THERE'S a battle raging on Massachusetts Avenue. I'm hopelessly outnumbered, trying to take control of a patch of land at the edge of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. My fighter name is Spottiswoode. I try to seize control of the enemy portal, but get knocked back, losing health. They're too strong here.
This isn't real life. Well, not quite. I'm playing a game called Ingress, which sees players fighting for control of real-world landmarks or monuments - dubbed portals - in their cities. It was released as a mysterious, invite-only beta two weeks ago by a Google spin-off called Niantic Labs. It represents a big step towards ubiquitous, accurate augmented reality (AR), in which real-world objects are annotated with a virtual layer of information that is displayed on a smartphone's camera.
Ingress runs as an Android app, tied to the real world through GPS. You and your smartphone need to be within range of a portal to interact with it. "Exotic matter" (XM) is collected as you explore your town and allows you to take control of a portal. You can then link it with two other portals to create a triangle. Your side now "owns" that territory.