A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this app.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know Ingress is a massively multiplayer alternate-reality game that requires players to explore the world around them and check in to locations, similar to Foursquare. Players "fight" for one of two sides in the game, though there's no violence to speak of. However, because players are checking into locations and can chat with others, parents may want to supervise kids and accompany them as they journey to waypoints, which are hot spots within the game.
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What's it about?
Players use a Google+ account to log in and set up a username. Then, users join one of two rival factions fighting for control of a mysterious energy source. After some basic initial instructions, you begin playing. To gain a victory, you must travel to real-world (user-submitted) locations to gather "XM" and take control of portals around landmarks. This is done by "hacking" the portals and waypoints by pushing an on-screen button, which checks in the player at that location. There's a global chat feature where you can talk with members of your faction (people who chose the same side as you). The chat is unmoderated, and players often look for others who are nearby. Chat, however, is not a mandatory part of the game, and other users can be blocked. Occasionally, the game offers events called Anomalies, which require players in particular cities around the world to play at a faster pace.
Is it any good?
INGRESS is unique in the app gaming world: It has a story and game-playing elements, but it appeals most to a niche audience that invests in the rather complicated fiction that accompanies the app. Instead of being something you can play when you have a few spare moments, the game forces you to get up and walk -- sometimes a fair distance -- to a portal or waypoint where you can interact with the app. That's great for making kids more active, but it also makes the game a bit geographical. Large cities are going to have many more portals than small towns, where they can be several miles away, rather than a block or two (and kids may have to cross dangerous roads to get there). If you're in an area where there are a lot of portals, though, it can be fun, and the game encourages social interaction, as it takes teams of players from one faction to gain control of a portal run by another. The augmented reality genre still hasn't been explored fully by app makers, but this one (made by Google, which uses many of its resources in the game) is one of the better examples on the market.
That said, because of the location-based interaction and chatting feature, parents either need to play along with their kids or make sure kids are venturing out with trusted friends. Setting strict limits around communication with strangers, either through chat or in person, also is important. The chat functionality is unmoderated, and though we didn't see anything inappropriate, it's certainly possible to appear. You can block other users, there are safety suggestions outlined in the Community Guidelines, and the general culture seems to be totally game-focused, but this is definitely a game that needs supervision.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about being aware of the real world around you while playing a game. Don't rush into traffic in your eagerness to get to a waypoint.
Talk about the importance of exercise. Is it more fun to move while you play than it is to sit on a couch?
Discuss being safe and maintaining privacy: Use our resources to talk to kids about how to stay safe in-game and online.
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