This morning I had breakfast with a bunch of people I have known for only a short amount of time, and who are rapidly beginning to feel like real friends, chosen family, team mates, TRIBE. They have strange names – rediguana, hackathorn, reptizzle. We have hawks and bunnies and mutants.
And me? Me they call Bel. “I love your shirt, Bel,” one says to me as I am leaving, and I smile and laugh, and respond like it’s my name.
Hey, you know the last group of people who called me Bel? That was in Grahamstown. The ones from then who still do are family, soul sisters, brothers in arms, warriors of my heart. There too, we had strange names, and animals – Lupe, my wolf; the Lady Hawk; Bast. It was a Grahamstown person who gave me the name Belgatherial, and the way my life has circled around in the last decade, it seems oddly fitting that it is a name I am using again, a name people are using for me out in the real world.
Real world, I say. The truth is, the thing these people have in common, the thing that brings us together for breakfast at 7:30 on a Wednesday morning, is a game. A game where, essentially, we draw imaginary triangles between sparkly things. Kind of a “Capture the Flag” meets geocaching sort of thing. A game which has become oddly and wonderfully important in my universe over the last few months.
Ingress. If you follow me on social media, you’ve probably seen hashtags and references to it. It’s ludicrous really, but totally wonderful and utterly engaging.
Ingress is the reason I found myself up at a wind farm over the weekend, leaning into the wind under the whooshing sounds of turbines turning, frantically blowing up alien portals and claiming them for my side, clambering up hills and talking to sheep.
Ingress is the reason I found myself running through the bush on Saturday afternoon, following a location on my gps, leaping over tree roots and dodging around logs to make sure I was at a particular strategic location at a particular strategic time.
Ingress is the reason I climbed a hill in the dark, late at night on Monday, to stand under the stars and stare out at this amazing city that has become my home, to draw some rather enormous imaginary triangles for something called “mu” which got me a very shiny silver “Illuminator” medal. A medal that about five other people were working together across the city to help me obtain, because I quite literally couldn’t do that alone.
I’ve been accused of being an “uber-nerd” for playing it, but to be quite honest with you, I think it is the non-nerdy parts of the game that make me love it so much. The driving off down side roads, going to places I’d never go because I am chasing unique portals. The gatherings of people I would never usually encounter, and working together towards some really quite amazing common goals. The fact that when I hit a totally meaningless milestone, these people cheer and understand why it isn’t, in fact, meaningless at all.
It gets me out of the house Every Single Day. If you’re new to my tale, you may not know what a big deal that is. I had a truly spectacularly difficult few years. Post natal depression, my marriage imploding, having to rebuild my life from the ground up. There were days where just getting out of bed was a challenge, and leaving the house utterly impossible. But there’s this thing called a “Sojourner” badge, which you get for hacking a portal every day. I’m currently sitting on an 85 day streak. Which means, come hell or high water, sickness or hangover, rain or sleet or ice, I will leave my house, go to my closest portal, and hack that baby to keep my streak up.
Truth is, though, it’s not that hard to do any more. Truth is I have a taste for it now, being out in the world, my hair blowing in my face, the sun on my skin, my hands on the wheel of my car, my voice getting used to talking to people again. After spending way too long hiding in my cave licking my wounds, this dragon is back to living in the world again, and if the imaginary triangles keep me there, then all the better.
Like any imaginary world, like any community, really, I suppose, it is full of jargon and lingo that doesn’t make sense at first. “mu”, “portals”, “shapers”, “fields”. When you first wander in, it can be bewildering. But what it comes down to is this:
If you can draw a triangle, you can play ingress.
If you like to walk, or even just like the idea of walking more, you should play Ingress.
If you love exploring new places, adventure, and conspiring with other people, you’ll love Ingress.
You don’t need to be a gamer (I’m not), and you don’t need to be a ‘nerd’ (whatever that means these days). All you need is a sense of adventure, a good pair of walking shoes, and an open heart and mind.
The shapers are stealing our world. Come join the resistance. Get in touch, I’ll send you an invite, and you too can learn to draw giant imaginary triangles between sparkly things, and find yourself squeeing in the dark under a sky full of stars because you just caught yourself 30k “mu” and a shiny badge.