The geekiest way to go sightseeing

Posted by in Mike's blog

There was a day last fall when the way we see the world around us totally changed.  Places that once were uninteresting became much anticipated attractions.  We started seeking out nooks and crannies in our city that other people couldn’t care less about.  We began to go for long drives with the kids (while they nap) with no set destination, far into the mountains, through tiny villages, and often in circles.

Mary and I got involved in a little game called Ingress.
Except it’s not little.  There were more than 500 000 active players (agents) around the world in 2013 (back then there was no iOS version and it was invite only).  Some would say that it’s not a game, either.

Ingress is an “augmented reality massive multiplayer game”.  The app (it exists on our phones) allows us to see points of interest (called portals) on maps throughout the world and capture them for our team.  There are 2 teams.  After we capture these portals, we can link them together to make triangles (called fields) on the map.  More+bigger fields = more points.  We like points.

There are probably people playing this in your city, too

Most of the time we find a new app/game/service that relies on location data to be effective, we get left out because we live in Fukui and Fukui is not a very important place.  We don’t know how many active agents are in Fukui, but we think there are at least 100.

There is a Google+ community for agents in Hokuriku, and a group of Fukui agents keep an ongoing Google hangouts chat.  I joined about 1 month ago.  It’s 100% Japanese, so communicating is challenging me to study more.

Agent profile group photo!

Agent profile group photo!

Today Dan (also an agent) and I went to a meetup at Fukui station to collect an achievement that we earned.  Mary dutifully took care of the crankypants kids (she’s so awesome).  We met 10 other agents, and we had to use our broken Japanese to chat with them.  After logging our achievements, we set out together and played for an hour.  We were all high level players, so we made a big impact on the city for our team in a short amount of time.

“What are you doing…here?”

Since our new hobby involves going to places we wouldn’t normally go to, and since we kind of stand out (even when the kids aren’t with us), we get recognised and remembered rather often.  People we met in passing years ago remember us when we re-meet them in passing, and we do feel terrible when we don’t remember them.  We have run into people ranging from long forgotten acquaintances to close friends while playing Ingress – and we’ve yet to explain what we are doing without leaving behind the impression that foreigners are strange, strange people.

We ran into a nurse from the kids’ pediatrician’s office.  She was carrying a giant kyudo bow and possibly some arrows.  Apparently she shoots kids with vaccinations at work and she shoots targets after hours.  We ran into her at the prefectural martial arts arena.  What were we doing there?  There was an important portal!

We ran into one of our closest Japanese friends near her home.  She lives near undo koen (huge park with extensive playground equipment).  Normally it wouldn’t be strange for us to be there, but we didn’t have our kids with us.  Also, there was snow on the ground.  We were on a mission that day, and the fruits of our efforts were points-a-plenty!

What was that about sightseeing?

We look for portals in lots of different places, and sightseeing tends to happen in the process.  We have discovered quite a few cool places that we would never have known to look for if we weren’t chasing portals.  Our inability to read Japanese makes the game a bit more challenging for us to play in Japan – we don’t know the names of 99% of the portals we come across, and we can’t read their addresses either.  Here are a few of the cool places we stumbled upon unintentionally:

If you read this and you started to think “gee, I think Ingress looks like a great way to make my city 100x more interesting, I sure would like to play”, then go download the app for Android or iPhone, then join the resistance.