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TikTok's latest trend is a 'magic' geography-guessing game: 'It's like a new-age travel show'

Dillon Thompson
·5-min read

Ben Hedworth’s biggest advice about playing GeoGuessr? It isn’t as hard as people think.

“It’s not quite as magic as it seems,” he told In The Know.

On the surface, that claim sounds a little surprising — because, on TikTok, there are few things that seem as magic as watching people like Hedworth play GeoGuessr.

The 27-year-old’s videos, many of which have millions of views, follow a simple format. The game, using Google Street View, drops him in the middle of a foreign place. It could be anywhere in the world — a city in Taiwan; a rural backroad in Peru; a suburban neighborhood in Kansas — and then, he guesses his location.

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GeoGuessr, originally developed in 2013, is an online geography-guessing game. There are several game modes — featuring different regions, specific landmarks and more — but the format is always similar: Players are given a mostly random location, and then, they guess where they are. The closer that guess is to the actual location, the more points they earn.

Hedworth, a communications professional based in the U.K., started playing the game in early 2020. Britain was starting its first lockdown, and he needed a new hobby. Even as someone who, by his own admission, was never a geography nerd, the game had instant appeal.

“The game is almost like a new-age travel show in a way — and an interactive one like that,” Hedworth said. “I think when you’ve been locked up, it is almost like a virtual break.”

Countless TikTok users seem to agree. Over the past year, videos of users playing the game have seemingly surged on the platform. Clips using the #GeoGuessr hashtag have drawn more than 220 million views in total, and some TikTokers, like Hedworth and user Ryan Hale, now boast follower counts in the hundreds of thousands.

In Hedworth’s opinion, the appeal has always been there. He found out about the game on YouTube, not TikTok, after stumbling across a video by GeoWizard, who many players speak about as a sort of godfather of high-level GeoGuessing. The YouTuber has been making videos for over five years, and it’s easy to see why he’s thought of so highly.

“I was watching this guy’s videos just thinking: ‘How on earth is this possible?’” Hedworth said of GeoWizard’s clips.

So Hedworth started practicing. After a few months of playing the game during Twitch streams, he decided to start sharing some clips on TikTok.

Quickly, the 27-year-old noticed a difference. TikTok, unlike Twitch or YouTube, is fast-paced and bite-sized. For a game like GeoGuessr, that’s where the “magic” comes in.

“I think one of the reasons why TikTok is a particularly effective format is because it’s quick, it’s sharp — there isn’t too much time to explain when and why,” Hedworth said. “It’s very to the point … [it makes GeoGuessr] quite spectacular to watch.”

Hedworth said TikTok offers a “romanticized” view of GeoGuessr. That’s why, despite Hedworth’s claim that he’s nowhere near the best player out there, he was able to draw millions and millions of views. It’s also why his guesses seemed so accurate that commenters immediately started accusing him of cheating.

“This is so obviously staged I genuinely think he’s joking,” one commenter wrote one of Hedworth’s clips. “Can we please stop this guy cause this is getting ridiculous.”

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At its highest level, GeoGuessing can seem staged — but, as Hedworth points out, that’s mostly rooted in a lack of understanding. The TikToker insists the game, as he plays it, just isn’t all that difficult. He claims he could teach most people to succeed at it in “about half a day.” It’s not because he’s cheating, it’s because he’s playing the game like, well, a game.

RC, a GeoGuessr YouTuber based in Atlanta, told In The Know there are two main ways to excel at the game. The first, which Hedworth often leans on, is called the “meta” game. This tactic is less rooted in geography and more based on pattern recognition (i.e., memorizing the kind of car that Google Street View uses in each country).

Other players, like RC, are geography fanatics. They study plant species, and languages, and regional architecture. As an example, RC mentioned another player who told him about a type of plant — an oil palm — that can almost only be found in Malaysia. For the right player, it’d be a dead giveaway.

On TikTok, the distinction between these two styles is almost nonexistent. All viewers see is a quick, wildly impressive video of someone guessing their exact location. How they do it, meanwhile, is sort of beside the point.

The point, according to Hedworth, is the game’s universality.

“I think what attracts people to GeoGuessr is that it quite possibly could be the single most relatable thing ever,” he said. “Essentially, you’re asking people to use the world around them and their primary senses to figure out where they are. I think that’s something everyone can relate to.”

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Hedworth acknowledges that the pandemic has also likely played a role in GeoGuessr’s rise. That feeling he describes — of using your base senses to determine where you are — only seems to get stronger in a year where no one’s gone much of anywhere.

That’s why, accusations of cheating and debates about playing style aside, Hedworth has an overall positive take on GeoGuessr’s TikTok moment. At its purest, the game is an escape — and a shared one at that.

“There is this feeling that you can see the world without leaving your room, and it does definitely aid toward that,” he said.

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The post Inside the rise of GeoGuessr, TikTok’s new favorite game show appeared first on In The Know.