Recently I completed a 365 project of a different kind. I’ve proved to myself twice that I can take a photo every day for a year, but this one was harder in some ways and easier in others. I didn’t have to be creative, but I did have to leave the house every single day. So here’s a write up of what I’ve been doing every day for the last year.
Ingress is a stupid phone game that makes you actually physically move in order to play. The official description is a little less cynical, something about augmented reality, multiplayer, GPS-based whatever… It’s a massive time suck, “an elaborate conspiracy to trick nerds into going outside,” a data hog, a battery killer, “the most expensive free game you’ll ever play,” a lifestyle, a social tool, “like geocaching meets capture the flag,” but really it’s just a stupid phone game.
Last Spring, Les got a new phone, and like all new phones, it came installed with a bunch of bloatware. As he was going through all the preinstalled apps, he opened one to check it out. It was a game called Ingress. He decided to play with it a little bit and not deactivate it like so many of the other apps. Before long he was in contact with other people who played Ingress, then he would say he was coming home from work and it would take him 2 hours even though it’s only 30 minute drive. When I would ask about it, he would say things like, “I had to stop at the airport, it was green.” or “I was on my way home and I stopped at the post office for 20 minutes to hack.” This made me very frustrated with the game. But we also did things like take random trips to Williams or Yarnell in the middle of the night, which I liked — we used to do stuff like that all the time, and it was nice to have a reason to get us doing it again.
After playing for about a month, Les decided that he wanted to play bigger, the green team had won several cycles in a row (their streak would eventually end at 42) and he decided he wanted to put a stop to it. So he decided that he wanted to make a big giant triangle, apparently that would make his team win. In order to make this big, giant triangle, we had to go to Winslow, Arizona. Until this moment in my life, I did not realize that Winslow, Arizona, was an actual place. When we got to Winslow, it was during the middle of a massive thunderstorm, which was pretty cool. But I knew that I was going to have to wait around for a very long time while Les did all of his game shit. He had been trying to convince me to play for several weeks, and I was having none of it. But sitting in the car in Winslow waiting for the rain to let up so we could safely exit the car, he said. “If you just make an account and help me hack keys, this will go twice as fast and we can get out of here.”
I caved and made the account because I didn’t want to be forever sitting in Winslow (which does exist, but consists of vacant buildings, a railroad park, and a buttload of stores trying to cash in on the fame of a single Eagles song, which is played on an endless loop on Main Street). We dashed through the rain (occasionally hiding behind large objects waiting for the rain to subside) and got all the keys we needed in half the time and were able to leave. I considered it a success.
On the drive home I started exploring the game a little. The next day I found several portals near my work, and since I really hated sitting and talking to my coworkers (because it was always insipid celebrity gossip, or sanctimonious local politics, and/or fundamentalist Christianity) I started taking walks every day after I ate. And I started making fields over my office. A few weeks later I went with Les to the booming metropolis of Valle to make the big triangle. It didn’t work exactly like it was supposed to, but it worked. We did that on a Saturday night, and we had to defend the lead all day Sunday. The toads tried twice to throw response fields, and twice we blocked them at the very last minute. They even talked about it on a public g+ page, which made it even more fun. That’s when I really got hooked. Now there is an entire screen on my phone dedicated to Ingress and related apps.
Ingress has become our community in Arizona, and much like ACOR was our community in Rochester, we sometimes have very little in common with the people who
are part of our community now. Neither of us are really video game people, I stopped after Super Mario Bros. 3, and Les stopped after Zelda. Les has found his niche within the community with the ubernerds who make robots, write code, and do other things that I hear as “womp womp womp, womp womp” from Charlie Brown. I do not really have a niche, mostly because of my social anxiety, aversion to hugging sweaty strangers, and dislike of people in general, but I still have fun when we meet up with other players. In Rochester, with ACOR, what we had in common was actually a lack of somethi
ng, which left room for a lot of different viewpoints and opinions. With Ingress there is a common interest, but I find myself hanging out with people I would never have even come across without it, people with whom I share no common interests other than this one game, lots of hardcore Republicans, highly religious people, parents with small children, SOOOOOOO many gun nuts (some of which can just be chalked up to Arizona). And that makes it interesting, even if the Prius jokes do get stale pretty quick.
Not to say that I haven’t come across some assholes, there are plenty (on both sides) that I would have been perfectly happy never having met (online or otherwise), people who take the game too seriously, people who forget (or don’t care) that there are real people behind the scanners or the Hangout icon, and people who just enjoy being a dick and Ingress gives them a platform to do so. This aspect of the game has made me moderate my Ingress goals, I enjoy being part of the local community and the regional community. And while I mostly enjoy being part of the statewide Ingress community, but I’ve had enough experiences with a select few individuals that I now have no desire to be part of anything bigger, which I used to think would be fun. Which is a nice transition to…
If you search for Ingress stories, you find a lot of negativity, stories are almost overwhelmingly about “Why I quit Ingress.” You read a lot things about people being addicted, complaints about hierarchies and team drama, people bitching about cheaters, and general distaste for the game and the community.
And honestly, a lot of it is valid. There are plenty of cheaters and there is so much butthurt about possible cheaters that there is an attitude of guilty until proven innocent (see #ProofNoSpoof). And it makes the game not fun sometimes.
There are assholes who physically threaten other players (in the last week I’ve heard about people getting blocked in their cars, people contacting employers, threatening children, and even a guy with machete, see earlier reference to gun nuts and understand why it makes me a bit nervous sometimes). There are people who think they are in charge of the game and belittle everyone who doesn’t see the game through their worldview. There are players who take the stupid phone game too far and let the petty little problems cause actual problems in their lives. And it makes the game less fun.
Ingress has events, called anomalies, and I’ve been told by multiple people, from both factions, that they are, “The most fun you’ll ever have playing Ingress.” That is a direct quote, verbatim, from at least 4 different people. And I can only assume that those people are either completely ignorant of the anomaly process, or completely fucking batshit insane. Because in the year I’ve been playing there have been 3 anomalies in Arizona, and they were far from the most fun I’ve ever had, I’d describe them more as nightmarish hellscapes. Sometimes the after parties were fun though, and it’s possible that my dislike of the events was influenced by being behind the scenes. Still, it makes the
game less fun.
But despite all those negatives, I enjoy going places, especially places I’ve never been. And Ingress highlights interesting places, there are several places that Les and I have been that we never would have found without Ingress. Sometimes a GP that needs killing is way off the beaten path, sometimes you find a really cool place looking for a row of portals to line up for a field, and sometimes you just drag the map to a place you’ve never been and go exploring (and capturing uniques). I’ve taken some really amazing photos of really amazing places because of Ingress (again, possibly just chalked up to being Arizona).
Les and I used to take drives all the time, often at night, not for any particular reason, just to move. It started in Price when Les would drive around Price looking for photos for the newspaper, it got bigger when we lived in Vernal and we would do anything to avoid being at home (or in Vernal at all, really), we started doing them in the day in Oregon so we could see the amazing scenery around us. And it’s something that we both enjoy, that has brought us closer, something that connects us on a deeper level. Ingress gives us an excuse for this insane behavior. It’s weird to drive to the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night for no reason, but if it’s to make a field, it’s teamwork.
And despite the assholes, douchebags, condescending fucknuggets, dumbasses, morons, illiterate jackasses, fucking weirdos, selfish dickbags, and poo-poo heads (that’s just going back through about 10 days worth of chats and removing amphibian references), I’ve enjoyed being part of the community. It’s nice to have people to talk to about a shared interest, people who appreciate my weird habits and filthy mouth, and who care if I make it home alive. I don’t make friends easily, that’s why I value social media, it lets me keep in contact with the few people I’ve connected with over the years, and across the country. Ingress allows for that kind of interaction, since most of it is via chats and g+ posts, but it’s also local, so we can meet up for dinner or parties and it isn’t too weird for me because I mostly know these people.
And despite the awful things I have to say about anomalies, we’re going to give it another shot next month in Salt Lake City. Yet another benefit, giving us an excuse to go to Utah and see family. I’m crossing my fingers that participating in an anomaly without watching the sausage get made will change my opinion of them and it really will be the most fun I’ve had playing Ingress (especially since the after-party will have Utah beer and I’ll have to get my fun in during the actual game play).
Ingress won’t be around forever, but while it is, I’m going to play my way, and I’m going to enjoy it.
And just for fun, 12 photos I took while playing Ingress, one from each month of the 365 days (except this April because I don’t have those uploaded to Flickr yet).