Exploring with Ingress

Ingress finally arrived on iOS. Having heard the news from one of my gaming chums on G+ I downloaded it. But then I had to go to work, so I’ve not had much time to play until this morning.

The good news is that my work takes me to lots of Portals, the bad news is that it is work, and I can’t spend time around those portals playing Ingress.

If you’ve not heard of Ingress you aren’t alone. In my on-line survey of gamers which cot responses from just under 200 people, 174 hadn’t heard of it, and just three claimed to play it.

Its a locatative game, which is why I’m interested in it. The object is to capture nodes, called Portals, and link them together to outline a space for your team. When you join, you choose one of two sides “the Resistance” or “the Enlightened” – I chose the latter, the under-dogs, it seems, in terms of numbers and territory claimed.

But I fear in not a casual game. Already I think I’ve discovered, there are players who devote a lot of time to planning, organising their travel and working with others to play the game properly. With work, study and family responsibilities I’m not sure I’ve to the time to be very good at it. Even charging up your abilities requires a walk, as the “chi” of the game, called XM is distributed around the neighbourhood (there’s lots more at Portals), and you have to walk about with the game running to collect it. And while the game charges up, your phone runs down – I was pretty much out of power by lunchtime. So, planning, organising travel, co-ordinating with others AND charging your phone. This could be time-expensive indeed.

And I have some ethical questions too. The distribution of chi – I mean XM is not random. At one of the sites where I work it is scattered along an unmarked but heavily used path, which suggests its been generated by people (carrying Android OS phones?) walking along it. In my residential neighbourhood there’s very little down most of my street, but a couple of houses have a cloud, and the estate further down the hill has lots. If it is Android owners generating this content? Do they know they are doing it? And how are the Portals created? It seems that you can nominate places to be portals. But were the first places harvested from, say, Picasa users’ data?

And what data are they collecting from the the players?

In my survey, the most interest shown in locatative gaming is by Hard Fun gamers. Though I don’t think the data proves it, it’s likely the Hard Fun gamers are those most willing to commit to the logistics required to make this a success. And maybe are the group that have time to commit to the game, just as they commit time to practice at the console or PC.

So this is a game I fear, for the early adopters, not the Angry Birds players. But I’ll try and keep up with it, capture some territory, and see what else I can learn from it.


Why Lego? #buildyourownportus

I wrote a post for the Day of Archaeology blog. Much of it summarises, and refers back to, recent posts here about the Portus MOOC and #buildyourownportus. But this bit is new:

But then I […] had to make a visit to the Vyne a week or two ago, and they currently have on display a large Lego model, based on all the archaeological evidence of what that place looked like in its Tudor prime.


Looking at this model. It dawned on me that there’s something very important archaeologically about using Lego (or any other construction toy, I’m not a Lego shill!) to visualise the past. Every model a archaeologist produces is an experiment, a theory. It follows that every model an archaeologist produces is wrong.  Of course the idea is that the more evidence an archaeologist applies to their model, the less wrong it is. But there is always missing evidence, always an element of conjecture.

But models can be very seductive, especially when they are presented by institutions like museums, the National Trust, or media like the BBC and National Geographic. Then they become authoritative, they are imbued with an illusion of rightness, of “that’s exactly how it was”, that would embarrass the archaeologist who produced it. Archaeologists would prefer to show a model in constant flux, shifting through all the “might have beens”, all the theories and conjecture that hasn’t yet been discounted.

Computer modelling is a double-edged blade (modelling knife?) in this regard. On the one hand, computer models allow archaeologists to efficiently try different versions of the model, but on the other hand, with ever more sophisticated textures and lighting effects, computer models can appear even more real.

But Lego comes with an inbuilt sense of “unrealness.” Inherent in a Lego model is the idea that you can break it to bits and rebuild it as your ideas change. There’s also a sense that everyone can do this. You don’t need to have a high-powered computer with multiple GPUs and expensive CAD software. You don’t even need the Lego. All you need is your imagination.

So on this Day of Archaeology, bring your own imagination to the table. Play around with ideas. If you can’t get to a dig, or help out with finds recording you can still contribute to our ever growing understanding of the past. Share your “might have beens” with each other, because the more might-have-beens we share, the closer we get “that’s how it was.”

The best exhibition of the Summer

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a couple of weeks. Since Father’s Day in fact, when my family took me to the British Library as a treat.  But the Portus MOOC was such hard work, and the Lego modelling so compelling, that everything else was put on hold.

It’s not too late to recommend this exhibition though, which is a “must see“, even if you don’t think you are that interested in Comics. Yes, comics.

The exhibition is called Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK, a title which I think might be the weakest part of the whole thing. The bit after the colon is fine. For those of us reading comics as kids in the 70’s the sub-title is redolent with the memory of the likes of Action comic, about which our parents and the media expressed such horror that it was cancelled. Of course the epitome of those punkish days, and the longest lived publication, is 2000AD which has been the spawning ground of  British comic talent, and which has given us memorable characters like Halo Jones, and most famously the fascist cop satire, Judge Dredd. That’s good. And that’s why I’m so disappointed with the main, before the colon, title. “Comics Unmasked” screams “hey, comics are more that super heroes!” but, in this country at least, comics are hardly ever about superheroes. So the title starts the experience off, it feels, a little on the defensive.

Which wasn’t the curators’ intention I’m sure. Here, the explain what they wanted to do in their own words:

The exhibition design is brilliant, led by reknowned illustrator and occasional comic creator Dave McKean. Using a a tucked away cul-de-sac space not dissimilar to the British Museum’s new gallery (which hosted the dreadful Vikings exhibition), McKean and the BL team have created a design that sings to the subject and draws visitors into the story. A million times better than Vikings and, I bet, on a fraction of the budget. Visitors encounter huddled groups of Occupy protesters throughout the exhibition. Mannequins somewhat menacingly sporting Guy Fawkes masks in a way that connects the exhibition with modern day anarchic politics and also reminds us how that mass protest, and the Anonymous hacker movement, have taken for a badge a mask drawn for a comic.

The Library’s content is arranged thematically,  but in a way that also shows a chronology of the development of British comics, kicking off with Mischief and Mayhem, which manages of combine the likes of the Beano and Viz comic with religeon and the earists days of comics, including this fabulous 15th century chapbook, a bible story that looks a LOT like a a comic. (No photos were allowed in the exhibition, I guess there are lot of rights-holders involved, so this is sucked from James Bacon’s preview for Forbidden Planet International):

Then there are sections on identity and diversity (To See Ourselves) and Politics: Power and People (with more masked mannequins) before an optional section (the whole exhibition has a parental advisory for under 16s, but my children enjoyed most of it – but not as much as I did!) called Let’s Talk About Sex. This section contained the learning highlight of the day for me, as it showed a double page spread wherein the american style hero of the story has a fist fight with giant ambulatory penises (penii?). The learning point? That this was one of many comic stories written and drawn by Bob Monkhouse. Yes, that Bob Monkhouse, comedian, script-writer, game-show host and general light entertainer.

Outside the optional sexy bit, there’s more wholesome fare, including Dan Dare’s prototype incarnation, not as a “Pilot of the Future” but rather an Interplanetary Chaplain.  This kicks off the Hero with a Thousand Faces section which chronicles the so called “British Invasion” of UK writers into American superhero comics, wherein they managed both to celebrate and subvert the genre for a while.

The final section Breakdowns: The Outer Limits of Comics brilliantly dives into inner-space magical fantasy, as well as putting the two modern day self-proclaimed actual wizards of comics, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, into the same room as, not just each other (they don’t get on in real life), but John Dee, Elizabethan wizard. Dee is represented by his last notebook which, I happen to know, contains an account of his scryer, Bartholomew Hickman, summoning an angel to advice on Dr Dee’s piles…

I wished I’d stayed longer, I want to go again, and writing this, I curse myself for not buying the catalog.

The exhibition ends on the 19th of August. So go. Now!

I shouldn’t have delayed you by making you read this.