Virtual Reality Turns Your City Into a Game Board

September 4, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

A map of Germany showing the location of virtual beacons in the game Ingress.
Photo credit: MentaDisruptor/Wikimedia Commons/

Ingress, an increasingly popular virtual reality game, promotes physical activity and social interaction with its unique “game board.”

Choose a side: The Enlightened or the Resistance. Choose wisely, because your decision will influence the outcome of mankind in a virtual world that’s alluring gamers around the globe.

This alternate reality game, Ingress, engages over a million users every day. It was created by a Google startup tech company, Niantic Labs, which is run by John Hanke, the founder of the virtual globe that eventually came to be known as Google Earth. Virtual Reality (VR) continues to entice more and more sci-fi lovers and video game geeks alike. But Ingress offers a unique alternate reality experience: the “game board” is the entire outside world.

Ingress logo (Niantic Labs)
The Ingress logo (Photo: Niantic Labs).

In the game, Ingress players, known as “agents,” have to physically run around city streets, parks, and alleys in order to win. The game is growing popularity in a number of places around the globe, including the U.S., Europe, East Asia, India, and the Middle East. Metropolitan areas are most congested with Ingress players, but other places also host determined agents. They flood the outside world in search of keys, weapons (virtual ones, of course), upgrades, and venture around to capture portals* for their team.

Each portal is linked to a real-life landmark— famous sculptures, libraries, public art, places of worship, train stations, and more. To seize a portal from the opposing team, agents need to be physically near the landmark, as tracked by GPS location services. The more active the player, the more responsibility and influence in defending his side. Essentially, Ingress is like a big, virtual capture-the-flag game that involves real people in real time.

Ingress has a continuously blooming community, and an intriguing ever-changing storyline to keep agents engaged. But more than just an impactive virtual world, the game has created such a strong sense of brotherhood that agents are developing friendships in real life. Users report going out for drinks, visiting each other’s homes, attending birthdays and college graduations — the augmented reality game spills out into  the real world.

The game, originally made exclusive for Android devices, was made available for Apple’s iOS on July 14, 2014. Since then, the free game has skyrocketed. Its perpetual growth has shown how much of an impact VR has had, and will continue to have, on society. But Ingress accomplishes something that many people criticize video games for failing to do; instead of creating a feeling of isolation or laziness, it encourages gamers to be social and active.


Download the app for Apple iOS or Android.


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