I work adjacent the National Mall, an amazing collection of museums, gardens, statues, monuments, and history, all completely free of charge. But I almost never go there, except to pass through on my way to “do things”. I don’t go because there’s no goal, no task, no driving mechanism, and there’s always something to do elsewhere. Maybe this is an artifact of being raised on games which keep an automatically running tally of quests, always dangling the next goal in front of you, directing you to the caverns of doom to retrieve the ancient blade of whatever so you you can save the kingdom of whatsit. I almost never do things in-and-of-themselves – there has to be some goal, some metric of progress, some ends to which the current task is a means. This may be a big part of the reason I game in the first place – the artificial injection of clearly-defined attainable goals I can work towards in a clear and coherent way.
Ingress is a brilliant hack which subverts the gamer’s psychological need for clearly-defined goals and achievement to make you _go to interesting places and see cool things_.
Yes, there’s a sci-fi backstory about “mind hacking” and two factions warring for the future of humanity, and there’s the wealth of data google is collecting on how people move around – but the significance of Ingress lies in its behavioral effects. When I’m addicted to a game, that usually means hours spent in front of a screen, sedentary and concentrated as I absorb myself in the mechanics and world of the game. But when I’m assuming my role as an agent of the Resistance, fighting to protect Washington from the influence of the Shapers by seeking out culturally-significant portals – I’m finding statues I’d never noticed before. I’m finding new ways to move around the city. Stocking up my inventory means getting off at an earlier metro stop and talking a circuitous walk to work. The constant drive to get somewhere _quickly_ is overridden by my attempts to wander around the new garden I found looking for the best place to drop my XMP and knock out that last pesky resonator. Bikes are epic mounts. Chapstick and silver-lined gloves are critical equipment for making it through the dungeon that is “a cold day”.
There are lots of ways to improve the game – in particular, interesting conflict seems to be becoming rarer as the global level waterline increases – but it’s an amazing, things-changing game. For now, though, I need to get going – my block has been overrun by Enlightenment agents, and I need to seek out a Resistance stronghold to restock my inventory. If I succeed, I should level, at which point I might head over to the National Cathedral.