If you have one of those friends who’s never traveled outside their home state, but insists that they would be perfectly fine if you dropped them anywhere on the face of the planet, you may want to devote a few hours to watching them play the Google Maps-based game Geoguessr. The game is a simple combination of Google Street View (where you can not zoom out of Street View) and a world map (where you can not zoom into Street View)– and way more fun than it sounds.
The game starts by putting you someplace on the Earth, in Street View mode. While this limits you to locations where Google has done its Street View surveys, you’d be quite surprised how busy that Google Street View car has been. The thing must have like 40 million miles on it. You have the normal Street View controls to move around, zoom, pan, etc. without limits, and from whatever information you can gather from exploring that way, you end the round by marking your presumed starting location on the 2D world map, and then it tells you how close you were. More points are scored the closer you guess to the actual location you started. There is also a head-to-head mode where two players work their way through five rounds (each at their own pace) and then final scores are compared.
Geoguessr is surprisingly addictive– drawing on a natural sense of wonder and exploration, and benefiting from a diverse body of knowledge to do well without cheating. It’s the kind of exercise that makes you feel smart when you succeed. Being able to identify foreign languages (if not read them), knowing something about the kinds of vegetation there are in different parts of the world, what side of the road they drive on in various countries, what the people generally look like– all of that knowledge comes together beautifully. And while it seems like the moment you find a distinguishable landmark, you’d have the location, in practice it takes far more finesse. Your patience will be tested– it may be fine to know that you’re somewhere near Rio de Janeiro, but if you want to score maximum points, you need to trace your starting location down to the dead end of what exact blind alley you started on. That experience is unexpectedly gratifying.