Colombo as you know it is a lie. The world as you know it is a lie. Our world is a war zone filled with inter-dimensional portals and two factions waging a war of control: the Enlightened and the Resistance. The side that wins will decide the fate of the world.
At least, that’s what Google’s Niantic Labs would have you believe. Their game, Ingress, throws you on the side of whichever faction you choose, tasking you with hacking these inter-dimensional portals and waging a covert war around actual, physical landmarks, layering an alternate reality on top of Colombo (or whatever city you’re in right now). Ingress has often been mentioned in the press, but is surprisingly polarizing: people either love it, hate it or have never heard of it: all we can say is, try it for yourself.
Because Ingress has a small community of very dedicated players here in Sri Lanka. Some actively travel across the island, hacking portals. Some are scholars, researching how and why this war started. All of them have only one thing in common: they have a tendency to walk into some unknown side road saying, “Give me a minute. There’s this portal I need to hack!”
Who would play a game like this?
Kulendra Janaka is the COO of hSenid Business Systems. When he’s not busy making sure hSenid runs smoothly, he’s an agent among The Enlightened. Thilanka Niroshana is an entrepreneur; his job takes him across the island he fights for as part of the the Resistance. Thilini Harshani is a doctor, when she’s not busy saving lives she’s an active Ingress agent. Jameel Jazeel, a mergers and acquisitions consultant at KPMG, logs in to do his duty. And there’s hundreds more. Most people fight their battles on the way to work and back, keeping their routes firmly aligned to their faction. Others experiment.
The story starts in December 2012: while everyone else was enjoying Christmas, a chosen few got an email – to be a beta tester for a new game called Ingress. Approximately 10 of these invitees were in Sri Lanka. They became independent agents, hacking the few portals Niantic placed in Sri Lanka.
Until the 30th of May in 2013, that is. A few players from both sides decided to capture a portal at Gunasinghapura, Pettah. Needless to say, both groups were surprised to see the other when they got there. Expectation: the beginning of a fierce in-game battle. Reality: a friendly meetup that was the official birth of the Ingress Community here in Sri Lanka. After everyone had figured out who these strange names really becomes to, the Ingress Community Meetup was born. By late 2013, the game had almost 50 players.
Niantic noticed that despite Sri Lanka, despite having a really small community, had an almost disproportionate amount of activity. So in April 2014, everything blew up: Niantic set of a week-long in-game event in Sri Lanka called Interitus. The goal of the event is for each side to capture as many portals in an area then connect them – and then maintain those connections – for points. Both sides were fired up. For the first time ever, Niantic had given the Sri Lankan Ingress community an official in-game event: neither one was going to back down. Experienced agents, retired agents and rookies answered hurried calls to war sent out across mobile networks and Facebook chats. The week that followed was one filled with – well, not blood, but sweat, fines and a general lack of sleep as people scurried all over Sri Lanka with their smartphones in their hands.
The agents of The Enlightened built a massive cross country field (pictured above) climbing Bible Rock, connecting it to Ambalangoda and Coimbatore in India. In response, the fighters of The Resistance built their own cross country field connecting Udawalawe, Vavuniya and the Maldives. The activity in Sri Lanka skyrocketed. Agents from both sides went to all four corners of the island. They climbed mountains, navigated through thick jungles, crossed highways to ensure their fields would be seen at the checkpoints. A junior Enlightened agent living in Jaffna thwarted the expansion plans of The Resistance. The war was over; the Enlightened won the first ever Ingress in-game event, at a cost that must seem inexplicable – and even amusing – to people who’d never gotten into the magic of Ingress.
Putting Sri Lanka on the map
Following the first connected cell, things settled down and returned to normal, at least for a while: starting November 5th 2014, Niantic rananother in-game event to take place in Sri Lanka called Darsana. Once again Sri Lanka was in seven days of war.
In the end, victory went to The Resistance. Teaming up with their Maldivian counterparts, they held back The Enlightened and built a massive cross country field pictured above. By the end of the event, the Ingress community in Sri Lanka had proven their worth: they had some of the most dedicated Ingress players on the planet. As similar thing happened on 28th of March: instead of a week long battle, there was a 5-hour event called the Shonin anomaly that resulted in another spike in activity. Ingress functions on a social level
Today, the Ingress community in Sri Lanka has approximately 150 members – numbers estimated as of a meetup on the 7th of March. As the number rises, the dream of having an anomaly (the ultimate Ingress in-game event) is slowly becoming reality.
Ingress now functions at a social level: while the actual story is important, it’s driven by the same kind of desire that drove Foursquare’s mayorships – the desire to ‘own’ a location, this time as part of a larger collective than alone. And if this small but very hardcore community’s any indicator, it’s better than way.