Friday, March 8, 2013

Ingress and a Gun

Back in December I started playing a new game called Ingress.  It's a little different than other games because it is a video game that requires that you interact with the outside world.  Basically, the goal is to go out to various real-world physical locations and then use the game application on your smart phone to claim those locations for your team (blue or green).  In the game the locations are called portals.

You can also use in game weapons to destroy the portals that appear in the app but, again, you have to actually be at the real-world physical location to attack a portal.  Thus, you are routinely going around to various public locations, standing around for a bit looking at your phone, and then moving on.  I imagine to some non-players this looks really dumb and to others it looks suspicious.

The game came with some pre-defined portals using public data.  They are generally Post Offices, Libraries, Fire Departments, Historic Landmarks, and some notable public displays of art.  There is a whole conspiracy theory backstory that goes with the game but it isn't really relevant to the episode I'm going to describe.

I always feel a little strange interacting with portals at fire departments even though they are technically on public property.  I'd feel just as strange playing the game at a police department.  But the rest of the items on the list all seem like pretty fair game plus, because of the game, I've discovered some cool historic sites fairly close (within one hour) of my house.

As you might guess, from the title of this post, however, not everything is peaceful in the land of Ingress.

One night, maybe two months ago, I decided to drive to a group of four portals that are about half a mile from my house.  One is a historic building, one is a library, and then two are post offices - I think, technically, there is only one post office building there - but the game lists two separate post offices next door to each other.  I went over to the historic building and library and "recharged" the portals and then headed over to the post offices.  They are on the main street in a very small neighboring town of the city I live in.  In fact the post offices are about 100 feet into the town right next to a flood wall.

I pulled up onto the street in front of the westernmost of the two buildings so that both were in range of the application on my smartphone.  It uses GPS and google maps to pin point you and you get a small circle drawn on the map that represents your area of effect.  The post offices were held by the enemy team so I decided I'd sit in my Jeep and attack the portals.

Each portal has eight points on it which "power" it.  These points are called resonators and they can get weakened over time via negligence decay or if they are attacked.  The team that owns the portal can recharge the resonators and this is the one thing you can do in game without actually being at the physical location.  Once all of the resonators on a portal lose their energy the portal is destroyed and the other team can convert it into a portal for their team by putting their own resonators on it to charge it.

When you are attacking a portal you're really attacking the resonators.  The closer you are to any particular resonator the more damage you can do to it on each attack.  However, I didn't really want to walk around the post office buildings in the evening (due to winter daylight hours it was already fairly dark at 5:30pm).  So I decided to just use more powerful weapons and to try and destroy the resonators from the main road.

While I was doing this a large white truck pulled up behind me.  The driver didn't get out and he left his lights on so I paused my attack.  I thought it was possibly the other team there coming to recharge their resonators.  While you can recharge remotely it is more effective to do it on site.  So I waited a couple minutes to see if he was recharging.  If he was present there was little to no chance I'd be able to complete my destruction so I didn't want to waste weapons.  I waited.  Nothing in game happened but the guy in the truck didn't get out and he didn't turn off his lights.

Above one of the two post offices are some apartments so I then figured he was just there to pick up someone who was taking their time coming outside.  I resumed my attack but slowly as I was still a little concerned about the truck behind me.

I destroyed all but two resonators from my Jeeps location but I couldn't really do any damage to those last two from that location so I decided to drive around the block and come up the alley between the two post offices and finish the last two resonators off from there.  I started up the Jeep and began the drive. The truck started to follow me.  I thought, perhaps, I was being paranoid at first but when I took a right down the alley by the floodwall and he turned with me I was pretty sure he was following.   The flood wall alley leads way past the building because there is a huge dirt parking lot behind it.  It then turns right onto a small dirt road behind the parking lot.  I followed the dirt road until I got past the lot and turned right into the alley between the two post offices.   I drove up to the alley exit where it met with the road I used to be on and I stopped.

The truck stopped right behind me and left his lights on.  I sat there for a minute and watched through my rear-view mirror and he got out.  He was a middle aged (maybe fifty) guy, kind of stocky, with a beard.  He walked up to my driver side window and gave the universal "roll down your window" gesture.

I rolled it down preparing for him to say or do something foolish so I was in gear and ready to drive away if I needed.  I wasn't mentally prepared for him to point a gun into the Jeep.  He didn't point it at me, more towards the windshield, but it was still held there as a threat.  As he revealed the gun he also very quickly flashed something badge-like in his left hand.  He flashed it far too quickly for me to make it out especially with my attention focused on the gun. I laughed and said, "Seriously, you're pulling a gun on me?"

Sadly, this isn't the first time I've had some random person point a gun in my general direction.

After I questioned him about the gun he lowered it out of sight (but still in his hand, just behind the door).  He then asked me what I was doing?  I responded "Is there some problem with my driving on public roads?"  I wasn't particularly in the mood to answer his questions after the gun.

He said "No, but we've had a lot of drug activity around here lately."  I chuckled a little and said, "Well, I can guarantee you I have nothing to do with drug activity." I had hoped that would end the situation but he then asked me "What are you doing around here then?" - his aggressive tone never softening.

I said, "None of your damn business."  At this point I had lost my patience with the guy.  I was pretty pissed about the gun.  I had broken no laws by sitting in my Jeep on a public street and I was 99% certain this guy wasn't a cop - he was neighborhood watch type guy who was feeling like a bad-ass.

He then growled, "I'll make it my business" and he went to the back of the Jeep and got my license plate number.  He then got in his truck and, I suppose, called the police about me (but maybe not if he was concerned I'd let them know about the gun).

With the drama done I went back into the game and spent about five minutes destroying the resonators and deploying my own before driving home.   All the while the white truck sat behind me.

Some people will think my interaction with the guy was foolish.  Some will think I'm just making shit up.  But honestly, it was how my mind operated at the time.  There is a chance I could have gotten shot but I didn't think it was a large chance so long as I didn't start to get threatening with the guy.  I'm pretty much never in the mood to be bullied.  However, I'm also not particularly violent.  I have a concealed carry permit but I rarely actually carry.

As I drove away I wondered how other people who do carry might have responded to the situation.  I like to think most people would have done their best to defuse the situation.  However, some people, as soon as the guy started to approach their truck, would have had their own gun at the ready and some of those people would have shot the guy in the truck as soon as he presented his weapon.

I'm a neighborhood watch guy myself.  I patrol my couple blocks every night as I walk my dogs.  However, I do it with my smart phone.  I jot down license plate numbers of strange cars parked in unusual places with people just sitting around and then I call the police and let them deal with the situation if they want.  My job, on the neighborhood watch, is to watch - it isn't to intimidate or threaten people.  Plus, I really have no desire to walk up on the car that contains the guy with the gun who is willing to shoot me.  If I wanted to add that to my daily routine I'd have signed up to be a cop a long time ago.