Meet Ingress, your new augmented reality obsession

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Hack alien portals in your own neighborhood.
Hack alien portals in your own neighborhood.
Screengrab: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

I went outside for the first time today. Working at home is an easy way to get a bad case of couchlock, so I like to try and get out for little 15 minute breaks when I can.

Today was a bit different. I downloaded and installed a game some buddies of mine are raving about on Facebook: Ingress.

I launched the app, followed the instructions, and was hooked. What started as a 15 minute walk to try out a new mobile game became a 45-minute obsession as I roamed my neighborhood, looking for portals to hack, collecting XMP particles to power my technological takeover, and finding a little feature of my ‘hood I’d never known about before.

Want to get obsessed about a new game? Want to maybe get in a little better shape? Be sure to download Ingress and see what everyone’s talking about.

The conceit is that all kinds of alien portals are appearing around the globe, and you’ve been recruited by one of two shadow factions that want to control these sources of alien energy for their own purposes, nefarious or otherwise.

You’ll choose an agent name and a faction to join (green Enlightenment or blue Resistance), and then you’ll have to head out into the real world to collect white points of light (XMP) to power your activities, and then find, fight, and ultimately own portals. These tend to be around interesting features in your environment, like sculptures, large buildings, or parks.

I captured a portal at a nearby church with no effort at first, but then saw that there were several other portals in nearby vicinities. I got obsessed pretty fast, walking from one enemy-owned portal to the next, attacking the various protector ‘bots with the app on my iPhone, and then trying to hack the portals to gain ownership. I even found one portal attached to a little free library — one I wouldn’t have found if I hadn’t been playing this game.

They're everywhere.
They’re everywhere.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

The gameplay mechanics aren’t new: there’ve been plenty of games out (Life of Magic is one notable example) that use real life maps with overlaid game play, but this one seems to be picking up traction. Perhaps that’s because it’s from Google startup Niantic Labs, or maybe it’s just the right time in our collective unconscious.

Either way, you’ll rack up points for your team as you discover new areas of your own town, with daily points from each faction giving you bragging rights. Every portal you capture adds to the global score for your chosen team. If you connect portals you own, you’ll set up “control fields,” which will garner you even more points.

The app is freely available for iOS and Android, and you’re going to want to grab yourself a copy and get outside.

The future of the human race depends on you. And your iPhone.