Destroy Alien Portals for Fun, Exercise

I've been playing a game on my phone called Ingress.

That is, the game is called Ingress. I don't call my phone anything.

But I've been playing this game rather frequently. Fervently, you might say.

(Editor: Obsessed. The word you're looking for is "obsessed.")

(Erik: Not obsessed. I'm just a fan.)

(Editor: You made me play it. You said you would hide naughty typos in your columns if I didn't start playing.)

Ingress is like virtual geocaching. Geocaching is where you travel to a particular set of GPS coordinates, and look for a waterproof container left by another geocacher. Find the item inside, report it on your mobile app, and move on to your next cache.

Ingress is similar, only you don't have to search for a physical object. The "object" you interact with is called a portal, and it exists only on your phone. If you're within 35 meters of the portal, you can interact with it. If you're not, you can't.

The game is built on Google Maps (Google owns it, in fact). Wherever you go in the real world, your phone's GPS keeps track of you, and the game portals appear on your phone. When you reach a portal, you "hack" it, and the portal gives you certain items you need to play the game. Need more items, hack more portals.

The game premise is that these portals emit some kind of mysterious energy called Exotic Matter, or XM. They were planted by an unknown phenomenon — or alien race. Spooky! — called the Shapers.

The portals are most commonly found in front of public art, government buildings, and places of worship. Businesses are now getting portals as well. The Shapers were thoughtful enough not to put portals in front of private residences and schools.

You join one of two teams, the Enlightenment or the Resistance. The Enlightenment (the green team) seeks to control the portals and harness the energy to uplift humanity, and bring about our next stage of evolution. They're the rules followers, the minivan drivers, the people who believe in blind obedience and unwavering loyalty.

(Editor: That's not what we believe at all. We're optimistic about humanity, and seek to bring about positive change in all of us.)

(Erik: To-may-to, to-mah-to.)

(Editor: And stop making fun of my minivan!)

My team, the Resistance (the blue team), are the rebels, the "you're not the boss of me" team. We wear the leather jackets, and have the gnarly tattoos — metaphorically speaking. My wife won't let me get a tattoo.

We question authority, we believe in freedom. We believe the Enlightenment will withhold XM from people who really need it, unless you agree to toe the party line, attend their church, or meet unreasonable deadlines.

(Editor: They're not unreasonable deadlines. They're the same deadlines you've had for the last almost-20 years.)

(Erik: I don't follow you.)

(Editor: Also, the Enlightenment isn't going to make anyone do anything, especially go to their church.)

The teams refer to themselves as the Smurfs and Frogs. I'm on the Blue team, because Smurfs are lovable and cute. Frogs are slimy, have sharp teeth, and ooze poison.

(Editor: Frogs do not have teeth and they do not ooze poison.)

(Erik: Poison arrow frogs in South America do.)

(Editor: *sigh* They're not green, they're blue.)

To play the game, you approach a portal, and if your team controls it, you can hack it, retrieve some items, and move on to the next portal. If the other team controls it, you can hack it or destroy all the resonators, which turns it neutral, and then you place your own resonators, which means your team controls it.

At least until someone from the other team comes along, destroys your resonators, and places their own again.

It can go back and forth several times a day. I have seen entire fields of portals switch portals back and forth four times in a single hour. Other portals can go untouched for a few months (you get a special badge if you can manage that). You learn to let go and not swear revenge on opposing players who blow up your favorite portals.

(Editor: Good, does this mean I can go back to that Starbucks now?)

(Erik: No! I was three days away from my badge! You're in a time out.)

The game also encourages exercise, because nearly all of the portals are placed on walkable paths, such as along streets and roads. Nothing is on a highway or a dangerous area. So it's a great way to get some exercise, keep track of your distance, and blow the crap out of the other team's portals.

All in all, it's a fun game that combines the convenience of your mobile phone with the competition of a video game, and gets you outside. And it even has a social aspect where you can make new friends.

(Editor: Or return the calls of your old ones.)

(Erik: Three days! I had three freaking days to go!)

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