After a little over two months, I’ve decided to leave Ingress. It hasn’t been that long in the scheme of things, but because of the time I’ve invested, it feels like forever. At the time of this writing, my local teammates don’t even know I’ve left the game. Out of all of the things that are going to be hard to do, I think breaking the news to them will be the toughest. I wanted to recount my experience for anyone who might wish to listen/read, and for all intents and purposes, feel like I am detoxing, withdrawing, etc, really bad. A lot of what I am writing is for my benefit, and reflection, but if you glean anything from it, I’m happy to help! Some of this is discombobulated thought. Feel free to grab your favorite bottle of spirits while you read through those parts and make a drinking game out of it.
Where to start…..ah, let’s call that “Genesis”. I’d like to preface that with a short introduction: “Hi, I’m BaconFatLabs, and I’m an addict.”
Around the fourth week in June, the 25th to be exact, I was checking out my much neglected Youtube subscriptions, and one of them had this thing that, at first, I found extremely silly. It was a camera phone video of “Gettysburg Interitus ending”. Scores were rattled off, and each time “Resistance” was named the victor, followed by what seemed to be some REALLY bad LARP-ing by an individual named “Dr. Devra Bogdanovich” (Who is actually Karen Strassman of video game voiceover fame). The crowds cheered, and were REALLY involved. I didn’t know what it was all about, but there were so many unanswered questions. Further exploration led me to figure out that it was all part of a game called “Ingress”, which at the time installed from only the Google Play store onto Android compatible devices.
Wikipedia describes Ingress as “an augmented reality massively multiplayer online role playing GPS-dependent game created by Niantic Labs, a startup within Google, originally for Android devices, and since July 14, 2014 for Apple’s iOS. The game has a complex science fiction back story with a continuous open narrative.” Please refer to the cited link for the complete summation of the game, but it’s basically a new twist on an old theme: “You are tasked to save the world from certain destruction, because aliens”. They take existing global maps data, place “portals” anywhere there is something of the slightest significance, and watch two groups of people slug it out for dominance. The key difference in this game is that you actually have to be within 40 meters of physical range of the “portal” to interact with it (except to perform a recharge, but again, all of this is covered in the Wikipedia entry). One major detail: Ingress is digital crack-cocaine; highly addictive, and habit forming long after the so-called euphoria is experienced.
So I downloaded and installed the game, went through the whole “What you think you have downloaded is a game, when in fact, blah blah blah” spiel, and was asked to choose an agent name, and faction that I wished to play for:
- The Resistance faction fights to save the Earth from Shapers. The Enlightened say that the Resistance fears change and a better world. But the Resistance believes that the Shaper invasion will be the end of humankind, and they want to stop it. The Resistance are represented by the color blue in the game.
- The Enlightened faction wants to help Shapers to infiltrate Earth, and they believe that Shapers will help humankind evolve and that they will bring enlightenment to all people. The Enlightened are represented by the color green in the game.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really read instructions before doing things a lot of the time, and this was no exception. I chose Resistance, because it’s more of my nature to rebel, and, well, I like blue. After doing research later I quickly found that I made the right decision for the region I play in, but as far as gameplay is concerned, it only comes down to which name and color you like more. I skipped the training exercises and went to get a haircut. After my haircut, I turned my phone, errr, I mean, my “scanner” on, and parked next to a green portal (the opposite faction). I was kind of fumbling around and figuring out what to do, so for giggles, I hit the “Hack” button. It zapped me, and gave me items which I don’t even recall, (probably resonators and XMP’s I’m guessing). Well great! Let’s do that again! I try again, and am greeted with a “Portal Running Hot! Cooldown Active!”. Uh, great? What the hell am I supposed to do now?!? I do a long screen tap on the phone, which brings up a submenu with an option that says “Fire XMP”. Okay, let’s try that, then. I fire off every XMP in my inventory and I still have no clue what I am doing. Later, I find out that it is pointless to fire Level 1 XMP’s at most portals that higher players build, and it continues to be pointless until you reach Level 6-ish. There’s a term for this that Ingress agents use: “flinging noodles”. Oh well, I hacked a few more portals (still unaware of what, exactly, I was doing), shut down the app and didn’t think about it again for a few days.
ACTUALLY learning to play
Saturday morning rolls around, and after researching gameplay online, I decide to give it another go. I hopped in the car, connected the phone to the car charger (which I QUICKLY learned not to leave the house without because between the data radio, the GPS, and the display going nonstop, expect for it to suck down at least 25% of your battery an hour, probably more). I visited all of the portals that I pulled up within range on something Ingress furnishes called “The Intel Map”. I drove up to some, hit the hack button, and drove off. I had to get out of the car to hack others (remember, you have to be within 40 meters of a portal to interact with it in the game), which was actually not a bad thing because one of my motivations for the game was exercise. This continued until I ran across a portal that was a white color. I’d never seen one before, and didn’t know what to do. I went to the faction COMM channel and asked. They told me something that didn’t make sense. I responded “Ok, pretend I am completely dumb and have absolutely no idea what I’m doing” (I wasn’t pretending, though). That seemed to work, and I claimed my first portal: A high school football stadium. I felt like I should be doing more, and for the rest of my life, I will never forget the collective “NOOOOOOOO!!!!” response I got when asking, “Should I deploy a link amp or something?” (Ingressers will understand) I found several more unclaimed portals in a nearby park the next day, when I learned how to properly link and construct control fields with portals. By the end of Sunday, I was on the cusp of Level 4, and Monday brought Level 5. I have to admit, 5 level jumps in 3 days made me feel kind of like a superstar. It was new, and exciting, and my new favorite thing at a time when pretty much all of my hobbies had run stale, and those of you who know me personally know that I don’t exactly suffer from a lack of hobbies.
A culture unlike anything I have seen, and subcultures within
While looking at faction chat over the weekend, I glanced at someone who had offered to bring me into the G+ Hangouts for the area. I took them up on it. I quickly learned that there is a surprising amount of activity that happens to coordinate things within the game, including social functions where the game is a medium. Slang terms like “Smurf” (Resistance player), “Toad” (Enlightened player), “campfire” (deploying resonators too close to the center of a portal which results in easy attack), and my favorite, the “F.U. campfire” started flying at me. You can probably imagine what the F.U. is, but the actual definition is incredibly humorous. I won’t go into it here.
In my area, there aren’t really many “cross faction” meetups, but apparently such things exist in other major cities. There were several occasions where there was an organized event in my faction. Farm building, farm destroying, you name it, if there was a game objective involved, it was organized with the addition of cookies, beer, or both. I attained an incredible amount of first hand advice from these venues and thoroughly enjoyed it.
There is a subculture within the Enlightened faction called “The Barcodes”. Agent names are changed to new names that consist of a predetermined combination of lower case l’s and uppercase I’s. In the game, because of the font they use, one agents barcode is indistinguishable from another. This is supposed to be for even more collective anonymity or to promote more group cohesion, or whatever, but really all’s I have seen it do it allow them to gang up on someone else without retribution. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it isn’t against the terms of service in the game, so, “Meh”. I jokingly suggested there be an equivalent Resistance subculture that uses O’s and 0’s. They could be called “The Bubbles”.
During my timeframe of play, I managed to recruit seven agents. Three of these were during the iOS release, and I attained a special “Eve” badge for this achievement. Six out of seven of these players didn’t play for long, and the last one doesn’t really play that often now. There’s a statistic floating around that 95% of new agents don’t continue the game shortly after their start, and based on my firsthand experience, that appears to be somewhat correct. They, like me, probably aren’t able to find the time to play. Unlike me, they realized that far quicker.
There’s a LOT of culture that I just can’t talk about because it directly affects and defines what strategies are used within the faction, and even though I’m not playing anymore, it wouldn’t be fair to current players if I divulge that information I’ve been privy to. Rest assured that there’s a lot left unsaid in this area.
Climbing the level ladder
After my initial jump to Level 5, leveling (naturally) started becoming harder. It took me three more days to make level 6, and actually happened on a very fun night that involved consuming an entire pepperoni pizza with two of my closest friends as we roamed around (both of which also leveled the same night). After that, I began to settle into a groove of claiming portals, full deploying, linking, and fielding. This became where I spent every moment I wasn’t working or spending time working on “had to do’s”, and at this point, the “had to do’s” even started to show neglect. Leveling wasn’t necessarily fun at this point, but the push to the coveted level of 8 sustained me. I wanted to be high enough in level to start being “dangerous”. In retrospect, I think my leveling push was a strong desire to actually be able to start playing without limitation, and somehow, I thought this would be rewarding and give new appeal to the game, so I continued on.
This is also the point where I began to invest in peripherals that would aid in the game. I bought spare car chargers, and a 22000 mAh battery bank for charging my phone during long, “on foot” trips. During all of this, I managed to curb the car once, and drop it off of the foundation of a leveled structure that I *thought* was a parking lot. I also had a terse exchange with a rent-a-cop who approached me in an unmarked vehicle, when it was dark outside, merely asking “Can I help you with something?”, without attaching any context. He didn’t like my response of “Nope. Sig Sauer already takes care of that this time of night.” Apparently, I was on private property when I pulled off off the main road into a parking lot for one of the divisions of L-3 Communications. There were very small signs that I saw as I drove by the next day (the size of real estate placards, and those are all over town), but the parking lot was pitch black and I likely wouldn’t have noticed them during the day either. Oh well, private property is private property, and I didn’t go back, but was pretty unhappy with the way that was handled.
July 4th rolls around, the end of week two of game play. My family spends Independence Day with close friends. Everything is great until a few days later when I start feeling drainage in my ears. I’m starting to feel myself get sick, but continue to go on leveling trips at night. In the process of this, both of our households get sick. I feel better in a few days, and then get sick again after everyone recuperates. Cold air conditioning blowing in my face for a few hours every night made it worse. I literally turned a mild cold into a massive sinus infection by not slowing down. On the cusp of level 7, I finally broke down and went to the doctor, because I was miserable. The sinus infection was so bad that they prescribed Doxycycline, an aggressive antibiotic, to clear it up. I wasn’t back to normal in any sense of the word for almost 2 weeks after that. On the way there, an Enlightened agent was tearing through the county capturing “uniques” they needed for game badges, this one in particular being the “Pioneer” badge (When you attain level 8, subsequent levels require certain badge levels as well as Action Points to advance). In the process of cleaning that up, I made level 7. Then I was bed ridden for a few days while I escaped the clutches of death. I was so congested I could barely breathe. When the antibiotics started working to kill the infection, the tissue that remained was inflamed, and now exposed to open air, and I was in so much pain. For about 12 hours, it felt like there were ice picks being stabbed into my ears, and I never want to feel that way again.
Anyhow, as you can imagine, the game really started turning into a grind, I started not playing as much, and it felt like a time commitment I was obligated to pursue. This is possibly when it stopped being fun and more-so a second job that I had no business with, and I was only a month and two days into it. I decided to push to level 8, just for achievement purposes. It wasn’t peer pressure, but at that point I had a reputation of a “fast leveler” to live up to.
Attaining Level 8
It took a little less than two weeks to make level 8 from 7. As I mentioned above, I wasn’t playing very much after I got sick, and only put about 60,000 AP in for 7 days. I had a few days the following week where I didn’t play, then I decided to make the final push. It still wasn’t fun. I put 500,000 AP on the board in just four days (which is around 84% of the AP necessary to advance from 7 to 8, and I did 200k of that in 1 day) by finding myself in the appropriate spots and situations to game and finally attained Level 8 on August 7th.
Level 8 brings several new responsibilities to the game, most of them burdensome. To attain Level 8 gear, you have to hack a Level 7 or higher portal. Level 6 portals will pop out Level 8 gear on occasion, but it’s not often. This means, to maintain any inventory of gear to actually be able to play the game for the level you have attained, you have to either spend more time driving around and hacking, or make trips to your faction’s standing 7 or 8 “farm” (group of portals). As a result of this, there is a gentle-persons agreement within the game that if you benefit from the farm, you really should be helping with it’s upkeep (which makes sense). If a farm is leveled, you should be there to help build it back up. Just as a little perspective, it takes at least three agents to built out a Level 7 portal (8+7+8+7+8+7+6+6 = 57, divided by 8 slots is a bare minimum L7 portal), but EIGHT agents to build out a top of the line Level 8 portal, since each agent can only lay 1 L8 resonator per portal. If you are farming, and a portal is dying from lack of recharge (which is currently happening every 4 days), then you should recharge it. I began dedicating even more time that I didn’t have to the game. This is when things began to spiral a little out of control for me. I found myself going out of my way to do things that were chalked up to strategy, and again, I would love to go into more but I don’t want to divulge that information which could possibly betray players in my faction. Bear in mind that all of this is occurring while working a job that requires at least 45 hours a week, usually more, as well as home responsibilities of being a family man, and any other incidental activities that I have to do.
My favorite part. Many people attribute Ingress as attrition based, and as such, liken it to a game of chess. You could certainly take that approach, but I think it’s a serious disservice to yourself, and strategy of the game. It’s more like the largest game of Go ever played. Don’t believe me? The concepts are nearly identical to Ingress. Look at the intel map in America (speckles of control fields), compared to the intel map in China (zones of control enveloping enemy faction portals). Note the vastly different play style by merely what you see.
I’m a big fan of “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, and read it yearly. That is astoundingly applicable to Ingress, and when I first started playing, I thought about making an e-book on the subject called “The Art of Ingress”. I’m glad I didn’t, because it turns out, someone already thought of it. A long time ago. You can find it here. It’s a very entertaining read if you play the game, or are just curious, but I will caution you, the author makes use of the term “attrition” far too often. That is not a concept of the original work, and as I’ve mentioned, I don’t feel that it’s an accurate reflection of the spirit of the game. The only time that attrition is remotely inferred to, and it’s not even really attrition Sun Tzu speaks about, is when your troops are placed “On Death Ground”. That being said, I’d still recommend the e-book.
Sun Tzu explains in The Art of War: “When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of its momentum. When the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing.”
Playing Ingress has become a deadlock in momentum for me, as I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about by now. When you lose momentum, you advance slowly. That’s applicable to anything: Ingress, your job, WWII troops left spinning their wheels in the hedgerows of the bocage country, life. When you find yourself advancing slowly and doing things of a repetitive nature, it’s a morale killer.
The problem with the application of game theory in Ingress, is that you have to have the majority of the faction on board with your strategy. That’s extremely hard to accomplish considering the player base, and it’s even harder to coordinate the known player base into roles and times that work for everyone. It’s interesting to approach from a philosophical perspective, but not really of any useful benefit within the game for that reason alone. You are stopped dead in your tracks at “Laying plans”. That’s very disappointing, but true. As a result of all of this, I have a renewed interest in game theory (which applies to all aspects of life), have several more books to read on the subject now, and that should keep me entertained for a while. I’m about halfway through “The Joy Of Game Theory” by Presh Talwalkar, and I am fascinated.
Medical achievements and other benefits
This isn’t the last section of the article, but it’s the last part that I’ve chosen to write about. I wanted to end what I’m typing on a high note for myself, even if it’s logically not “the end”. There’s a section in the Ingress scanner that tracks how far you’ve walked. They can derive this because it computes your speed based on GPS polling (there are also upper limit speed restrictions in the game).
Anyhow, according to the game, I’ve walked this far:
That’s 88 miles in the last 2 months. I haven’t walked that far in a very, very long time. I feel better. I’m sleeping better, which is even more fantastic after conquering a 2 year bout with insomnia, but I also fear that I’ll relapse into it if this gaming pace continues. My resting heart rate is down 5 bpm on average, and my blood pressure is down in both systolic and diastolic by a measurable amount, with the exception of when I was sick. My pants are falling off of me, and I’ve taken a belt loop up. I’ll definitely continue walking, except I won’t have a phone in front of my face anymore.
As a side effect of portal discovery, I have visited places I never would have seen before. It’s shown the beautiful world around me. Even beautiful things in the middle of a sea of ugly, and I’ve loved that. I think I’ll “regress” into geocaching instead of “Ingress” in the near future. That seems like something I can do at a much more reasonable pace.
I cannot say enough good things about the acquaintances I have met in the last 2 months, and I hope you will all choose to still stay in touch with me or sit down and have a cold one when Ingress isn’t involved. I’ve come to think the world of my local teammates, and you represent impeccable character. I am in your debt for the friendship you have brought into my life. The sentiment stands on it’s own merit.
The malaise of end game indifference
At this point, I’m tired of repetition. The game is worldwide, but it’s the same, and there’s really no incentive to keep doing what I’m doing, and I likely wouldn’t feel differently if they did introduce more incentive because it’s intangible in nature. In fact, it’s hurting other aspects of my life while I’m glued to an intel map or scanner. It feels like even more of a second job than I had before and the elements of fun are the people I have made friends with, and not the game. I liken it to something the late comedian Mitch Hedberg talked about in regard to above ground pools: “I saw a commercial for an above ground pool; it was 30 seconds long. You know why? Because that is the maximum amount of time you can depict yourself having fun in an above ground pool.”
“Claim this portal. Oh, someone blew my portal up, let me go claim it again. Oh, I’m low on gear, I need to hack. Now everything is dying, I need to recharge.” Rinse, and repeat. These are exact reasons that I’ve stayed away from the MMO game craze, even though Ingress is in fact an MMO by definition. I’ve been keeping absurd hours when I need to farm, and even milk runs have been taking far too long while playing the game. I’ve tripled the amount of money I’ve spent on fuel for the car, not to mention the ensuing wear and tear and maintenance items like an out of schedule wheel alignment that is now required (which I fully acknowledge was my own stupidity but is still ultimately a factor).
I started looking around these last few days, and I find that I am in very good company in my sentiments:
I could also him and haw about game imbalance like many have also talked about when they leave, but I don’t really find the imbalance annoying. It’s not perfect, as this post and this one goes into (take note that it was written when Ingress was in open beta, and many problems still remain), but at the end of the day, it’s a game that you are required to play within the confines of. I could also go into why it’s the most elaborate game of Calvinball (as some like to call it), because at times, the rules are changed to suit the storyline. Why don’t I mind? Probably because of my stubborn fondness of game theory. For what it’s worth, that, aside from the massive amount of walking I’ve done, are my favorite aspects of the game. The problem is that when things get chaotic in a situation where you’re already low on time, it’s almost impossible to introduce game theory into the equation, so the grind and monotony continues. I know it’s time to stop because a willingness to play has transitioned into a rationalization to play, and finally, the stage I’m at now, having to talk myself into playing. I have to talk myself into doing the dishes, because I don’t like to do the dishes. Given that deduction, I’m at the same stage for Ingress.
Not so quick, but final, revelations
Eventually, as a “smacked in the face” epiphany tends to do, I said to myself, “What in the world are you doing!?!” My life has become relatively ridiculous merely for making game accommodations. The decision to leave the game is not because of anything within the game itself, except for the simple fact that I am bored with it, and it consumes too much time I need to devote elsewhere. When I weighed the negative impact of all of the tangible things in my life (time with family, for instance), with the tangible benefits of the game (friendship, which I don’t take lightly and appreciate, as well as exercise, which will continue), it was easy to see which option my time will have to go towards. Tangibility is big consideration for me and even when hobbies come to mind, if there’s very little tangible end result, eventually I’m going to pass on it. A close friend of mine warned me that I was going to burn myself out at this pace, and, he has complete right to tell me “I told you so” in this regard. That’s just my gung-ho nature and really more or less applies to everything I do. I am completely incapable of being a casual player, and I’ve really tried.
I’ve met a lot of good people; people that I will continue to keep in touch with absent the game, to have some food and beer with, as well as to collaborate on technical projects and mead making (that article is coming REAL soon, I’m letting it “age” :-P) I’ve also been party to some really absurd people, which I won’t go into, because it’s relatively isolated and far from my biggest complaint about the game. Actually, my biggest complaint about the game isn’t even directly “about the game”. There are agents, most of which seem to reside in the opposite faction although that may just be a matter of perspective distortion, who seem like they are just DYING to meet you. For the purposes of full disclosure, I’m an introvert. It’s not that I’m a social recluse, but more-so that I pick my social interactions carefully because they are draining. In a game where there are certain measures taken to somewhat protect anonymity, NEVER assume that someone wishes to meet you just as much as your desire to do so. In fact, assume the opposite. It’s important to be courteous on the open COMM channel, albeit a little friendly banter, but at the end of the day, respect the wishes of someone who does not wish to engage you personally outside of the game. Don’t get hurt if someone doesn’t want to say “hi” to you. It’s especially important to realize this after you blow up someone’s Level 8 farm and then come up to them thinking they will be having nothing but nice thoughts, and certainly don’t expect them to congratulate you on the matter, or that you’re anything more than a faster button-masher. Yes, it’s just a game, but competition stirs emotion. These responses are different, and more or less severe from person to person. “But wait, you just said that you’ve met a lot of good people. You sound like a hypocrite!” Yes, I did say that, but these were people that I made the choice to interact with, and it was not directly while playing the game. I still enjoy talking about the game (because strategy), but I don’t see myself turning the scanner on again. I’m disappearing as quickly as I emerged.
The slogan of the game is “It’s time to move”. In keeping with that theme, it’s like breaking off a college love affair: This has been really exciting and fun, but now that it’s not so fun with the real world back in my face, “It’s time to move on”.