Aliens are trying to infiltrate Northampton through a series of “portals” at well-known landmarks - that is if you are playing an increasingly popular mobile phone game sweeping the town.
Unbeknownst to all but a dedicated few, a virtual territory war is being fought in Northampton every day between humans an “exotic matter” from another planet in the form of the game Ingress.
It may not be a household name like Candy Crush, but the Android and iPhone app now boasts 10 million downloads worldwide and around 200 players here in Northampton.
The ‘augmented reality’ game sees players try and gain control of alien “portals” at places of cultural significance, in a sort of futuristic version of the boardgame Risk.
Only Ingress, which uses a smartphone’s GPS tracking and camera, requires gamers to physically walk (or run) to the points of interest around the town such as the Roadmender, Northampton Crown Court and several churches including the Hold Church of the Sepulchre in Sheep Street.
“I would say I’m fairly addicted to it,” said keen player Sean Anderson, of Headlands, “I tried playing Candy Crush for a while, but that sort of thing just gets so repetitive.
“Ingress can offer such variety and literally take you to new places.”
The premise of the game, according to developers Niantic, centres around a mystery alien energy, which is infiltrating the world through various portals.
A player can chose to join one of two factions: the ‘Enlightened’ which seeks to “embrace the power this energy may bestow upon us,” or the “Resistance,” which, quite simply, intends to stop it.
Players have to find the portals in their locality (using a GPS map) and take control of them, or ‘hack’ them, using a range of gizmos in their virtual arsenal.
But while its roots are firmly grounded in science fiction, father of three Mr Anderson, 42, and a computer programmer by trade, says the game is attracting a wide range of players who view it as more of a way of life.
“A lot of people assume this is really geeky,” he said, “But it’s not all IT guys, some of the people I have met playing this are chefs, plumbers and housewives.
“You do get a few strange looks playing it, but then you see people walk around with their phones out all the time. As long as you keep your headphones in it’s okay.”
At the time of publication, Northampton was predominantly controlled by the Enlightened, (nicknamed the “Frogs” among the gaming community) though the control of territory changes regularly, sometimes overnight.
For many though, the game is simply a chance to learn more about your hometown, get fit and meet new people.
One blog poster singing Ingress’s praises claimed to have lost 10 stone in weight as a result of playing.
Mr Anderson, said: “One place I saw early on in playing the game was on Cliftonville Road, not far from the hospital, there is this metal statue of people climbing up the wall.
“Now I’ve lived in Northampton for the best part of 30 years and I had never seen that before.”
And the game landscape is changing all the time too.
While Ingress started life with a number of set portal locations, its active community have added many more, providing of course they are easily accessible on foot and not in a dangerous location.
The app is free to download from the Android Play store and iTunes.