Ingress: You Only Think It’s a Game

The following is for a presentation on Ingress at Clark College for faculty and staff.

“So you think this is a game,” scoffs Agent Klue introducing the world to the augmented-reality massively multiplayer online role playing GPS-dependent game created by Niantic Labs. “The world around you is not what it seems.”

Ingress is a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), a new form of mobile game playing that supports millions of players, and for many, Ingress is not a game.

If you look at Ingress as a game, you may do the following:

  1. Collect points to achieve game levels
  2. Capture and claim territory
  3. Accomplish tasks to achieve game badges
  4. Complete missions to achieve more game badges
  5. Work with teams

What it is is more than a game. It is a lifestyle, a habit, a compulsion, a motivation, inspiration, and personal challenge to the way we are living today.

There is an active story behind Ingress. Some players dive deeply into the mystery and intrigue of the backstory, others ignore it and just play the game. The ability to do both adds layers to the game.

The game makers’ framing device for the game is as follows: Physicists at CERN have discovered that the Earth has been seeded with “Exotic Matter,” or XM, associated with the Shapers, a mysterious phenomenon or alien race which is neither described nor seen (and which thus functions as a MacGuffin). The in-universe motivation for the Enlightened faction is their belief that the Shapers are working toward a powerful enlightenment which will uplift all mankind. The Resistance believes that it is protecting humanity from Shaper ingression. The factions have, however, been occasionally observed to ignore the back-story and to co-operate for the sake of real-life gameplay and game balance, for example by establishing neutral zones and rules of engagement.
Ingress (game) – Wikipedia

In July 2012, Google’s Niantic Labs announced Ingress. It was created by John Hanke, the creator of Google Earth and Google Maps. He wanted to create a game that would involve maps and geo-caching but have a greater impact on the player. The game had to:

  1. Make the player move away from their desks and interact with the world around them
  2. Make the player move for exercise
  3. Make the player interact and socialize with others

Last year, Ingress was named the biggest gaming environment in the real world. The announcement also cited a woman in Scotland walking over 400 miles to capture portals for her faction, leaving her desk far behind.


As of the end of 2014, there are an estimated 7 million players with new recruits added daily around the world. An estimate of 126,000,000 miles have been covered by Ingress players since the start, with almost 60,000 players attending live events in about 300 cities worldwide.

Fans of Google’s augmented reality game Ingress have walked more than 126,000,000 kilometers while playing over the last two years –a distance equivalent to more than 3,000 trips around the globe, or a little under halfway the distance from Earth to Mars.

Here are more estimated stats as of the end of December 2014:

  • Ingress is played in more than 200 countries
  • Over 3 million portals created
  • 180,000,000 portals have been visited
  • 64,000,000 resonators deployed on portals
  • 53,000 people have attended Ingress Live Events globally
  • Over 8 million app downloads in Android and iPhone

Players learn quickly that they are also working for Google, using the game to track people’s paths as they travel by car, bike, and foot, tracing common routes and improving their mapping technology.

Empowering Individuals

The research director for gaming with the IDC Lewis Ward explained Ingress to TechNewsWorld:

The idea that you can turn over to individuals the ability to add their own creativity and customize the type of missions makes eminent sense…Google is all about empowering people to get what they want. This happens to be expressing that in a gaming context, but it’s still about empowering individuals to share with each other and communicate with each other.

Ingress is self-motivated and self-directed. As an individual, you must leave your residence or office and interact with the world around you. You need to hack, capture, link, and defend portals within your territory. You must interact and work with others to reinforce your defenses and increase your player levels and scores.

Players become protective of their portals, especially near the path of their commute or where they hang out and play.

After a player reaches level 8, their focus on discovering portals increases as their familiarity with the game expands and their desire to add more linkable landmarks in their area. Most will start walking, riding bikes, and driving around areas that are new to them, seeking portals as well as new landmarks to add to the growing inventory.

Interactivity and Relationships

A week ago I was walking through downtown Edmonds, Washington, and someone called out my name. I didn’t recognize them but went over. “I knew it was you,” one of them explained, “as you walked like an Ingress player.” They’d noticed several portals being captured as I moved down the street and spotted me doing the unique Ingress walk, moving to the right or left along a sidewalk, smartphone in hand, power cable dangling into a purse or pocket to a battery recharger, head down and up and down and up seeking the portal. We had a great laugh and I met four experienced players in that area. They meet for lunch once a week and walk the area. Two are from the local Resistance faction and two are Enlightenment agents, all friends helping each other play the game.

As the player explores their community, they meet other players. The scanner indicates activity in and around us, giving us an opportunity to meet others playing the game from both sides. All such interactions are delightful, no animosity, and often end up being helpful as we learn from each other’s experiences.

Alone, a player may bring a portal to level 5. It takes two players to make it a level 6 portal, four to make it a level 7, and eight to make it a level 8 portal, the top level. This happens by teaming up and roaming the area together with eight or more people, or upgrading a portal that needs a little help, thus possibly never meeting the others upgrading the portal level.

There are many Google+ Communities and chats for local team players, supporting each other and plotting area takeovers. They warn each other about the movement and actions of the enemy, and plan how to take over large areas, often working with dozens of people to make a plan happen.

Many areas now offer weekly or monthly meetups, helping new agents learn how to use Ingress.

An anomaly is a local competition or battle between the two teams to control a area of a city. Recently, Portland hosted one over control of the downtown area. Another in Seattle brought thousands of players from around the world to participate. the LA Weekly repoted last year on one of the Ingress Anomalys taking over downtown Pasadena.

“We learn a lot about local history,” enthuses Agent GreenLite, an electrician who jokes that he and his wife take the “Ingress route” to work or the grocery store in order to hack portals. “You don’t usually stop in all these little corners. We’re always discovering something new.”

Ingress Live Events lists the various Ingress events and activities. Anyone interested in a trip to Iceland or Russia? New Zealand? Game on!

Strategy, Warfare, and Risk

Ingress, the destruction of portal resonators. Ingress has often been associated with other land-claiming games like Risk and Monopoly. Playing Ingress helps the player understand warfare and strategies for defense and attack, claiming territory or mind units for their team.

Dive into the backstory of Ingress and learn about classified documents revealed, conspiracies, aliens, mind control, and spies carrying out plots to take over the world.

Much of Ingress philosophy is based upon Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War. Here are some example quotes:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.

Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.

Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content.
But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.

Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory:
1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
2. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

Currently, there are only two teams of agents playing globally. The player is a part of something vast, a team larger than they can imagine, which is why they are called agents. Agents know enough within their local area but not too deeply within the organization to put the whole team at risk.

As a player strategies their next steps, they have to always keep in mind the work of other agents on their team as well as the enemy. The unpredictable nature of all of the agents involved heightens the game’s tension and enjoyment.


There is no doubt that Ingress is good exercise. Thousands have lost weight and are in better shape for playing Ingress, walking around parks, cities, zoos, landmark rich areas, school campuses, any area where there are portals to be found.

A popular area for portals in Vancouver is the historic Ft. Vancouver. It hosts almost 100 portals. Many missions have agents walking throughout the park, on the level as well as up and down the hill, hacking, capturing, upgrading, and linking portals. Downtown Vancouver is another area filled with portals, many celebrating the beautiful artwork and landmark buildings of the historical area, great for working up a sweat.

While many agents interact with portals from their vehicles, many portals are out of reach of roads and parking lots.


All games have some form of problem-solving, challenging our minds to think outside our boxes. Ingress takes problem-solving to new levels, engaging the mind, body, and spirit.

When a player encounters a portal and claim a key, their next thought is to find something to link it to. The Ingress link map broadens the range viewed within the scanner, showing linkable portals nearby and afar.

To form a field, you must link within a geometric triangle shape. This involves three portals, but all portals are not always placed to create a triangle.

Link to two portals in a triangle makes a field. Link to two portals from a corner portal within the field to create a double field. Link to two more within the double field to make a triple field, adding layer upon layer over an area. The more field layers, the harder to see the portals and paths on the scanner for everyone.

While an agent may link to a portal within a field from the edge of a field, a link may not pass another link, and portals may not be linked within a field. This creates some unique challenges for the player, especially when a large field is laid down over their playing area, which rarely lasts as players move quickly to remove such fields.

When a large field goes up covering a large playing area such as a city, state, region, or country, players communicate online quickly, contacting other players they know in the area of the anchor links, the corners, to encourage them to take down the portal and remove the field. A network of “know-a-guy” interactions take place as people scramble to identify the anchor points and locate players in that area for the opposing team to take down the field.

One of the biggest problem-solving challenges of the game is the inventory. There is a 2000 item cap on the inventory. Sounds like a lot until you quickly hit the limit. Then what?

When I hit the limit, I was going for level 8. I made a strategic decision to dump all resonators and weapons below level 7 and keep as many keys as possible. Once I achieved level 8, once the top level of the game, I concentrated on the medals and badges. Problem with that? One of the medals is for deploying resonators and capturing portals. Alone, the most resonators I can deploy on a portal are 8, specifically:

  • 1 level 8
  • 1 level 7
  • 2 level 6
  • 2 level 5
  • 2 level 4

I suddenly needed all those lower level resonators to deploy, and I found a trick on how to deploy level 1, 2, and 3 resonators then upgrade them around a portal so I could deploy 45 resonators on a single portal, earning the badge faster. Instead of seeking every high level portal for higher level inventory items, I was now desperate to find low level portals to restock my resonator inventory.

The game constantly challenges your thinking, your assumptions, expectations, and strategy.

There are so many challenges a player must overcome and problems to solve, from finding portals under flood waters to submitting creative descriptions of portals for acceptance…the game is layered with problem-solving opportunities that not only keep it interesting but addictive.

Courage and Inventiveness

Ft Vancouver portal in Washington.Playing Ingress requires courage, the courage to interact with strangers, the courage to get out and away from your physical comfort zone, and to challenge yourself to go deeper and further.

It takes courage to participate in an Ingress event, and more to be a part of one.

Some agents travel as part of their business, others travel for vacation or fun, while others have started using Ingress as an excuse to travel, bravely exploring places they’ve only imagined. This allows them to not only explore new areas but also to work with teams to create links that cross oceans.

My husband has been recently traveling extensively for work to China, Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Japan. On his rare days off, he could have taken a guided tour, but instead he used Ingress to walk the old historic areas and cities, finding amazing places, artwork, and landmarks he would not have found otherwise. He met fascinating people, asked questions about the area, and interacted with the locals in a way normal tourists rarely do.

A recent Ingress Resistance team event involved almost 100 players around Oregon and Washington States to clear links and interference so others could create huge links and a giant field over the area. The coordination was amazing, taking several weeks of planning and long trips as agents collected keys from the various portals involved and distributed them among the players. While most agents were in the field, some stayed home or in their offices, coordinating the massive event and guiding the agents through Google Hangout chats.

Timing was everything on the evening of the event as players moved into position around the state, clearing paths, capturing portals, and preparing to link key portals up to make the giant field. The regional score turns over at midnight, and at any time enemy players could take out a portal or lay a link to block the path of the planned field links, so everyone scrambled, chatting together in their private chatroom, keeping sane, problem-solving, and being extremely patient as everything went like clockwork and the giant field was created, sending everyone cheering into planned pubs to celebrate and escape the freezing temperatures outside.

Most of all, Ingress requires loyalty in courage, the determination to keep going out there, attacking and defending portals, having them attacked back and taken over by the enemy, and being resilient. As quoted from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, “A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.” Without the efforts of our enemy in Ingress, we would not achieve high scores or have anything to do but recharge our portals.

An article in The Guardian describes the determination and lengths some players will go for the game:

London is Ingress central, all densely packed portals and constant threats. In more rural areas, as one player explains, the portals are further apart, and it becomes more like a hiking trip with an app involved. He tells me about how he captured a remote portal in a section of the English countryside that is inaccessible for most of the year. With no phone or wi-fi signal nearby, he had to construct a booster to throw the signal out there, connect his phone and claim it for The Resistance. He’d rather I not print where it is or how he did it. He doesn’t want the Enlightened to find it.

John Hanke is the Vice President of Niantic Labs and he has even better anecdotes. He tells me about a player in Alaska who flew a bush plane to a remote airstrip to capture a key portal.

“The plane was chartered through a crowdsourced campaign by her Faction,” explains Hanke. “She flew in with a blizzard coming, captured the portal just as the weather was turning and got out with the tiny plane icing up on the way out”. Believe it or not, this isn’t the first Ingress story I’ve heard that involves crowd-funded air travel – the other involves a sea-plane, a remote Scandinavian island and spontaneous act of sabotage.


Trust me, Ingress messes with your head.

When you start playing, it is all about the points. As you reach level 8, your attitude changes and it is about the links, the fields, the badges. As you start to achieve badges, it is about the missions, exploring the areas, finding interesting portals, and connecting with others. It’s about the relationships.

As the badges become harder to earn, it becomes about the goal, the determination to do whatever it takes to earn the badge or have one of your portal submissions accepted.

When a portal submission is accepted and becomes a landmark in the game, there is a great deal of pride, a sense of accomplishment and ownership. Not all portals are accepted and it takes approximately 6 months for a portal to be reviewed and considered, requiring extensive patience and acceptance.

People joke this is a game, and they joke equally seriously that this isn’t a game. It is about protect ourselves from mind control, from secret control of our lives. It’s a battle for domination of the world without impacting the human social and mental awareness that anything is happening.

In an article in The Guardian, the writer opens with their experience in London:

“Unit of three frogs at the southwest corner,” Mel barks into her phone as we approach. Usually I’d be happy to indulge in this sort of slick military patter, but since we’re currently loitering suspiciously outside the US Embassy I’d rather we kept the spy talk to a minimum. The guards are eyeing us suspiciously.

Please officer, let me explain.

We’re playing Ingress, a massively multiplayer augmented-reality game created by Google and Niantic labs and launched last December…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. Over the past six months, players have managed to create huge fields of linked portals that span several countries.

This is all happening all the time, everywhere. It’s happening right now where you live. Your city centre is probably a vital battleground between the game’s two factions: the Enlightened (who believe aliens are using the portals to transcend humanity to a higher state) and the Resistance (who would rather they asked permission first). Your local town hall has probably changed hands three times today.

Agents change their routes to reach portals, explore new areas, and become explorers of the world around them.

One of the most difficult and complex badges to earn is the Guardian badge. The Guardian represents the number of days a portal is “owned” by an agent. To own a portal, you are the first one to capture it with a resonator. If the resonators are destroyed and it is captured by someone else, the clock stops on your badge.

Players will go to great lengths to find portals far from the main stream path of other players, isolated portals in the countryside, mountainous areas, just far enough away that people won’t get out of their cars and explore. Others will find portals in plain sight, just ignored by other players.

My husband found portals meeting that criteria and worked his way up to 140 days, ten days from the goal for the badge, and it was taken over by an enemy player. He had to start over. I noticed that one of my portals earned me the first two levels of the Guardian badge but I didn’t know which portal. There are no indicators in the game. After weeks recharging and checking portals, we narrowed it down to a portal just off a major highway but out of range of the typical player.

The task to protect that portal became the focal point of our lives as it reached closer and closer to the goal of 150 days. An area sweeping attack by a local enemy team was held in the area and we raced to that portal late at night in freezing temperatures, sitting in our car under the streetlight next to the portal, daring anyone to come down the road. We ate dinner, played other games, recharged our portals in Ingress, and just waited in anticipation, watching via the scanner as the enemy came closer, swept around us, not coming down our street. After midnight, the enemy team had moved into a different area of the county and we felt we could risk going home to catch up on some much needed sleep.

A few nights before the 150 day mark, an enemy player attacked the portal, but it withstood the attempt. However, they linked to it, putting the portal at even more risk if someone needed to remove the link and the field. We spent the last few nights guarding the portal, fearing the headlights that came down that deadend street. We succeeded and had a celebratory dinner during the major wind storm that brought down trees and caused power outages throughout the area on the day the portal achieved the 150 day mark. Then I was done. Exhausted and stressed by the whole thing, avoiding the game for a few weeks as I recovered from the burn out.

Those with little or vast computer and web programming experience work hard to game Ingress, trying to find ways to cheat or manipulate the system. Others work on third-party apps and add-ons to enhance the game experience, tapping into their own frustrations to find better ways of enjoying the game.

More on Ingress

There are so many layers to Ingress, I won’t include them all here, but here are some examples.

  • The Language of Ingress: Inside Ingress are glyphs, the coded symbolic language of Ingress, and jargon associated with the game, now featured on in their concept thesaurus for the word “Ingress.”
  • Books About Ingress: There are many books published about Ingress from techical instructional guides to fiction based upon the game’s story and agents, as well as the fictional story behind the Niantic Project: Ingress.
  • Map Aids: There are many attempts to create apps and web-based maps to identify portals and strategize. Examples include Ingress XII,
  • Mission Creator: Players at level 9 or higher are able to create missions through the Ingress Mission Authoring Tool, guiding a player through a local set of portals to discover new portals and interact with them.
  • Google Donations: At the end of 2014, Google introduced Charity Portals, portals at locations where food, clothing, money, etc., are necessary for the needs of the community. Google asked players to donate how and what they could during the holiday season.

For more information on Ingress, see:

4 thoughts on “Ingress: You Only Think It’s a Game

  1. Nice article, but you say an enemy player linked to your guardian… “A few nights before the 150 day mark, an enemy player attacked the portal, but it withstood the attempt. However, they linked to it, putting the portal at even more risk if someone needed to remove the link and the field. ”

    That’s not possible as an enemy can’t link to your portal (wrong faction, unless you made enemies within faction?!)…

  2. Pingback: Nintendo: Once and Future Overlords of Gaming (and the World?) | Write-Errantry

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