How ‘GeoGuessr’ turned Google Maps aficionados into internet sensations

By Sam Wareing

Published Sep 25, 2022 at 09:15 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

From virtual reality (VR), which literally puts you inside the game, to couch co-op games you can play with your friends, the world of video games is filled to the brim with innovative ways to entertain yourself. But one thing these games have in common is that they all take place in some kind of fantasy world, or at least an altered version of our own.

That’s where GeoGuessr—the globe trotting guessing game that has users try and figure out where they are in the world just from the limited amount of information presented to them—comes in as the exception that proves the rule.

What is ‘GeoGuessr’?

In a nutshell, GeoGuessr is a geography game where you are dropped somewhere in the world in a street view (just like in Google Maps) and tasked with using nothing more than the clues around you to guess your location.

Released as a browser-based game in 2013 by GeoGuessr AB and designed by Anton Wallén, the project only took the Swedish IT consultant an astonishing two weeks to complete. Since then, multiple modes have been added including battle royale, a multiplayer ‘last-man standing’ game, a single player explorer mode where users are rewarded for accuracy as well as duels—a two-player head-to-head competition. Since then, it has also become available on Android and iOS.

The concept is simple enough, but this game can drop you just about anywhere—and I mean anywhere—in the world. So if your world geography or world knowledge in general isn’t up to scratch, then good luck.

However, with some practice and a little research, it actually becomes easier to guess correctly a lot of the time.

How to start guessing

Since there are many modes to GeoGuessr, we’ll stick with the most common method of play: single player. When you boot up the game, it will drop you in a random location across the world and it’ll be up to you and you only to try and guess where you are.

The game’s heads up display (HUD) features primarily the same imagery you’ll find if you use Google Street View, as well as a compass. Players can zoom in, out and pan the camera to see the area they are in, and these options can be toggled on or off to make the impact the game’s difficulty. A map that uses Google Maps’ standard overlay allows players to drop a pin to guess their location.

Gamers must try and figure out where they have ended up in using the clues around them. Road signs, the position of the sun, identifying native plants and different written languages are just a few of the methods players can use to narrow down a possible location.

While it may take most of us a while to start getting the hang of all the tell-tell signs, there are some people out there who have got incredibly good at guessing their location with only a handful of clues. Much like the art of speedrunning, in which players work out the quickest way to beat a video game, those who have honed their GeoGuessr skills recognise the quickest ways to seek out the key information they need.

Two birds, one stone: a highly competitive sport and great education tool

With the introduction of the battle royale and duels modes, players were given the opportunity to go head-to-head in order to seek out the world’s biggest geography boffin. This gave rise to pro guessers, such as GeoWizard and georainbolt who can guess locations in mere seconds—far beyond the capabilities of us inferior mortals.

@geowizard

Geowizard's classic Eswatini guess (1km away) #geowizard #geoguessr

♬ original sound - Geowizard

SCREENSHOT recently spoke to one of its very own, Jacob Reid, a GeoGuessr aficionado who played a heck of a lot of the game during the first COVID-19 lockdown. Reid was first introduced to the location-hunting game by a friend about five or six years ago while at university and was instantly hooked. “It’s always been a game that I’ve gone back to repeatedly. I started playing it more regularly during the first COVID lockdown, where I would stream it on Twitch and host private games with viewers.”

As someone who’s always enjoyed having a snoop on Google Maps’ Street View, Reid felt right at home playing this global guessing game, “I’d always enjoyed being nosy on Google Maps Street View, so the fact there’s an actual game out of it was right up my street.” But that isn’t the only thing that he found so engaging about it. GeoGuessr takes brain power, and for such a simple formula, can be switched up easily for maximum enjoyment. “There’s so many different game modes and maps, it’s fun testing your world/geography knowledge,” Reid exclaimed.

When it comes to playing professionally, Reid opts for a more casual approach, “I’m nowhere near as good as the likes of GeoWizard or georainbolt,” he shared. While there is a place for the competitive, professional format of the game, playing for fun seems to be the way to go. And not only playing for fun—the game can be also used as a powerful learning tool.

@georainbolt

it happens @geostique yt #geo #geography #geoguessr #geowizard #AEJeansSoundOn

♬ Richter: Winter 1 - 2012 - Max Richter & Daniel Hope & Raphael Alpermann & Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin & André de Ridder

“I think it’s genuinely so good at giving you an insight into what certain countries look like, their language etc,” Reid said. “It’s surprising how the more you play the game, the easier it becomes to identify where you have been dropped.” Although the premium version does require a subscription, with how accessible this game is, its utilisation in schools as an engaging teaching tool and new method of learning, could be extremely powerful.

With GeoGuessr readily available on your internet browser, Android or iPhone, you may be wondering where to get started. Luckily, Reid has some sound advice, “Just play it. It genuinely is so much fun, and there’s plenty of easy maps made by players for beginners if you wanted to start off easy. If you need to kill half an hour or so, there aren’t many better quick games.”

With so many complex games out there that require hours of grinding and continuous daily logins, it can be hard to keep up. But GeoGuessr proves that, sometimes, it’s the simple things in life that have the biggest impact.

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