Digital Citizenship Students

The Augmented Reality Exergame – INGRESS

(Image – Imgur 2016) | Playing Ingress

Ingress and the ‘Field’
It was 01:30 hours on a cold clear night. Eight Resistance agents waited anxiously in the church ruins on an island off the west coast of Ireland. Four months of careful planning was about to come to either a successful conclusion, or dismal failure. The silence was broken when the radio clicked into life and the agents listened carefully as the dispatcher announced, “Greenland One – deploy and link”. 2,700 km away, agent Friend1045 deployed the portal located beside Thule Chapel in NW Greenland and fired a link to Saskatchewan. The radio came to life and the dispatcher announced, “Ireland Two – deploy and link”. The eight agents fully deployed and modded the nearby portal while subsequently, agent Bororo007 carefully selected a portal key for Saskatchewan and pushed the link button. She then selected a key for Thule and again pushed the link button. After an agonising ten seconds a gigantic control field appeared on the agents’ scanners and the dispatcher announced “Link successful. Control field created”. The Irish Resistance had successfully taken control of the North Atlantic. The agents rushed to their transport and created 7 additional control fields covering Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Quebec and Ontario. Simultaneously, twenty-nine other agents created control fields covering much of the Pacific Ocean, as well as the Western US sea-board. Meanwhile, agents from the opposing faction, the Enlightened, scurried frantically to scupper the operation. Due to the remote locations used by the Resistance agents, they were unable to do so, and would need to wait until the next day before attempting to take down the control-fields. As the world around them slept, the agents quietly retired for the night, delighted that their efforts had put a huge dent in the ambitions of the opposition. In real life, when not saving the world from their opponents, agent Friend1045 is a Church Pastor living in Greenland, agent Olympia911 is a dispatcher for the California Highway Patrol and agent Bororo007 is a first year Applied Social Science student at NUI Galway. All play an augmented reality game called Ingress, where all game actions take place in real world locations, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.

Team Resistance for the Ingress Operation “Crazy Train” 7/5/16, connecting Aran Islands with Greenland, Canada and USA

Ingress AR game – virtual fields created by team of Irish/Danish/Canadian/American/Australian Resistance Agents on 7-5-16

What is Augmented Reality (AR)?
“Augmented reality is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Unlike virtual reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it. Real world of users becomes interactive and digitally manipulative” (ROUSE, 2016).

Ingress is a location based augmented reality exergame, the brainchild of John Hanke from Niantic Labs, who is better known as the creator of Google Earth. Ingress is a kind of ‘Capture-the-Flag’ game with a science-fiction storyline, which turns the whole World into a giant game-board with ‘portals’ as active spots that two factions compete over. It is played using a GPS-enabled mobile device, and when a player signs-up, they have to join one of two factions, The Enlightened, or The Resistance, and start to capture portals by visiting them. The ultimate aim is to join as many portals together to take over the World for their faction. When three portals are linked together, the area inside the three portals, known as a control field, now belongs to the agent’s faction. Unlike traditional gaming, Ingress forces players, known as agents, to get out into the real world. Ingress portals that the agents interact with are often historical markers, pieces of public art, or significant geographical locations, Therefore, as well as playing a game, agents inadvertently end up learning more about, and feeling more connected to, their neighbourhood or city (Collins 2014).

Ingress rewards and encourages agents to progress, by rewarding different digital badges for game play. There are in-game badges for various elements of game-play such as the number of portals visited, distance walked, portals captured, portal links created, enemy portal links destroyed, control fields created and enemy control fields destroyed, among others. Ingress also allows agents to put forward new portals for review which can then be either accepted or rejected; this keeps the game fresh and allows people with excellent local knowledge to share places of interest with the ingress user-base. Remote or hard-to-reach portals are in high demand among agents, as these allow them to anchor huge control-fields which are difficult for the opposing faction to take down.

In the five years since the creation of Ingress, it has been downloaded 20 million times, agents have walked a combined total of 427 million kilometres and there have been 1.2 billion unique portal visits (Ingress Five Year Report 2017).

Image: Google + (2017) 

Ingress game with its social aspect
There is a significant social side to Ingress. While agents’ privacy is respected, new agents are encouraged to join with other agents from their faction to contribute to larger operations. Agents are often found at remote portals during unsociable hours, waiting for the go-ahead from their faction to clear or link the portal to create a big field. The objective from a faction perspective is to capture and maintain more and larger control fields than the rival faction. Ingress measures and publishes scores every five hours, known as checkpoints. Just before each checkpoint, agents rush to create their own fields while simultaneously attempting to destroy the opposing factions’ fields. This results in an intense, but mostly friendly, rivalry between the two factions. This rivalry is re-enforced by the ability to see, on the scanner, the in-game identity of the opposing agent who has undone one’s good work. Ingress attracts agents from all walks of life and from all backgrounds. In Ireland, students, teachers, Gardaí, pilots, dentists, doctors, non-workers and priests all form part of the active Ingress community. A portal’s power can be increased by having a greater number of agents from one faction interact with it, encouraging teamwork and collaboration. There are active agents ranging from six to ninety years of age.

In addition to regular game play involving capturing and linking portals, Niantic periodically holds larger events, known as anomalies, in cities across Europe, North America and Asia. These anomalies involve anything from 500 to 5,000 agents taking part in an intense and demanding competition over a five-hour period, usually on a Saturday. Agents from both factions will arrive, dressed in the colours of their faction – The Enlightened wear green, while the Resistance wear blue. Many carry flags and banners and will prepare for weeks prior to the event, to ensure they have enough in-game weaponry to defeat the opposition. Tactics play a huge role in anomalies and each faction-leader has the responsibility of developing and communicating a strategy for the day, while keeping it secret from the opposing faction. To assist with this, each faction has developed their own set of tools, apps, and highly–secure communication protocols which would put many military leaders to shame. On the day of the anomaly the majority of the agents battle against each other while others, known as intel leads and dispatchers, remain active in the background, carefully monitoring every action and reaction on the battlefield while relaying orders to each team leader.

1200 Ingress Agents from all over the world gather in 13/12/2014 for a friendly cross faction Anomaly battle in Barcelona, Spain (Hipertextual, 2014)

The Geosocial aspect of the game
Due to the global nature of Ingress, Intel and Dispatch agents can be located anywhere, even on another continent. The anomaly scores are counted every 15 minutes and relayed back to the teams. When the battling is over, both teams meet up for drinks and entertainment, sometimes together, sometimes separately and relive every battle and key-moment which occurred during the anomaly. Visiting agents will use this time to learn more about local culture, as well as forging long-lasting relationships with invitations to visit their country. Each faction covers the cost of the anomaly by designing and selling Swag – faction-orientated gear such as hoodies, baseball-hats, bags, flags, t-shirts, and bio-cards. The following day, the city hosts a cross-faction Mission-Day, where a series of tours involving visiting sets of portals take place. The portals which need to be visited in order to gain the Mission-Day badge have been carefully chosen by local members of both factions along with the local tourist agency. This allows visiting agents to learn about the city in a unique way, as well as to meet and help agents of the opposite faction. Events like Mission-Days are invaluable in promoting cross-faction friendships and respect. The sense of enjoyment and ‘belonging’ is so prevalent in Ingress, that many agents spend a lot of time and money to get to attend these events. As one agent recently described it “Ingress is the most expensive ‘free’ game in the World, but I love every moment of it”. Agents of both factions will often join together to create Ingress Field-Art. This involves designing a unique object, visualising how it would look on an Ingress map, designing the fields, recruiting participants, and creating the field.

Ingress portals are frequently located in places of historical, geographical, or cultural importance, so agents are constantly learning new facts about the world around them. When a new portal is created, there is a description of why the portal is significant. Many agents have learned more about local history and geography through Ingress, than they have learned in school. Agents can pass on their unique local knowledge through suggesting the creation of new portals.

Ingress Cross-Faction Field-Art covering Swansea, UK

Ingress – the health benefits (physical and psychological)
Ingress AR exergame is very adventurous, but also healthy, as it gets people out and about, either on foot, by bicycle or by most other means of everyday transport. Most agents have walked or cycled in excess of 3,000 km after three to four years of play. Staiano & Calvert (2011) argue that when digital games are combined with physical exercise, this can improve physical, psychosocial and cognitive wellbeing, as well as contributing to one’s academic performance. Increased self-esteem, social interaction, attention and visual-spacious skills, alongside the vital fuel of motivation, all contribute to the positive effects listed above. Transforming sedentary video game play into active exergame play could increase caloric expenditure and improve coordination and athletic skills, thereby combating obesity, a serious issue of today’s highly consummative society (Staiano & Calvert 2011).

Does Ingress AV game also have a negative side?
With any multiplayer game played by millions of individuals, some negative aspects can creep in, and Ingress is no exception. Ingress is played with the use of a mobile device; this allows agents to communicate with agents of their own faction as well as the opposite faction. This mode of communication, however, can sometimes result in misunderstandings, taunting and hostility being communicated. There is an onus on agents to respect all agents, but what one agent means as a joking comment may be taken up as something entirely different by the recipient. Agents will frequently build a mental picture of an opposing agent simply from their game-play and if this game-play is aggressive, it can result in hostility. Another big problem which Ingress has is ‘spoofing’. Spoofing occurs when a player uses software to manipulate their real GPS location so that they appear somewhere else. Some agents pay a lot of money and sacrifice a lot their time to travel to a remote location in order to capture an important portal which can be used in a big operation; it is very frustrating when a cheat spoofs their location and suddenly captures that portal, even though they are not physically there. Many large Ingress operations have been ruined by spoofers and it is an intense source of frustration for both factions as well as Niantic, who have built some safeguards into the game to reduce the occurrence of it. The Ingress community will generally ignore any player who deviates from acceptable behaviour. As the/a French factionist Emile Durkheim argued, in any society with sentiments of shared values and beliefs, deviance is inevitable because not every member of the society can be equally committed to these collective sentiments (Haralambos and Holborn 1995). Ingress is a microcosm of the general society. On a sadder note, a small number of agents have also lost their life from accidents while playing Ingress, one here in Ireland in 2015. As a result, both factions have enacted safety protocols, such as ensuring that a lone agent will not be asked to capture a portal in a dangerous location, or at night. When multiple agents are attempting to reach such a portal, they are in constant communication with a third party and they use an app which constantly tracks their GPS location.

The gain for Niantic and the impacts of Ingress AR game on the future of AR gaming
Wilson (2017), in his talk about technology use in present and future products in combination with the use of Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Realities, stated, that technology which uses VR and AR provides the most compelling way to communicate the message-data across and it is critical to everything in the digital industry because, in his words, “Immersion equals emotion, emotion equals to engagement… As soon you add an interaction into anything you actually increase the engagement of a user tremendously” (Wilson, 2017). The Ingress exergame is but a proof of this statement. Since the inception of Ingress in 2012, Niantic have been able to track the movements of millions of Ingress players worldwide. As well as using this data to improve the walking directions in Google Maps, they have used the user-generated data such as portal submissions and portal information to add more information to maps. They have also generated revenue by entering commercial sponsorship deals, where large companies will pay to have in-game branding. Niantic have carefully tuned their app engine and associated databases to enable them to quickly scale-up processing to allow for more activity and newer games (Hodson 2012). In 2015, they launched Pokemon Go, which has been a resounding success, and next year they are releasing a new game, ‘Harry Potter – Wizards Unite’ which will undoubtedly be a major success (Niantic Inc. 2017).

Available HERE

In Conclusion
It is Sunday, 5th of November 2017. Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland. About 500 agents from all walks of life and places of the world are leaving town after weekend of getting together for an anomaly. When leaving the city, the altered song of Celine Dion from the Titanic movie starts to form lyrics in the player’s ears, carrying an important message within…

Near, far, across the distance, wherever Ingress friends are,
I believe that the heart and spirit of community goes on….

References

  • Collins K. (2014) Ingress creator on turning Earth into the game’s battlefield, Wired Magazine (14th July 2014). Available at: http://www.wired.co.uk/article/ingress-ios-john-hanke Accessed 11/11/17
  • Google+ (2017) Ingress 5th Anniversary Image. Available at: https://plus.google.com/+Ingress Accessed on: 23/11/17
  • Haralambos, M. and Holborn, M. (1995). Sociology of education: Themes and perspectives. UK-Honley: Collins Educational
  • Hipertextual (2014) La guerra virtual de Ingress llegó a Barcelona. Available at: https://hipertextual.com/2014/12/ingress-barcelona Accessed 23/11/17
  • Imgur (2016) Ingress Image. Available on: https://imgur.com/gallery/DTJaKMd Accessed 23/11/17
  • Ingress (2014) ‘Playing Ingress’, YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6-JAm3NCAk&t=72s Accessed 23/11/17.
    Niantic Inc. (2017) Harry Potter – Wizards Unite, Augmented reality game. Available at: https://www.harrypotterwizardsunite.com/ Accessed 14/11/17
  • Rouse M. (last updated in 2016) ‘Definition of Augmented Reality’, WhatIs.com. Available at: http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/augmented-reality-AR. Accessed: 23/10/17
  • Staiano A.E. & Calvert S.L. (2011) ‘Exergames for Physical Education Courses: Physical, Social, and Cognitive Benefits’, Child Development Perspectives. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1750-8606.2011.00162.x/full Accessed 24/10/17
  • Wilson L. (2017) YouTube: The Quest for Reality: Virtual, Augmented, and ‘All the ‘R’s’ (NAB Show 2017)/Adobe Creative Cloud. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pJ-aTe-ttg Accessed 23/11/17.

Elsa Lee is currently an undergraduate student in the Bachelor of Sciences (Applied Social Sciences) Degree Programme at the National University of Ireland Galway

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