“The world around you is not what it seems.” That’s the tagline for the augmented reality game Ingress. Truth be told, it’s not a very original tagline, but Ingress has proved to be anything but boring for a number of women across the entire gaming spectrum.
Ingress’ story is centered around a substance known as exotic matter, which was supposedly discovered along with the Higgs Boson by the scientists at CERN. This exotic matter has given rise to what the Enlightened believe is the next evolutionary step for humanity. The Resistance feels like it can be used to oppress people and are fighting the Enlightened because of this. Exotic matter can be found in a variety of places, which are called portals. The game is so popular that there are a number of books written about the backstory, and there’s a regular news show about what’s happening on YouTube.
The gameplay at its core is very simple. The two factions (Enlightened and Resistance) are battling against each other in what is essentially a worldwide game of capture the flag. The flags in this instance are the portals. Players use a free app on their smart phones to navigate the world and perform actions at portals.
The way Ingress differs from most games is that instead of getting cozy on the couch with controller in hand, you’re going out into the real world, finding real-life places that you may have never been before. Or places that may be right in your backyard.
“This game opens my eyes to things I may not have ever ‘seen’ before,” says long-time Ingress player Katherine Diana. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out playing in my hometown and realized that the portal I’m at is something that I’ve probably passed by hundreds of time before, but never actually paid any attention to at all.”
And that’s one thing Ingress is all about–calling attention to public spaces designed to help you slow down and appreciate the world around you. Since the game is played on smart phones, you can play it anywhere. Parks, landmarks, pieces of public art and more are all sites where a portal might be found. This exploration has the added benefit of getting players up and moving, though it may not be the only form of exercise you need to stay fit.
But one thing that’s a common thread between most players is the amazing social experience the game brings with it. Many players have chosen to connect with other team members in their area to form what are essentially guilds. They meet up and work together to capture or reinforce portals, but also form connections that extend beyond the game.
“Having the opportunity to get to know folks from so many different socio-economic backgrounds that I wouldn’t otherwise get to meet has been life-changing,” says Daphne Domingo, who has been playing the game since its inception in 2013.
Katherine says, “This game brings people together in a way that I’ve never really experienced before and the relationships and experiences that I’ve been able to be a part of because of it is something that I’ll always appreciate.”
But it’s not just friends or strangers that make up these groups. Family members do too. Some women have turned it into a great way to spend quality time with their kids. Longtime player Liberty Naud actually switched factions so that she could play the game cooperatively with her son.
“My son said, ‘You know mom, it’s win-trading if we’re on opposite teams, and we won’t play together. Switch factions, please? Then we can go take over the whole town. Together.’ How do you say no to that? We have a blast while playing so many other video games together that I gave in and switched. And to this day we are still playing side-by-side.”
Besides the free-form capturing of portals, there are also live Ingress events held in cities all over the world. A recent event in Seattle saw more than 1,000 players come to participate, including some players who came all the way from China to attend. These special events give players the opportunity to bring more strategy to the game, as the battle for the portals is happening in close proximity to the other faction at the same time. Liberty had the chance to attend that Seattle event.
“I was collaborating with agents from Australia on the strategy and execution for the [event] in Seattle. Helping to organize all of those moving parts and then seeing the plans come together on the ground was an incredible experience. I never expected that such a cohesive team would arise from a phone game,” she says.
Finally, the major beauty about Ingress? It’s absolutely free. The game makes money from retail sponsorships that turn stores into portals with the hope that players will be interested in buying something once they’re there. Daphne appreciates the depth of the game despite its free-to-play status. “Ingress has also got to be the most expensive free game ever,” she says.