People Are Playing a Guessing Game in Google Maps

The panic starts to set in. The other four states in his GeoGuessr run went smoothly. So much so, in fact, that Gavin, more commonly known as Chicago Geographer, was a few minutes ahead of his desired time. But the final state presents a new challenge.

He knows he’s in a quaint neighborhood in Utah, somewhere near Logan—evidenced by the city’s name on the blue trash cans lining the street. That may seem like a glaringly obvious hint, but the suburbs can be particularly difficult to suss out, with no unique businesses or landmarks nearby. Chicago wants to be absolutely certain—he’s come this far, after all.

He frantically clicks down the street, scanning for any discernible hint. After what feels like an eternity for a speed run (mere seconds by normal standards), he stumbles upon a pair of signs featuring numbers that denote a specific state highway. He finds that intersection on the interactive map, retracing his steps from that point. He submits his guess: just outside a row of houses on East Main Street in Wellsville, a smaller town a few miles away from Logan but in the same county.

With that run in November, Chicago set a new world record with a Perfect USA Speedrun in 4 minutes, 28.65 seconds. He had been dropped into five random places around the United States. In less than five minutes, he accurately guessed them all. The records change almost daily, though.

On March 20, Chicago improved his world record by 15 seconds with a showing of 4:13.80. Four days later, user Icn15 came close to the throne with a time of 4:28. User Apollobo’s time of 5:38 holds the third spot. There will be plenty of challengers—Chicago’s a prolific member of a steadily growing community of GeoGuessr speedrunners.

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GeoGuessr is a website that was created as a hobby project in 2013 by Swedish IT consultant Anton Wallen. You’re placed, virtually, into a random location around the world. GeoGuessr interfaces with Google Street View, allowing you to explore the surrounding area to use context clues to figure out where, exactly, you are. If it has a vehicle-accessible road near it, then it’s fair game.

A “perfect” guess—anything within around 75 feet of the original location—will net you 5,000 points. A typical game lasts five rounds, so 25,000 points would constitute a perfect game.

“Really happy with this game,” Chicago Geographer says in the YouTube video highlighting his original record, which has amassed almost 80,000 views since it was uploaded in November.

That’s an understatement.

A World of Possibilities

Popular games for speedrunning (like anything with Mario in the title) tend to have structure. Competitors have spent hours poring over every detail of a given world or campaign map. They know pixel-perfect glitches to exploit for shaving time, or certain triggers to instantly kill a boss or prevent enemies from spawning.

If traditional speedrunning is based around organization, then GeoGuessr is the antithesis. The idea is the same—complete a certain streak or score a certain amount of points in as little time as possible—but past that, there’s no comparison. GeoGuessr contains a randomness unmatched by any other game, even those with procedurally generated worlds like Minecraft or Hades.

In one round, you could be presented with a highly urban area, with a plethora of buildings, billboards, and street signs that weave a readable tapestry. In the next scenario, it’s entirely possible to be dropped in the middle of a sparse tundra, with naught but scant shrubbery for miles.

“Each round is completely different,” Chicago Geographer says. “No two people end up in the same places for each game, unless you’re extremely lucky.” In this speedrun, the gameplay doesn’t matter. It’s limited to four cardinal directions of movement and a zoom function, bound to a mouse’s scroll wheel.

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