Ingress, a game where you can rule the world
Two factions take each other on in this complex, multiplayer game. Lin Sampson tags along with Agent HIP69 Irene Grasser, who is fighting for the future of the world on her smartphone
There's a secret war going on around you right now and the army is 10million strong. I am entering the Company Gardens with Agent HIP69 Irene Grasser who is fighting for the future of the world on her smartphone.
In her plain but carefully coded clothes, there is an evangelical air about Grasser; she seems normal but her eyes shine with a cultish fanaticism when she talks about Ingress, a multiplayer game created by Google and Niantic Labs and downloaded all over the world.
There are two factions: the greens, the Enlightened, of which Grasser is one, and the blues, the Resistance.
The back-story involves mysterious aliens that are sending exotic matter to Earth via portals: these can be anything, statues, artwork, monuments.
Players choose to join the Enlightened team, which believes the exotic matter is beneficial to humanity, or the Resistance, which distrusts the aliens and is fighting their influence.
Ingress is a multi-level game, level 16 being the zenith. It is testimony to Grasser's zeal that she has risen to level 15 in two years.
The aim is to gain control of as much territory as you can but as Grasser cheerfully says, "No one wins and the game is never over."
We are walking through the Mount Nelson Hotel on our way to the Company Gardens, which has about 60 portals. "When a player is near a portal, they can take it over, set up defences and then link it together with the rest of their side's territory," Grasser explains.
We find a portal almost immediately, a whitewashed statue of a lion. She clicks the screen; the portal is green, which means it has already been captured by the Enlightened. If it was white it would be neutral; blue is in resistance territory.
For some people, Ingress is more a lifestyle than a game and the great gain of it is that it gets you outside and walking. "It is a wonderful way to see your city," Grasser tells me, snap and sliding around on her Samsung screen. She also loves the social aspect and has met many friends.
At the bottom of the Mount Nelson driveway there is another portal, the screen blinking. "It is telling me I am not in range yet. OK now am in range, I can deploy resonators and blast it to bits."
It is also a team game where you frequently meet up with other players, even those you are fighting.
As she hacks it on the screen - and this is the part I love most - it spits out weapons, resonators, turrets, portal keys, all of which can be added to the war chest for future battles.
Another portal appears on the screen, a memorial bench, and it is Resistance-captured. "I am going to start firing at it and it will start attacking me," says Grasser.
She points to a green bar on the screen. " This will go lower and lower the longer I fire, then eventually the blue will die and then when I am in range I will capture it."
There are few short walks through town that can provide such brutal entertainment.
What makes Ingress different is this blend of real-world, multiplayer interaction and complex digital strategy. It is also a team game where you frequently meet up with other players, even those you are fighting.
Sitting in my house in Tamboers-kloof, I can't quite forget that at this very moment there are two factions fighting for control of the innocent-looking Holy Trinity Church down the road.
MU — Mind Unit. Progress is measured by the number captured.
XM — Exotic matter, which is associated with the Shapers, a mysterious alien race which is neither described nor seen.
Smurflings — the name for Resistance players, or blues. Tadpoles — Newbie Enlightened players, or greens.
Badges — Bronze, silver, gold, platinum and onyx. They are a requirement for advancing to the next level.