A secret war is raging around us in Falkirk ... and unless you are one of the ‘Enlightened’ or part of the ‘Resistance’, you won’t know about it.
A global game of mystery and intrigue is unfolding through the relentless struggle to protect, or maybe enhance, the human race.
Sides must be chosen and a small group of self-confessed geeks armed with smart-phones will be our saviours.
Local landmarks like Falkirk Council’s headquarters, the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel are ‘portals’ which are fought over on a daily basis in the battle for our consciousness.
Fear not though, the scenario, thankfully, isn’t real, it’s just an Augmented-Reality game called Ingress, created by Google and Niantic Labs and played on mobiles on the Android network.
For some, however, it is a social network, lifestyle, competition and exercise rolled into one.
The premise is that a team of scientists in Europe unearthed a powerful, mysterious energy called XM, the origins and intentions of which are still unknown.
The Resistance say it is influencing how we think and must be controlled before it controls us. But the Enlightened believe the power has always been here, has helped humans evolve and want to embrace it, unleashing an online worldwide conflict between the two factions. Players must visit places of interest where the energy can be found and secure these as portals.
If you link three portals, for example The Kelpies, Falkirk Wheel and Stirling Castle, it creates a field and anybody living within that geographical area then falls under the protection of whatever group owns the field.
The Forth Valley Resistance – part of the global movement – is the local group battling on our behalf, comprising around 30 players fighting to ensure our minds remain intact.
Taxi driver Michael Edmond from Falkirk, aka agent Madmikefalkirk, is one of the most high profile players in the country. He has created over 1000 portals. He is of the Enlightened persuasion and was the first person in the world to achieve platinum status for the number of portals he has registered with Google.
“I like finding new places, exploring. Most of the game’s portals in Falkirk and the surrounding area I’ve submitted myself,” said the 33-year-old, who was one of five players who met us to explain the game at the Kelpies portal this week.
“I joined just after it started a year-and-a-half ago. At the moment my count is about 900 live portals, but my total is about 1300 altogether.
“I did the Town Hall, the Carron Works, anything with a story behind it, the Falkirk Wheel and behind that the Roman Fort, things like that. I’ve got quite a lot up in Stirling because there’s the castle and a lot of statues. The idea is it’s things people want to go and see.”
Other players who stalk the Falkirk landscape are Douglas Grieve (agent Djgrieve – Resistance) a 29-year-old bar manager from Camelon and Ray Fyfe, a “sixty-something” former IT worker from Alloa (agent DiamondDuke – Resistance).
Some are more guarded with their identification, like agent Phaous (Enlightened), a 28-year-old IT guru from Stirling and Creeky Ostrich (33), an office worker from Alloa who wanted to stay anonymous to keep their online status a mystery.
Douglas said: “Sometimes you just bump into people playing the game when you go out to a portal, but there are communities online and hangouts.
“We went out to Stirling because it was heavily green and we smashed it all up and Phaous and another agent came out to start taking it back, so that’s how we met them.
“For some people it’s a conscious choice what side they want to be on. People like getting into the back story. But others don’t really bother about it and just want to play, even though there are two different moral objectives.”
Phaous revels in being an Enlightened protagonist and, like the others, loves the cut and thrust of the game and meeting up with other players.
He said: “Mike’s the only one I’ve met through a hangout. The other guys I met in the field. I ran up behind Creeky Ostrich at a portal and met DJGrieve when he was smashing up Stirling Castle.
“My friends were Enlightened to start with and the person who invited me was Enlightened, but after reading the blurbs on each of them I chose Enlightened anyway.”
Ray is the Gandalf figure of the group, both in appearance with his long, white beard and his immense knowledge and enthusiasm for the game.
He said: “It’s enormous fun and there’s good healthy and social aspects to it, it’s not just about playing a game. To play the game you actually need to get out and go to the places that are, or become, portals, so it’s not an online game you play sitting at home like Candy Crush or something. It’s quite healthy and you meet a lot of other players.
“The centre of Falkirk is a pretty dense area for portals and there are daily battles for control, particularly around lunchtimes, or in the evenings.
“At the moment the Resistance has control, but that can change pretty quickly and we have to fight to recapture the portals again. This is fine in the game as everyone involved gains points each time the portals change hands. At one point recently the whole of the northern hemisphere was taken by the Resistance.”
Creeky Ostrich said: “It gives you a reason for going out for a walk. You have an aim. It might sound a bit geeky but the fact that the real world is used as the landscape makes it more unique and interesting and it’s less complicated than it seems.”
1. The game is an app in the Google Play Store and must be downloaded onto a smart-phone for players to participate. An iPhone app is currently being created for Apple users.
2. The idea is to visit landmarks that are portals, take them over and create a triangle between three to secure that area for your side.
3. When a player is at a portal, they can take it over, set up defences to protect it and link it with the rest of their side’s territory. Players all over the world have joined together to create massive fields which have spanned several countries.
4. Once portals are captured, players must keep recharging them to hold on to them, otherwise the opposing side can take them.
5. If any landmarks or places of interest are not in the game, players can register them to be added.
6. Regional scores are added to the global socres for each sides and the progress can be seen on screen.
7. The game runs on 175-hour cycles and at the end of the cycles the team with the highest score wins. The game then resets and the battles begin again.