Running With a Geek Goal: Ingress

Are you a nerd who spends way too much time inside on your butt, but wishes that you had a good reason to get off it and out the door? Google might have a solution for you.

In November 2012, Google1, in the form of Niantic Labs, released Ingress, an augmented reality game. The gameplay consists of establishing “portals” at places of public art, etc., and linking them to create virtual triangular fields over geographic areas. The portals can be compared to the control points in orienteering, but they are not physical. They are virtual and only visible on your phone - unless you have a very vivid imagination, of course.

I try to stay in reasonable shape, and running is a great way to do it. But for me, running is more of a chore than recreation. I tend to mostly focus on how exhausted I am, and since I lack any real competitive spirit, I might not make my goal for a run all the time. It’s so much more pleasant to walk than to run around gasping for air.

But Ingress has made running a lot more exciting for me.

Now I’m mostly focused on getting to the next portal, and even though they might be few and far apart in areas, the next one still feels like a reachable goal. Smaller goals are, in this context, actually easier to hit than the big ones. And a bunch of small goals add up to a big one in the end, visit 10 portals and you’ve suddenly covered a 5K in no time.

Portals are controlled by one of the two teams, the Enlightened or the Resistance, or they can be unclaimed. You can perform a variety of actions when you are close to a portal, like hack it, link your team’s portals, attack enemy portals or claim neutral ones. This means that you’ll get a short break at each portal, giving you a little time to catch your breath. If you are timing your runs - and you should since it’s a great measurement for progress - the breaks will decrease your average speed, but over time your average speed will increase anyway as you get in better shape. I’m usually trying to limit my actions at each portal to 10-15 seconds, but every now and then I stumble across virtual gold mines of weak enemy portals or unclaimed portals that I just can’t not claim for my own team.

It sounds like a really geeky thing to do, and it is. But it can easily get you motivated to get your ass out of the house if you are a geek. Ingress can be downloaded from Google Play, but is currently in closed beta, which means that you either have to ask Google for access or get an invitation from someone who is already playing. If you think this sounds interesting, leave a comment - I’ve got 10 invites I can give away.

  1. I do realize that there is a bit of irony in the fact that I write about PRISM and the current issues of privacy on the internet and at the same time promote a game that harvest information about your location and suggests that you take pictures of landmarks in your neighborhood. The privacy isn’t too much of a worry in this case, though, as you can easily anonymize the information: You don’t have to create a Google account using your actual name to play Ingress. A name like Joe or Jane Sixpack will work just fine. ↩︎


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