In games we often travel great distances.
We risk our virtual lives and complete our quests at any cost, but they don’t usually put us in harm’s way – aside from 60 dollars and a few hours of our lives, we don’t risk much when we play most games. Ingress is different.
Ingress is an augmented-reality game for Android phones which uses GPS technology and real-world maps to create a rich and immersive adventure. There are two factions: the Enlightened and the Resistance, both fighting for control over the earth. Players go to real landmarks all over the world to place portals and create control fields, all in an attempt to relinquish power from the other team.
For Alaska native Teagan Presler, Ingress has become a way of life. She goes out of her way to hit portals and make plays while on her regular commute to work, where she provides psychiatric help for disturbed teens. She and her husband play the game together, planning date nights that begin with Dinner at a restaurant, and end with a jaunt around town to destroy the opposing teams’ work.
“I’ve discovered so much cool art and so many cool places in Anchorage that I didn’t know existed” says Presler. For all of the time that she spends playing the game however, nothing could have prepared her for what happened last December.
On the morning of December 3rd, Teagan and the other Enlightened members wake up to a distressing signal on their phones: “The resistance has set up a link that crossed out the entire west coast, it went from California to Iliamna Alaska… So that pretty much blocks our entire game plan all over the world.”
An Agent going by the name Snake Plisskin springs into action right away, contacting the global Enlightened community for support; within hours, they raise enough money for a Plane ticket. “In less than 24 hours I get on an airplane to Iliamna…”
Ilaimna is a tiny village in southwestern Alaska, on the brink of developing into a mining town with a population of around 100 people. The nearest town is over 100 miles away.
As Teagan gets on a small plane bound for Iliamna, the eyes of the worldwide Enlightened are on her. Taking down this link and relinquishing the hold that the Resistance had on the west coast; that would be a game changer. She and the other Alaskan Ingress players knew the risk involved with the plan; hundreds of people have died in Alaskan plane flights just like this one in the last few tears, including former Senator Ted Stevens.
Rain begins to fall, coming down as the plane makes the 200 mile flight: a grim sign of the coming weather conditions. Once the plane touches down, the captain tells Teagan she only has about 20 minutes. “I freak out because my phone isn’t getting any signal,” she tells us. “It takes me a few minutes to even connect to the internet”.
The runway is re-freezing, and time is running out. It’s starting to seem that the meager cell reception won’t not be able to support the plan, and that she has flown all that way for nothing. But then, just as she is about to give up, the snow-covered screen of her cell-phone flashes with victory: the virus has been planted successfully. As she and the pilot run to the little plane, Teagan’s phone is bombarded with messages from the Enlightened players who have been watching and waiting with baited breath. So many people message her that her phone crashes from the strain; over half a million people have been counting on her to take down that link.
Now that the Ingress mission is over, Teagan has to make it back to Anchorage: but that is easier said than done. Freezing rain start to set in. On the flight back, alone with the pilot, Teagen sits in the passenger seat. As the skies darken, and the frozen drops of water bombard the windshield, Teagan can hear the pilot swearing under his breath.
The Plane endures the grueling 2 hour journey, and lands safely back in Anchorage.
As she thanks the pilot and exits the plane, Teagan turns on her phone and is met with less than a warm welcome: Resistance Agents from all over the world are accusing her of spoofing, a method of cheating in Ingress where a player throws their GPS signal to another location. Resistance members in Anchorage who know Teagan are especially suspicious – but before long they have undeniable proof right in front of their faces; the first thing that Teagan does is to meet them for a beer, and show them pictures from her trip.
Games continue to surprise us every day; they can unite a million people for a single cause, they can show us new things in the world around us.
But they can also make us push ourselves to do things that we would never have imagined. For Teagan, Ingress is more than just a game. Not only has it introduced her to people she would never have met and places that she would never have seen, but for hundreds of thousands of people – it has made her a hero.