13 May 2013

Here There Be Chickens: GeoGuessr

This post is going to have a lot of pictures. Click any of them to enlarge.

A couple of the PC gaming sites I visit pointed out this lovely browser-based game today: GeoGuessr. Basically it takes you to a random street somewhere in the world using Google Street View, and you have to figure out where you are. It's a simple idea but quite fun: it gives you a new way to experience the already-addicting Street View by testing your general geography knowledge and deduction skills. Wondering whether I'd get able to get around in a random place is the kind of thing I tend to daydream about, so I love the idea of the game.

Since it's based on Google Street View* you won't find yourself in the middle of an untraversable desert or stranded on an iceberg; you'll always be on a street. That still leaves a lot of places for you to find yourself, though. It could be in a city:

Or someplace a little more remote:

And then it's up to you to look around for clues. The most obvious one is often the vegetation. That and the color of the soil in the second image led me to believe I was in Australia. That was correct, but since I don't have much familiarity with that country and because I couldn't find anything else useful nearby, my guess was pretty imprecise (I basically clicked in the middle of the country, whereas I was actually in the north).

Cities offer a lot more information, though, and I'll take you through my process for that first image:

I turned around and went down the street a little. Signs are of course a great way to figure out the language and thus narrow down the location. I know a little Spanish and I could tell it was either that or Portuguese. I didn't know which it was for sure until I saw this building, though:

Spanish doesn't use those diacritics (the "ã" and the "ç"), so now I knew it was Portuguese. The next big question was whether that meant I was in Portugal or Brazil (there are other possibilities, of course, but Portugal and Brazil are the two major ones). Some of the trees were a bit of a clue but I don't know enough about them to know if they were something you absolutely cannot find in Portugal. I actually got my answer pretty quickly in this case, because a little further down the street I found this:

Since I recognized the cities I knew not only that I was in Brazil, but I could also figure out roughly where in the country I was on the guessing map. Based on the Street View compass and the directions on the sign I figured I was someplace that was north of both cities. With that in mind, this was my guess:

And here's my guess compared with the actual location:

Not too shabby, methinks.

There are a lot of different ways you could play this game. For instance, you could do it based only on information you already know, in which case I might have stayed zoomed out enough on the guess map that I couldn't see the city names and just clicked in the rough area I thought they were. Or you could take it in the other direction and assume you have some sort of internet access: in one location I saw a street named after a date and so I looked that date up on Wikipedia and made note of any countries that had significant events on it. I later decided I prefer to keep things a little more "pure" (as though all I had with me in a given location was my prior knowledge and no access to a smartphone or anything), but that still seems like a fun way to do it that I imagine some people will enjoy. (I still managed to get the country wrong in that case, by the way. :P) 

You could also play it for a lot more precision, searching for more and more clues in order to get within a few kilometers of your location. I tend to be satisfied if I'm within a few hundred kilometers, though. I have no idea how the points are awarded; obviously you get more the closer you are, but I don't know what the formula is for determining exactly how many you get. I think it's fun no matter how seriously you take it, though, and you'll find yourself in some interesting places.

*          *          *

In one instance I found myself in a creepy, foggy forest on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. I arbitrarily chose a direction and headed off in it. It was probably a kilometer before I came across any signs of civilization, and what I did find was a bit baffling:

Yup, that says "Chicken Community." While my thoughts immediately drifted toward giant, bloodthirsty forest chickens that had driven out all the humans to found their own society, the sign was actually a little useful. Even though I had no idea why those two words had any business being next to each other, it was obviously English. And furthermore the color of the sign led me to believe that I was somewhere in the United States. Fears of monstrous chickens aside, I decided to press forward, and the next thing I saw was this:

I realized that this was actually a town named "Chicken." That's incredibly stupid, but at least I could breathe a little easier. And there's actually a really good clue there: the second sign down says "Gold Panning Gift Shop." The two gold rushes in the US that I know about were in California and the Yukon. This place seemed a little too dreary for California, but I could definitely believe it was Alaska. Still, I pressed on, and eventually came across these roadsigns:

Oh man, "Downtown Chicken"? I definitely needed to experience that. I also finally saw a sign of human life in the form of that car with the bike on top. "Downtown" appeared to be the left they were coming from. After taking it I saw another sign, and one of my suspicions was confirmed:

We're in Chicken, Alaska; also Chicken, Alaska is apparently a real place that exists. I had no idea where in the state it might be other than near the border with Canada's Yukon Territory and I doubted I'd be able to find anything to really help me narrow it down, but I wanted to explore some more before I put in my guess. Downtown Chicken was calling to me! I wanted to see the sights, maybe visit some bars, get some tapas, do some dancing!

Oh. Hrmm. Well, Downtown Chicken, Alaska appears to be about five buildings and some RVs. Or maybe it was just a little further ahead still...

NOPE. Okay, fine. Maybe the other side of town would be more interesting...

Behold! The mighty Chicken Creek! There... is maybe some water in it somewhere? Maybe not. But hey, look, I found the bike car again! I followed him a little while to see where he was going, but the answer appeared to just be "the hell out of Chicken." Ah well.

If it's somehow not clear by now, you should definitely go and play GeoGuessr immediately. DO IT. 

Okay, fine, maybe you're just itching for more information about the lovely town of Chicken. Well, according to Wikipedia:
Chicken is a community founded on gold mining and is one of the few surviving gold rush towns in Alaska. The population was seven at the 2010 Census. However, usually year round, there are 17 inhabitants. Due to mining, Chicken's population peaks during the summer. Chicken is the only city in the world called "Chicken."

*The Street View car hasn't made it to large portions of the world, so if you want to avoid wasting guesses on countries that couldn't possibly be the answer, take a look at this map. Most of Africa and Asia aren't included, nor a large portion of Latin America.

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