There’s a war for the future of mankind raging—unseen—all around us.
But on a Thursday night in a low-key nook of Manhattan’s fashionable Meatpacking District, two factions laid down their arms to drink copious amounts of beer and discuss the finer points of acquiring exotic matter, the mysterious substance that fuels the planet-wide struggle between the “Enlightened” and the “Resistance.”
This is mega-geek stuff, and it’s why I couldn’t resist dropping in on this temporary truce between the fanatical players of Google’s mega-viral game: Ingress.
If you haven’t heard of Ingress—a massively multiplayer augmented reality game forAndroid—you probably will soon. The game has been in invite-only beta testing since November, but it has already racked up about half a million players worldwide.
“It’s like a less passive-aggressive Foursquare,” is how Enlightened faction member David Cardillo explained it to me over pints at the Brass Monkey. “Instead of ‘Haha, I can buy more coffee than you’, you don’t just check in, you have to actually knock someone off.”
Like Foursquare, the game relies on check-ins, but that’s where the similarity ends. What has Ingress players running around every corner of New York City—and the rest of the world—is a complex back-story that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is revealing piece by piece on the Web.
Here’s the premise in a nutshell as best as I can explain it: Earth has been seeded with a substance called exotic matter by an alien race known as the Shapers. The Enlightened (Green) believe that this infiltration will result in a great boon for all mankind. The Resistance (Blue) does not.
The game’s slogan: The world around you is not what it seems.
Both factions race around the globe—players showed me maps showing portals from Brooklyn to Africa to the Philippines—attempting to enclose regions within Google Maps by linking virtual portals. The goal is to enclose areas with the largest numbers of “Mind Units,” that is, humans within those areas.
This is accomplished through check-ins, with the aid of various items and other power-ups. The strategy of capturing various portals—usually public places like monuments or memorials—is complex, and requires cooperation among faction members.
That means Ingress meetups happen wherever the game is played, some spur of the moment and some planned. Thursday night’s cross-faction event was organized forNew York Internet Week by Niantic Labs, the internal startup within Google that is behind Ingress.
It also leads to some awkward encounters.According to a post on Reddit, at least one Ingress player has been arrested for suspicious activity while playing the game.
As a rep from Niantic, who could not comment for this post, passed out swag, players discussed strategy, the plot and various war stories. Everything from whether or not the Shapers represent Google, to devious schemes to bury portals deep in Queens where only the most dedicated Manhattanite players would tread.
But the toughest foes? New Jerseyans with time on their hands.
“There’s definitely a difference between New Jersey players and New York players,” said Cardillo, who works in publishing. “They’ll drive across the entire state. They don’t care.”
For Moe Massry, it was the first time he had ever met a longtime online ally, Chevaughn Graham.
“I’ve never met her before today, but I’ve given her items to help her along,” Massry said. “I feel like I know her in a way.”
I wanted to get in on the game—and someone handed me a required activation code—but alas, the game is only available on Android. And I have an iPhone.
So much for joining the Enlightened.