach it. My whole body hurts after half an hour of playing.
Ecosystem – Wasted Gas
Driving. That’s a real bane. Ecological speaking. You waste so much gas. But you have to drive. Otherwise it would be impossible to create big fields, which is the ultimate goal of the game. The faction that controls the most mind units “wins”.
Niantic has some pretty strict rules. Especially regarding community made extensions and alternative clients. They don’t like it when you play around with their API. Many agents have been banned, because of that.
On one hand they encourage agents to find hidden codes in their official media, no small feat. But on the other hand damn experiments with their API, which requires a similar set of technical skills.
Another aspect: customer support. Personally I haven’t tried to contact Niantic directly, but one member of my local community had: one might say, they are not very responsive.
Furthermore the decision process regarding new portals is broken. Many new portals that were rejected when I submitted them, became later live when someones else did. That really sucks. The process itself seems to slowly grind to a halt, as well. When I started, it took them less then 60 days to accept/reject a portal. Now (8 month later) you won’t get a reaction earlier then 110 days after the submission.
Despite Niantic’s strict rules their are of course alternative clients out there. Even a bot, that plays by itself. Wherever you want. It emulates natural behaviour. I was personally a victim when a bot captured my long time portal (the Guardian badge). How do I know it was a bot? Well, it cleared out a cluster of portals in an order that’s not possible given the actual landscape. It even had access to areas that were closed to the public by that daytime.
There are even some cities that are owned by bots, if you believe the reports that are regularly shared on the games official Google Plus community.
The game has some interesting aspects, I have outlined above, but basically it’s always the same: you capture some portal. Shortly after, someone of the other faction takes it over. You recapture it. It’s taken over. And so it goes on and on and on …. that’s annoying.
In terms of gear, that the portal emit, through hacking, it really doesn’t matter much which colour the portal has, they emit nearly the same number of items. So, what’s the whole point?
Too Slowly Evolving, Lack Of Revolutionary Changes
The game is evolving, no question. But way to slow for my taste. I almost quit in February, but then they announced the new levels (from 9 – 16).
Sadly the only things that change when you level up beyond level 8 is the amount of XM you can carry around and the distance you can link and recharge portals. I had hoped for level 9 to level 16 gear, opening the game completely up again.
But no. Too revolutionary.
So you basically keep playing for the profane reason that your stats page shows a higher number. Questionably, but that kept me moving for another few month. I’m level 12 now and need thirteen approved portals more to gain access level 13. Whoohoo. Ehhh. No.
Farming? Basically it’s the act of systematically hacking a cluster of closely located level 8 portals (or the level of items you need most, level 4 and level 6 are common as well) to gain items you need to keep on playing.
Sooner or later you come to the point were your inventory is pretty empty. So you locate the next existing farm (or initiate an event to create one) and then you keep walking in circles. That is a real pain in the ass. Simply boring. And since you choose, because of portal density, often the same spot it’s even more boring. Walking the same circles again and again.
When you are really serious about defending some territory and have an active opposition you have to farm daily or even more often. And you don’t get any action points for that. There is a Hacker badge, so that compensates it a little.
High Addiction Potential
You want to keep your neighbourhood, your home-zone, coloured in your factions color. You get praise for that, like “Nicely green over here. Good job.” Others thank you when you upgrade their home-zone’s portals. You go out and kill portals to remove interfering links, so that others can build fields. That’s the extrinsic factor.
Some good amount of peer pressure.
But there is also a strong intrinsic force that might carry you away. Here are some phrases I regularly kept saying to myself:
“I really want that next badge. Today.”
“Ahh well, only that other 3 portals. Everything is pretty green then and maybe I can link over to that other portal.”
“Just one time back to get that key and then I can close that ugly hole in my green blanket.”
“Oh. Just that next street. There has to be something portalish.”
“Only two more rounds, then my inventory should be really full.”
“My inventory is so full, I can’t drive-by-hack … OK, then I will go over to that blue fortress and destroy something.”
“Ah damn, I started it. I will destroy everything.”
“Shit I’m almost out of bursters, I have to farm again.”
“20 minutes, not more. I promise.”
“Oh shit another hour has passed.”
The stats page and the badge system are really strong factors to motivate numbers addict (like me) to keep playing the game.
Even when I was not in the field, I thought about the game. About potential fields. About (missed) opportunities to submit even more portals. About places to fill up my inventory. Sometimes to an extend that it was obvious to the people around me, and that really deserve my full attention.
Wasted Time and Energy
I love to create meaningful things. To learn about new things. New technology. New methods. To make something that’s useful. Ingress is just a game, after all, and I wasted much time and energy that I could have used to produce or learn something more important.
The game never stops. When you don’t play, others do, so everything you made previously, might be wiped out when you are sleeping, working, …
Having all that said, it’s still your choice and just my very personal opinion and decision. It’s a fantastic game (most of the time) but it has some serious drawbacks in my opinion. A special thanks goes to the fantastic communities I was a proud part of. I’m sorry if this decision feels too sudden for you.
Keep hacking, or not.
I’m off. Agent LirielBaenre is on (temporary) retirement.