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When AR gaming makes you look like a criminal

Anecdotes of police run-ins are starting to emerge from players of Google's experimental AR game Ingress.

(Credit: Niantic Labs)

Anecdotes of police run-ins are starting to emerge from players of Google's experimental augmented-reality (AR) game Ingress.

Ingress, from Google's Niantic Labs, is currently in closed beta (it's excellent, and you should sign up for it). It's an AR game for Android phones that sees two factions warring to take control of landmarks, or "portals", in the real world.

As you move about your area, you will come across portals that you can perform a variety of tasks around; it can take time (although we were able to perform them while moving). All portals are in public places, however, they're not placed by users. Users can submit landmarks for the Niantic Labs team to add to the map.

But if you linger too long in sensitive places, you might run afoul of the law. According to a post on Reddit, a player was trying to capture a portal at a police station (at 1am, which may not have been the smartest move) when his phone locked up. Redditor Eheaubaut said:

I restarted it, and loaded the game back up when a cop noticed me, shouted to me and [detained] me. Apparently, sitting near a police station for about 5 minutes with a GPS view of the surrounding area with little blue blips on the screen is a red flag. I was in a holding cell for nearly 3 hours explaining to them it's just a game by Google. Strangest night ever.

And then other players started coming forward with their stories.

Mooksas was questioned by the police in the parking lot of a post office late at night. TerryTibbsEsq was pulled over after hacking portals in front of a "high drug traffic area". Munsterrr and Ghostin0hs both felt that the police were looking at them with suspicion as they hacked portals.

While, as tech website ReadWrite pointed out, having a run-in with the fuzz may add a cachet of "cool" to the game, we don't think Ingress necessarily needs the kind of "cool" that could get you in legal trouble. At least all the stories seem to have occurred in the US; although, to be fair, we don't think the game has as many Australian players yet. On the other hand, how do we know the stories are even true?

Eheaubaut's story ended anticlimactically; he managed to convince the police that he was just playing a game by showing them the Ingress website.

They started laughing after I showed it to them. One of the officers said that he couldn't believe we have the technology to make a game like this. Which I kind of laughed at, since we've had the technology for awhile, just no one wanted to do it! In all, they were pretty chill about it, even joked about it with me.

If you are playing Ingress, Google has put a handy support page online to help you. Good luck out there, soldier.