Massively Multiplayer IRL RPG?

On the way back from Northampton via, my friend, who hasn’t taken the bus route nearly as often as I have, kept asking me if we were going to pass the Hampshire Mall. Apparently, there was some sort of landmark that corresponded to this huge MMO-type thing he was playing, and he needed to capture it for his team, so that he could expand his hold on the Amherst-Hadley area. Or something like that. The game he was playing is called Ingress, a Google-created augmented reality game, where players from all over the world, divided into two teams – Blue and Green – use their phones to connect to a Google Maps interface that highlights points of control, called portals, and generally some kind of well known site. (I think either the Robert Frost statue or the Mo Pratt quad is a portal, can’t quite remember it.) As my friend was explaining it to me, I was way more interested in the graphic design than the actual game itself, partially because the map design is gorgeous, and partially because I had no idea the game had an actual plot. I didn’t even visit the website until I started writing this blogpost. Ideally, the website would have a nonfictional account of what’s going on here, but they just have this trailer instead. Most of the factional content is drawn from this Guardian article.

So in what could probably pass for the next independent scifi blockbuster, the story goes that a group called Niantic Labs discovered some kind of secret plot in which aliens were attempting to use these portals to “transcend humanity” to the next stage of evolution. The player belongs to one of two factions; the Enlightened, who are all for the galactic transcendence, and the Resistance, who object to this line of action without first consulting the human race. It’s actually a pretty cool plot, and some seriously detailed worldbuilding, but for me, the whole project falls apart once you remember that the entire game and supplementary materials are one giant, neon advertisement for Google.

Players of Ingress are, consciously or unconsciously, part of a worldwide advertisement for a technology giant that needs no more support, honestly. My friend keeps trying to get me to join, but somehow becoming a part of the technological capitalist machine takes all the fun out of it. Still, it’s a pretty neat idea. It just seems very dishonest to me, like all the trappings of a good game have been manufactured, rather than developed organically.

I like the trailer though. It would definitely make a good movie. Or maybe a Starz miniseries!

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