I’m staring down a barren road in the middle of the desert. In the distance are some reddish mountains and a lone, rusty vehicle is driving away into the distance. I have no idea where I am, or how I got here. Still, if I had to guess, I’d say Utah. It’s not. I’m actually in the Congo and I just scored a measly 312 points.
This is GeoGuessr, an intriguing new online game that teleports you around the world using Google Street View. All you have to do is guess where you are. The closer you get, the more points you are awarded. It’s devilishly simple. Just weeks after launching, the geographical detective challenge has already been dubbed one of the most addictive map games of all time.
“I’ve always liked how Street View allows you to visit locations that you would never travel to in real life,” says Anton Wallen, the 29-year-old IT-consultant from Sweden who created it. “GeoGuessr started as a random location generator which randomly dropped the user on different locations. After a while I felt like it needed something more and decided to add the game element.”
The game itself can be very tricky. Playing it quickly reminds you that large swaths of the world are almost indistinguishable from each other. And clues that appear around you are not always as they seem. A Skol truck that led me to believe I was in Northern Europe was actually in Brazil. Apparently Skol is really popular in Brazil, so at least I learnt something. After two days of playing, my top score is 10,083.
But while my GeoGuessr ability is limited by the fact I have only visited two continents, how would an actual, real-life explorer fare? After five minutes’ practice Gaelin Rosenwaks, a member of the prestigious Explorers Club who has travelled to 25 countries in the last two years alone, has already ratcheted up a whopping 16,433 points. One of her guesses was 54km out. Another was dead on.
“I think the travelling certainly helped, as there are distinguishing things in different countries, like the street markings and the signs,” she says. “The power of observation is a very interesting thing with this game. From my personal experience people can learn a lot by observing so closely and what to look at to distinguish the places. You look for details in a place you might otherwise take for granted.”
So far Wallen has had an “almost entirely positive” reaction to the game: “There are lots of parents and teachers who play the game with their children or students as an educational tool. It is really inspiring and a bit mind blowing.” In the meantime, you may as well cancel that three-month trek in the Andes. GeoGuessr really is the only way to find yourself. Try it yourself at GeoGuessr.com
How it works
1. GeoGuessr drops you at a random point in the globe. Well, one that’s been photographed by Google’s Street View Cars.
2. Guess where you are in the world on the zoomed-out map.
3. The closer you are to the exact location, the more points you get.
4. You get five attempts to get as high a score as possible.
5. Repeat for a week, or until you find yourself in a library looking up how to identify northern Scandinavian fauna.