Nineteen eighty-four on crack

Here is the scenario: An invisible menacing force is trying to get you, everywhere you go. A malevolent secret organization wants to take over the world by sneaking into your mind. Walk too near the wrong trash can or tree, and it could zap your brain.  And by the way, it already has possessed loads of the people around you, even your most trusted friends.

“The world around you is not what it seems,” the promotion for Google’s new Ingress phone game says, “It’s happening all around you. They aren’t coming. They are already here.”

Game news website CNET describes Ingress like this: “Ingress begins with a series of training missions designed to orient new players. Quickly it introduces you to its quirky lexicon. Around town you will find various “portals”; the point of Ingress (at least so far) is to control them. To control portals you have to “hack” them, which is akin to a check-in on Facebook or Foursquare. Hacking portals rewards you with various items, the most important of which are portal keys and resonators. Portal keys allow you to link portals together; resonators power them up and can protect them from being stolen from your rivals. Linking three portals together creates a “field,” which is more powerful than a portal, and is apparently essential for world domination.

“The game takes the form of a free mobile app, now available on the Google Play store for Androiddevices. It is the second product from Niantic Labs, a startup accelerator within Google. Niantic is run by John Hanke, the former head of product management for Google’s “Geo” division, which includes Maps, Earth and Local, among other divisions. Niantic’s first project was Field Trip, an Android app for discovering the world around you. Released in September, Field Trip sends notifications to a smartphone whenever a person passes an area of possible interest — a landmark, a park, a highly rated restaurant. In my use, it’s been a fun way of exploring new cities and unfamiliar neighborhoods.

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