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An amateur attempt to improve my GeoGuessr score in the space of a week

Five Ws, many Ls.

It's really weird how there are so many 'casual' games, yet the term can encompass something as simple and superficial as Candy Crush, or as ubiquitous and culturally powerful as Fortnite. When GeoGuessr came along nearly a decade ago, it was a refreshing idea for a game that welcomes the widest audience possible. However, that audience didn't reach its peak until much more recently with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The premise of GeoGuessr is pretty simple: you're presented with a completely random image from the vast library of Google Street View pictures, and have to pinpoint exactly where in the world you think the image was taken on a foldaway map. You're probably going to react in one of two ways: you're going to say that this sounds relatively easy or, given the vastness of the planet, that this is quite a daunting task. I was in the former camp when I first came across the game but after being humbled by pathetically bad scores, I'm now with the latter group.

Like most other players of casual games, I've dipped in and out of the game without trying too hard and thinking too much, instead feigning surprise when I got something obvious correct (say, an image containing a known landmark or a clear location sign), or rage quitting and deciding to play something else on my phone or tablet. It was with this in mind that I thought of trying to play the game consistently for a week and see whether my scores would improve with ever greater experience. Here's how that went.

Geoguessr road
There are a lot of roads in GeoGuessr.


For some reason, after loading up the game on my iPad (it's available on iOS, Android and the good ol' fashion web browser) after such a lengthy absence, I've been tasked with starting from the beginning again. I flipped open my laptop but couldn't remember my login details. That's not too bad, as the tutorial remains the same, where you're given simple, familiar cities to guess. Sydney, thanks to the inclusion of the Sydney Opera House - one of the most recognisable buildings in the world - was an easy start.

Next up, a tram system in a sunny European town square looked familiar. I felt like I'd seen this before, so much so that Portugal has been on my travel list for some years. Seconds later, my hunch was confirmed: I was looking at Lisbon. Later, I was in a suburb-like area and thanks to the power of zooming in using my trackpad, I noticed a bin that had the logo of a certain 'Auckland Council' on the front. My guess was only a few miles away from the image's exact location. Not bad going for the first day!

Geoguessr road
Like, a LOT.


If yesterday was a tutorial, today felt like an idiot's guide to using Google Street View in general. The first thing that loaded up was a bus in a miserable looking UK street with 'Bolton' stamped across the front. The next image looked to have taken place in the middle of a developed metropolitan city. Panning around, a huge branch of Tim Hortons and a Canada Post van made Toronto a pretty safe guess. I don't remember what gave away the next image as Wellington, but I quickly realised I had fallen into a dopamine-serving trap of having to guess cities.


Having images of urban cities and the plethora of signage in those places as clues is always going to be easy. In fact, there are multiple modes in GeoGuessr, even some competitive options which you can play with friends. But I wanted to try the classic 'world' option, which totally randomises the locations you have to guess.

Geoguessr Rome
Getting a Chertsey vibe from this one?

The first image couldn't have been any more challenging. I was in some sort of closed community with small footpath-like roads and tiny bungalows on either side. I was stumped, but could only guess it could be somewhere in Europe due to the brickwork. That's what makes GeoGuessr so much fun: seeing how valuable your intuition is in the real world, from the comfort of your device's screen. The location was somewhere in Austria.

I came across one of the most prolific players of the game around a year ago. Trevor Rainbolt mixes in humour with his lightning fast guesswork and has inadvertently become an ambassador of sorts for the game. His Wired interview shows how much information a GeoGuessr image can serve even if the landscape seems barren and absent of anything useful. The colours of roadside poles, road markers and soil can be useful enough to make an educated guess, or even the length of vehicle number plates. I was always getting 2-3 good guesses in each round, but his advice here was very useful. Each round of GeoGuessr presents five street view pictures, with a maximum score of 5,000 points for each guess. To score big I have to channel my inner Trevor.

Trevor Rainbolt interviewed by Wired.Watch on YouTube


The only cul-de-sacs I've come across until this point were from the UK, where the aforementioned misery is visible from space. But today I was presented with a huge winding road, and my suspicions were confirmed once I noticed a flag dangling near the porch: America. I still don't get the country's obsession with its own flag, but one thing that does stick out to me through GeoGuessr is how empty its towns and cities are, all moulded in decades past for cars instead of pedestrians. I've found it hard to distinguish a big American town from somewhere in rural South America at times, it's bizarre. I blame this particular failure on poor urban planning rather than my own terrible guesswork.


Although I can't write any other language besides English, I can usually tell the difference between some East Asian scripts. Korean looks blockier compared to Japanese and Chinese to me, for example. But that opinion went straight into the bin when I guessed Japan instead of Taiwan in a seemingly quiet urban area. Next up was a multi-lane road with a bridge above. I saw a European language on a poster on a wall, but the language seemed Portuguese rather than Spanish. And given Portugal is relatively small, that left Brazil as the only viable alternate option as the answer. I was correct.

Geoguessr road
One last one for the road.

I told an Indian friend about this GeoGuessr article and my goal to improve my score, and she was intrigued. But I explained how sometimes it can be easy to make some obvious guesses, and that I was able to guess Bangladesh correctly moments earlier as the country was 'swampier' than its South Asian neighbours. That wasn't a dig at my fellow desi brethren, and I decided to look up why my mind thought this. It turns out that besides the greater humidity in Bangladesh, Wikipedia informed me that certain palm trees, particularly a fan palm like the Livistona speciosa, are quite common in the country.

In the space of a week I was now getting 3-4 reasonably good guesses in each round, and my scores hovering around 17,000 reflected that. Although I don't feel like I've taken more mental notes like our boy Rainbolt has, there are certain vibes I feel I'm able to trust when presented with a random street view image. You never know what GeoGuessr is going to throw at you, and there are times when I've thrown in the towel and clicked on the desert in the middle of Australia, when it turned out I was looking at somewhere in remote South America. But it's clear that with practice, you can improve the luck you're given.

And that's the genius of the game. You have no idea where you might end up in the world yet your curiosity is both entertained but never fully satiated. And let's not forget the people who, despite having blurred out faces, are always interesting to look at. People may look or dress differently in one place, with buildings that seem unusual to your own present surroundings, but it's oddly comforting knowing they too were going about their business when a strange Google car immortalised them this way. GeoGuessr makes me want to keep learning more about the world, through these seemingly-infinite randomised snapshots and with assistance from the rest of the internet. But ultimately, I'll have to come to terms with continuing to be a novice in this area. My curiosity will remain untamed because, for me at least, every sight seems to be worth visiting.

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