I've been playing Google's augmented-reality game Ingress intermittently for a few months now. Yesterday, I reached level 7 and (coincidentally) met a player on my team in person for the first time, so I figured that was a sign that I should post about it. Especially since it's now available for iOS.
The core of the game's elaborate backstory is that works of public art and landmarks and such are “portals” through which “exotic matter” (XM) enters our world. Two teams of human players attempt to control the portals and link them: the Enlightened (green) believe that using the portals will improve humanity, while the Resistance (blue) are fighting back against what they believe is an attempt to control humanity. The players use smartphone apps to view and control portals (when you get close enough to a landmark in the real world, you can interact with its portal in the app), to acquire XM (which lets you do stuff; if you run out, you have to get more before you can proceed), and to communicate with other players on their team.
I pretty much ignore the backstory. I started playing because it sounded mildly interesting, it was convenient (there are a bunch of portals near work), and I had an extra Android phone on hand (the game wasn't available for iOS until a couple weeks ago).
My friends who play the game seriously have told me that a large part of the fun of it is getting together in real life with other players on your team and collaborating on taking over portals. Various aspects of the game's rules support that; for example, maximizing your team's control over a given portal requires the collaboration of eight different high-level players (though they don't all have to be there at the same time). But I'm shy and an introvert, and I didn't really want to get involved in the group activity, so I've been playing solo all this time. And I've mostly been playing only in a very limited geographic area, because I hadn't set up a phone plan for my Android phone; it was WiFi-only, so I couldn't play except when I had a WiFi connection.
But now the game is on my iPhone, so I can play anywhere, which made it a lot easier to get to level 7—I had been stuck halfway between 6 and 7 for a while.
I think the most interesting thing about the game, to me, is the team-identification dynamics. When you start the app for the first time, you immediately have to choose whether you're Enlightened or Resistance, without a lot of information, and iIrc, it's impossible to change that choice. (I think someone said you can change teams once, for situations like joining the game and then discovering that all your friends are on the opposing side.) Although the team names are evocative, and although the backstory may distinguish strongly between them, as far as I can tell there isn't any gameplay distinction between them. And yet from the moment I tapped Enlightenment, I started identifying with green, hoping to see portals controlled by green, being sad to see portals controlled by blue, doing my best to support green against blue. As someone who doesn't follow team sports, I found it a fascinating experience—just the act of stating that I was on this team rather than the other one made it feel like My Team's victories and defeats were also my personal victories and defeats.
Which is especially silly given how often portals change hands, at least around here. Almost every portal I encounter switches colors at least once every day or two, and often multiple times a day. When viewed from a little distance by someone who isn't immersed in the backstory nor the social aspects, the whole thing feels kind of arbitrary. And yet, I keep playing.
And the game is leading me to notice works of public art that I was never previously aware of, which I imagine was one of its goals. It also gets me to walk or bike a little out of my way now and then, which I imagine was another of its goals. And I'm hoping that someone is using the data from it to improve algorithms for determining cell-phone locations, 'cause one thing I'm learning from it is that those algorithms are not great.
Anyway. I would send invites to various of y'all to join the game, except that as far as I can tell the invitation function doesn't (yet?) work on iPhone. But if you're interested in trying it out, you can download the iOS or Android app from the appropriate app store (or by following the above link to the Ingress site).
And you should join the green team, because that's clearly and obviously the best team.