GeoGuessr turns Google Maps into a game for TikTok

Imagine a dirt road. The reddish-brown ground in front of you has been packed down by traffic. On the other side of the road, wooden stakes fence off the border. Extending into the street, you can make out the shadow of a fern barely out of frame. It’s a nondescript dirt road, the kind you could find anywhere in the world.

“It’s really Brazilian dirt,” says Trevor Rainbolt, watching this scene from his computer in Los Angeles. He zooms in on a world map, hovering over South America.

“Northeastern Brazil, probably? ” he adds. Rainbolt drops a pin and submits his answer. His guess is about 300 miles from the exact coordinates, a bit closer to the Atlantic but still in northeast Brazil. In total, it took him five seconds to identify the approximate location.

For just over a year, Rainbolt, 23, has been playing GeoGuessr, a trivia game powered by Google Maps, four to eight hours a day. The goal of GeoGuessr is simple: players are placed at a location on Google Maps’ Street View and they are able to navigate the map to collect clues to guess where exactly they are in the world. The closer a guess is to the actual location, the more points they earn.

From there, Rainbolt developed a niche skill: figuring out where it is on Google Maps in just seconds. He first started devoting time to the game after watching others on YouTube, like Tom Davies, known for his GeoWizard YouTube channel. But, Rainbolt got so good at GeoGuessr that people started making parody videos of his work. In a 54-second video he posted on TikTok last month, Rainbolt managed to guess the neighborhood of five different road locations from Botswana to Brazil by looking at images of land. This video has been viewed over 8 million times.

“Bro memorized local sediments,” one person wrote in the comments, adding a skull emoji.

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Rainbolt’s video is not a one-time viral fluke. Like any performer iterating on his act, he added constraints to his stunts. He will scramble the half of the picture from which he has to guess or play two games at the same time. He’s even started guessing places at a glance with photos that disappear in the blink of an eye. Now, Rainbolt has over 870,000 followers on TikTok. 179,000 other accounts, including John Mayer, follow him on Instagram. And his TikTok videos regularly get over a million views; Rainbolt’s most popular video has been viewed over 17 million times. He’s not the only one playing GeoGuessr on TikTok either. The game’s hashtag has over a billion views on the app.

“It’s really, really cool to see more mainstream people getting behind it,” Rainbolt said. “I’m doing the same thing I’ve been doing for a year in front of ten people on Twitch…To see him finally get recognition from people is insane. Honestly, that’s so cool.

In his videos, Rainbolt skims through GeoGuessr at breakneck speed, spending five or six seconds on a lap. By comparison, some GeoGuessr players on YouTube will take over thirty minutes for a five-round game to get as close to the answer as possible. Rainbolt says his speed runs are just the way he plays the game – but he also happens to fit perfectly on TikTok, where attention spans are short. As a finishing touch, Rainbolt plays a recomposition of Vivaldi’s “Winter I” in the background to make sure “you’re glued.”

“I like the irony behind the intensity of Google Maps,” Rainbolt said. “I have to play in irony, I want. Because it’s like “Oh, this guy is a professional Google Maps player”. I have to own this, right? It’s like the corniest thing ever.

GeoGuessr, the browser game behind Rainbolt’s videos, is almost ten years old. A Swedish software engineer, Anton Wallén, first released the game as a favorite project in 2013. Today, GeoGuessr is a 30-person company based in Stockholm, supported by a subset of users who pay $2 per month to play as many games as they want. want one day. You can also play GeoGuessr for free, but only for five minutes at a time. Subscription fees help the company pay Google, which charges them for access to their maps software, said Daniel Antell, co-founder and chief information officer of GeoGuessr. Antell declined to say how much the deal with Google costs, but added that the company is spending “tens of thousands a month” to keep the site up and running.

Antell isn’t on TikTok, but he saw Rainbolt playing GeoGuessr. Rainbolt’s speedruns aren’t necessarily how the team originally imagined people would play the game, Antell said, but he was impressed.

“This guy must be super smart,” Antell said. “I think that’s really cool.”

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Rainbolt told The Post that the videos on his TikTok account are a “highlight reel” of the game. Sometimes, like with the dirt road challenge, he gets it right the first time. Other times it can take 15 minutes to string together five solid rounds.

“It’s not like I’m sitting around for eight hours a day and really hoping for luck,” he added. But “it takes time”.

Rainbolt does not want to be considered a “wunderkind” of geography. Roads, like maps, give an idea of ​​orientation. The paint on the road, the bollards, the various traffic signs and the telephone poles are different country by country. (Telephone poles in mainland Malaysia have black signs with white text, for example.) This is how Rainbolt can guess where he is.

It can be easy to overlook these small details when you first play GeoGuessr, but it’s what serious GeoGuessr players study to progress through the game. And when it comes to dirt roads, the color of the ground, the size of the rocks, even the fences that line the road help Rainbolt form “educated guesses”.

“Once you see the countries and the colors of their soils…it’s just human intuition,” Rainbolt said. “Can I describe to you why I think it looked like Nigerian soil? Probably not, but it is. It’s just part of that sixth sense that you feel when you play the game so much.”

Guessing isn’t Rainbolt’s day job. In Los Angeles, he’s a social media strategist at a startup that runs viral sports entertainment accounts on Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. Rainbolt dropped out of college after his freshman year to start working for the company.

“I’ve been creating content professionally every day for five years,” Rainbolt said. “It’s a pretty easy thing to mix a hobby with.”

Rainbolt doesn’t know what he will do with his newfound TikTok fame. He plans to take it “day by day” and definitely wants to keep making GeoGuessr riffing videos – maybe even more travel videos. That said, other than a cruise growing up, Rainbolt never left the United States.

“Everything I learned came from Street View,” Rainbolt said. “Eventually, I would like to see these places in person.”

After more than a year of playing GeoGuessr, Rainbolt wants to visit Svalbard, an archipelago off the coast of Norway, or travel to Laos to see the limestone peaks of Vang Vieng. There’s just one problem: his passport is expired.

About Georgia Duvall

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