Article by Sarah Luger
I had been hearing about Ingress, the mobile GPS-based game, for some time. The game has spawned a huge following and community. The app has over 10 million downloads, and there have been live Ingress gaming events around the world drawing over 250,000 players. It was not, however, until the announcement of Pokémon GO, slated for release by the same developers in 2016, that I really became interested in Ingress.
I downloaded the game last week, and picked up the basic mechanics fairly quickly. The plot of the game is that Exotic Matter (XM) has been seeping into our world via portals. Portals can be found all over the real world via the Ingress app’s built-in GPS, usually at art installations, statues, parks and buildings. There are two factions with their own views about what XM means for humanity; the Enlightened believe it’s is a good thing that will lead us towards the future, while the Resistance are suspicious of XM and feel they must protect the world from it. Upon choosing your side, the goal is to claim as many portals for your faction as possible, engaging in a world-wide game of Capture the Flag.
Ingress requires players to physically move around the city, as it uses your phone’s GPS to tell if you are close to a portal. I had started exploring my neighbourhood for portals and slowly started leveling up. I was still fairly low-leveled, however, so I decided to meet up with local players at a Montreal’s First Saturday event to learn a little more.
First Saturdays (called “Ingress FS”) happen on the first Saturday of every month, in which local Ingress players meet up to get to know each other, talk about their experiences with the game, and help out new players, aiding them with leveling up (which helps you unlock better items, vital in playing competitively). The events begin with two hours of socializing, and then an hour and a half of running around playing, pairing new players with experienced ones, with special prizes for the players who gained the most experience in that time.
After a quick Google search I was able to find the Montreal Ingress community on Google+, which had details about the event time and location. The Montreal FS events happens at Place Émilie-Gamelin by Berri metro during the summer, and at L’Escalier in the cold months.
I arrived at the park 5-10 minutes early in the chilly afternoon of October 3. I realized I wasn’t entirely sure where I was supposed to be, or how to find other players, so I spent a good 15 minutes wandering around the park. I finally mustered up the courage to ask a couple if they were there for Ingress, and they immediately asked if that was some kind of secret society. My response was “It’s just a mobile game,” but it didn’t exactly feel like the truth!
Right after I noticed a guy in his 20s staring at his phone wandering through the park, so I chased him down and asked the same question. Thankfully he was also an Ingress player, and was still a relative newbie like me. A minute later a guy who seemed much more at ease strode towards us asking if we were there for Ingress, which was a huge relief. We got to talking, and soon two more guys joined us, and we soon moved to an outdoor bistro in the park. It was here we spent the next hour and a half as more and more players joined us. Eventually, we were 13 people sitting around, chatting about the game while also playing casually on our phones.
The demographic here was heavily skewed; nearly everyone was in their 20s or 30s, except for one man who looked to be about 40. The group was majority Francophone, but just about everyone was bilingual. About 3/4 of the group was white and 1/4 was Asian. Of the 13 of us, I was the only woman.
The first question I got from anyone was which faction I was in. Slightly over half of the group was Resistance, and apparently Montreal is mostly Resistance-occupied, which is rather intimidating for an Enlightened player like myself. One of the Resistance guys had a bunch of Resistance swag that he was selling, but unfortunately we Enlightened had no such luck.
The second question was what level I was at. I was level 3, and the highest-leveled players were level 16. The first guy and I seemed to be the only low-leveled players, and the only ones for whom it was their first time at a live event. Sylvain, the older gentleman at level 16, assured me that I would reach level 4 by the end of the event. He was decked out in Enlightened swag, though I forgot to ask where he got it.
The social aspect of the event felt somewhat strange. Perhaps it was because I didn’t really know them, but I didn’t talk to them much, and when I did we didn’t discuss our personal lives a ton. We mostly talked about Ingress and strategies for the game, and the guys answered a lot of my questions while giving me some more advanced advice. People were glued to their phones much of the time, playing the game as much as they could without having to get up.
It was eventually time to really get playing. The competitive aspect of the meet-up was a race to get the most AP, or experience, in an hour and a half. Since the game tracks the total amount of AP you have accumulated since the beginning, each player registers how much AP they have with a representative from the opposing team before the competition starts. Once the time is up, you register your new amount of AP. Subtract the two numbers, and you can see who gained the most AP in the short time span.
I went off with my fellow Enlightened towards Place des Arts in the opposite direction of the Resistance players, and they explained that, since I was the newbie, they would do everything they could to help me get tons of AP and level up. You earn the most AP from claiming neutralized portals and connecting portals from your faction to one another. Connecting three portals creates a field, which also gives a ton of AP. My fellow Enlightened made it their job to neutralize portals for me since I was too low-levelled to do so myself, and then allowed me claim and connect them together. They also gave me tons of helpful items once I started running out.
We mostly traversed up St. Catherine, but there were tons of portals along the way for us to interact with. As a group of about six we slowly shuffled up the street, eyes on our phones, constantly refreshing the screen to see who was doing what and strategizing how to proceed, sometimes getting split up but never being too far away. It was honestly difficult to keep up with, even as we stopped every few minutes so I could connect all of the portals we had conquered. Everyone was extraordinarily patient, and while I did feel somewhat rushed, I was never made to feel as if I was holding the group back.
I was supposed to leave slightly early, but I wound up having a lot of fun, and it was hard to stop playing, especially as I was continuously encouraged to create more fields. While I couldn’t stay to find out who the winner was, the generosity the players had shown during the competition was really encouraging, and thanks to them I had indeed reached level 4.
In the end, Ingress First Saturday was a really cool experience. Everyone was very chill and invested in helping me gain experience – it seemed they wanted to help me get on their level so I could play like them, and they were all used to helping newbies out in a way that felt free of judgement. The demographics of the players was a little strange, but I never felt that I was being helped purely because of my gender of anything like that. Overall, it was a neat experience and a cool event, and I would definitely like to do it again next month!
Ingress is free to play, and can be downloaded via the App Store or Google Play. The next Ingress First Saturday takes place on November 7. More info HERE.