If I asked you how well you knew other parts of the world, you might think I was trying to see how much you knew about geography. And maybe, thanks to those few months where you binged on Sporcle, you could label a blank map of the Balkan peninsula or name the capitals of all the countries in Central America without too much trouble. That would be impressive. But it wouldn’t necessarily help you in a round of GeoGuessr.
That’s because the game doesn’t test your map smarts so much as your intuition for what the world actually looks like, on the ground and in-person. Gameplay is simple. GeoGuessr serves up a nice big Street View snapshot from somewhere in the world, and you have to guess where you are by dropping a pin on a map of the world. The closer you are to the actual location, the more points you get. You get five tries.
It might sound impossibly difficult, and when the site throws you a totally unremarkable vista of some trees and a highway, it can be. But the more you play, the savvier you become as a geographic detective. Cars can give a good indication of what part of the world you’re in, and signs of any sort can be hugely helpful–it’s up to you whether or not zooming in to read the language is cheating. Often times, though, you don’t even have those to work from, so quickly you become more closely attuned to the small variations in things like road markings and telephone polls.
It’s hard, really, to think of another game like it. GeoGuessr combines some of the real world immediacy of orienteering with the nose-up-to-the-page fun of the I Spy books, all mixed in with that tingly I can’t believe I’m doing this from my couch feeling that occasionally and unexpectedly washes over you when you’re having a sustained session with one of Google’s world-traversing products.
It’s also a terrific reminder that you don’t necessarily need to create a bunch of new stuff to come up with a compelling new experience. All GeoGuessr does is take the usual Street View interaction–provide a location; see what it looks like–and give it to people in reverse. It’s a perfectly elegant concept, and it ends up being incredibly fun. Just be glad it doesn’t mix in any destinations from Google’s ocean floor view.