+Jeffrey Witthauer Help a few more souls down the path of Enlightenment with your #ingress  code. Humanity must evolve.
5 Things I Never Expected From Ingress

Those of you who have been following my stream know that I have been playing #ingress , Google’s new ARG. With my brothers in the #enlightenment  I have been tooling around Knoxville, capturing portals, blowing up enemy resonators, and in general having a great time. I thought I knew what I was getting in to. I thought wrong. +Brandon Badger, this one’s for you.

5.) Exercise

I’m putting this one first because I expected it somewhat. Well, a little bit. See, I am no longer a young man. Fitness no longer comes just because I’m me, now it comes because I am ambling along at a particular speed and burning so many calories. But while my body may no longer be that of a teenager, my sloth definitely is. I never cared much for exercise for exercise’s sake. I never really touched my bicycle as a child until I figured out I could get to the local strip with it, and while I managed to walk rather than drive to run local errands, that was hardly a day-to-day activity. A once a week trek of fifteen minutes is not enough to keep a body in shape.

Enter Ingress. Suddenly there are portals all over the place. I knew that would get me out and walking, but I never realized how much. Since the launch of the beta, walking has become one of my favorite activities. Even when I have to travel across town, I’ll stop a few blocks early so I can walk the rest of the way and hack the local portals before reaching my destination. One day I had some free time, so I walked for over three hours. Over three hours. And this is not merely ambling along, this is at a good clip. Why? Because I only have so much time to capture portals, and the faster I walk the more portals I get to, of course!

Extra Credits did a two-part episode about ARGs, and had a lot of interesting things to say about how ARGs can encourage us to live and learn better (Part 1: http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/args-part-1, Part2: http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/args-part-2). Meanwhile SMBC showed us the dark side of that (http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2286#comic). But Ingress is the first time I have really seen that implemented well, and encourage constructive behaviors.

Games as exercise. We have reached Nirvana.

4.) Discovery

Did you know that there is a cemetery near my home that covers a massive area atop a beautiful hill, offers a magnificent view of Knoxville, and contains a lot of old tombstones, statues, and a sculpture of an organ grinder named Tony? Neither did I, until Ingress. I walked by the cemetery every time I had to walk to the grocery. I knew it was there. I had no idea how big it was. I was unaware of the view, unaware of the statues, and unaware of a good three quarters of its area.

Until, of course, I went there to find new portal locations for Ingress.

I expected Ingress to show me some things, but I am a fairly intellectual guy. I like art, and I was pretty sure I knew about most, if not all, of the great artistic places in my own home city.

What I discovered instead is that there is art everywhere in Knoxville. Interesting architecture, statuary, locally-owned shops that have been city institutions for years, even decades, and not just on the main thoroughfares! Everywhere! I discovered a neighborhood that is on the National Historic Register because of its Tudor houses. I discovered a walkway by the river peppered with beautiful fountains and monuments. Because of Ingress, Knoxville is a more beautiful place, at least in my mind.

3.) Creativity

There are not nearly enough invites for Ingress. Let us take that as a given. But the lack of invites has unlocked something that I never knew I had: Creativity. I am a writer. I am not an artist. I leave the artistry to my minions. But in the quest to get an invite code from +Brandon Badger I discovered that I was making art. Digital art, but art nonetheless. Far more than I knew I was capable of. Then I took a video of the Sunsphere, a local Knoxville monument that for some reason is not a portal, and learned how to use a whole new suite of video editor special effects in order to make it look like a portal in video. I had no idea I could do that stuff!

And now I find that I am actually considering the virtues of Ingress, the philosophy of Ingress, and the impact of Ingress to earn more codes. This at least is more my bailiwick, being a writer, but if you had told me I would be writing nearly two-thousand words on what is essentially a still-buggy, minimal-graphics version of capture the flag, I would have thought you were nuts. And yet here I am, and it does not feel strange at all. Creativity flows from this game. Perhaps the Shapers are influencing me.

2.) Strategy

Did I say Ingress was like capture the flag? I did. And I went into this excited about the game, but lamenting somewhat that there was no real strategy. It all seemed so very straightforward. If you spend the time taking and maintaining portals, you do better than those who do not spend the time. Simple as that. But when I got into the game, I discovered there was so much more!

Sometimes the strategy can be simple. Where do you stand in order to get the maximum effect from an XMP? Where do you place your resonators to be most effective? These seem simple enough, and yet I constantly run into portals with all the resonators clustered a half-meter away from the portal. Strategy.

And then you move to the next level. Do you wait for your resonators to run out of charge, replacing them and getting the AP for recapturing the portal, or do you recharge them to maintain a tricked out portal? But wait, if you ask that question, you then have to ask what portals do you trick out? Resonators are a finite resource, after all. So are portal shields. Which portals do you keep at level 1, and which do you up to level 4?

Obviously that should be determined by distance from other portals, right? Or should it be determined by the patterns of your opponents? Where are you going to place your fields? Suddenly you find yourself spending lots of time in front of the Ingress map, precisely working out how you are going to control the population, and how you need to upgrade portals to do it. And what happens when a stubborn member of the cursed Resistance decides to start camping a portal you want? Do you keep spending resources trying to drive him out in a war of attrition, or do you maneuver around him?

Even the portals you control become part of strategy. Are you really intending to cover twenty square miles for the foreseeable future? Planning out which portals to capture can be like working the traveling salesman problem. How do you plan your daily routine so that you hit the most significant portals, while at the same time not making you late for work? Even handing out friend invites can be part of strategy. Do I give the invite to the friend who lives near a bunch of significant portals, but who I know will only play every so often? Or do I give the invite to the friend who is restricted to an area without as many significant portals, but who I know will be a tireless foe against the cursed Resistance? Obviously the solution for this is for +Brandon Badger to give me a whole lot of invites.

Strategy, both on a small and grand scale. I did not expect it, but I am glad it is there.

1.) Philosophy

Time for a reality check. Ingress is a game about capturing dots, then defending those dots and chaining them together to make triangles. Simple, right? Google could have left it at that. I mean, why do we need Frogger to have a reason to cross the road? We get points for when Frogger crosses the road. We do not need another reason. Is Frogger too ancient an example for you? What about modern games? A lot of modern games pretend to have a huge story, but ultimately you just do things for points. Oh sure, World of Warcraft has a story, but what does getting a guy ten bear pelts have to do with that story? Nothing. You are doing it for the points.

Google could have done that. Google could have said “You get points for capturing portals. What more do you want?” Instead they have weaved this very simple mechanic into a grand mystery, and more than just a mystery: A philosophical question that is actually worth exploring.

I am dead serious. I may rag on the Resistance and talk about the Enlightenment being clearly right, but if I’m honest, that’s just my propaganda trying to get more people to join my side. The truth is Resistance vs. Enlightenment is a complicated philosophical question.

Is freedom worth sacrificing enlightenment?

What a question! We are told our whole lives that freedom is worth everything. Give me liberty or give me death! They may take our (insert thing here), but they can never take our freedom! Without freedom we are not human. Without freedom we are caged beasts.

But we have also been taught that enlightenment is our highest ideal. Every single religion, and every single philosophy, is ultimately a quest for enlightenment. It may be called “becoming Christ-like”, “achieving Nirvana”, or “realizing utopia”, but it is all the same thing. Becoming the highest form of what we can become. Being the best that we can be. Without enlightenment we are not human. Without enlightenment we are dumb beasts.

Ingress asks the devastating question: What if these are mutually exclusive goals? What if the only way to have great art and great science is to let ourselves be mind-controlled? I could write a whole book on this dichotomy. I have talked my friends’ ears off with my philosophical musings on this subject. I have spun it into propaganda for the Enlightenment, and I have unspun it for the purposes of pondering. Science fiction novels should cover this stuff. The ghost of Isaac Asimov should come back from the dead to write a full explanation of this scenario.

Playing Ingress is like opening a present and expecting it to be good, only to find that inside the big box is not only what you were expecting, but a whole bunch of other presents besides. As Google keeps letting invites out at a trickle and revealing more of the story through the Niantic Project, I expect more and more people to start opening those other presents. This is something that will change gaming, and quite possibly our lives.

Forward to Enlightenment!
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