What was the Niantic Project?
Have you seen university professors being escorted from their lectures for their work on portals? Have you noticed suspicious behavior among your friends? Are your thoughts moving down paths they normally wouldn’t? Now, can you correlate those behaviors and thoughts with proximity to certain major landmarks? The Washington Monument, say, or the Gateway Arch in St. Louis?
Yeah, me neither. But these are some of the basics behind a new game that has nerds everywhere atwitter.
For months, Google has quietly gone about spreading hints and hype for an alternative reality game called Ingress. It seems to have started at Comic Con in San Diego back in July, when a man named Tycho accused a panel of Buck Rogers artists of hiding messages about portals in their work for decades until security escorted him out. Then on November 16th, Big G began a viral online marketing campaign, launching NianticProject.com. The website features a corkboard, frequently updated with information that slowly unveils the mechanisms and backstory of the game.
What we know so far: scientists have discovered invisible, extradimensional rifts around the world. The rifts influence the thoughts of humans near them. By collecting and using exotic matter, certain people can take control of these portals. One faction, the Enlightened, wish to use this ability to promote humankind’s well-being and ensure the world’s security. The opposition, the Resistance, aim to stop them and thereby protect human freedom.
Members of the Enlightened and the Resistance can see and manipulate these invisible structures of our world only through their phones. Using the phones to hack, secure, and link the portals, the respective factions can benevolently protect or righteously free vast areas of the human population.
All of this is done via an app. So far, Google has been extraordinarily creative in layering an alternative reality over our real world. Essentially, they take real world artifacts like a park fountain and use their app to turn it into a mind-control nexus. Currently, the app is only available on Android, though an iOS version is supposedly in the works. Unfortunately, it is also in a closed beta – invite only – for now. Those invites are precious indeed, with excitement built as high as it is and very few being given out.
What Google is up to, I couldn’t say. According to this Wired.com piece, Niantic Labs is a branch of Google that rethinks the way we interact with smartphones (I couldn’t find anything from Google itself on the Labs’ purpose). This could be something of a transition into Google’s Project Glass. Whatever Ingress ends up being, Google has masterfully crafted a campaign to pique our interest and leave those of us without invites wondering: at heart, would I align with the Enlightened or the Resistance?