An unforgettable part of the highways and trees, as seen in the street view of Google Maps, appeared on the screen. It could be anywhere from Tasmania to Texas.
“It’s going to the southern Philippines, there’s a place along this road,” said Trevor Rainbolt, immediately clicking on a place on the world map.
There was a road that ran through the woods. Lake Tahoe? Siberia? “It looks like we’re going to be here in Switzerland, unless we’re in Japan. Yes, we have to be here in Japan,” Mr Rainbolt said, referring to the country.
Mr. Rainbolt faced a fast-growing community of geography lovers playing a game called Geo Gas. The premise is simple: as you look at a computer or phone, you are down anywhere in the world in Google Street View and you have to guess as soon as you can, exactly where you are. You can click to travel through roads and cities, scanning for different places or languages. The more you guess, the more you score.
To some, Mr. Rainbolt’s photographs seem like magic. For him, it is simply the result of countless hours of practice and an incredible thirst for geographical knowledge.
“I don’t think I’m a genius,” said Mr. Rainbolt, a 23-year-old online video maker in Los Angeles. “It’s like a magician. For a magician, the trick is easy, but for everyone, it’s very hard.
For the average player, crossing pictures of windy pastures, Mediterranean rivers and winding roads can be relaxing, especially without time constraints. But for players like Mr. Rainbolt, speed is insane, and location recognition only takes seconds – or less.
Mr. Rainbolt is not the top geo-geyser player in the world. This difference is often related to a young Dutchman walking by a geostack, or to a French player known as Blanche. But since the beginning of this year, Mr. Rainbolt has been the standard bearer for Geo Geisser, thanks to his interesting social media posts, which he has shared with his 820,000 followers on Twitter and other social platforms.
Appearing on the hood and sometimes in headphones, like playing dramatic classical music in the background, Mr. Rainbolt recognizes countries after simply looking at a glimpse of the sky or pieces of trees.
In some videos, he guesses the exact location after seeing a street view photo in one-tenth of a second, or in black and white, or pixelated – or all of the above. In others, he ignores and guesses (correctly) from the descriptions provided by someone else.
The videos that have caused the most shock are the ones that Mr. Rainbolt uses his topographic saluting to really identify where the music videos were filmed. In a viral clip, he found the exact road in Nevada from a video of a man driving with a capillary. A Twitter user commented: “If I ever get lost, I hope someone hires this man on my behalf.”
GeoGuessr was created in 2013 by Swedish software engineer Anton Wallen, who came up with the idea during a trip across the United States. Early influencers such as Geo Wizard, a British YouTuber, helped develop the game. It also gained notoriety during the plague, when it introduced a multiplayer mode called Battle Royale.
Mr. Rainbolt’s social media posts made it even better. Last month, in a propaganda coup, Mr. Rainbolt appeared live with Ludwig Agrin, a former Twitch personality who now has three million followers on YouTube.
The GeoGasser site now has 40 million accounts, said Philip Intel, who leads the content for the 25-member company GeoGesser in Stockholm. Some of these people are customers who chip up to $ 2 a month for the ability to play an unlimited number of games. The revenue, Mr. Intel said, goes toward paying developers and Google, which charges GeoGesser for using the software.
Despite his world-wide knowledge, Mr. Rainbolt, who grew up in Arkansas, will never leave North America. But he has many places on his bucket list, including the Laos and Elliott Islands in Alaska. People tell Mr. Rainbolt that his passion is a bit crazy. The most common question his friends ask is: “Is this true?”
He says it is, and promises that he has never faked the video. He sometimes misleads countries. The United States for Canada, or the Czech Republic for Slovakia, are two common slip-ups for even the biggest players. And he admitted that he often posts only his key points on social media, not the occasional silence.
So how does he do it?
The key, of course, is practice. Mr. Rainbolt descended into the geyser rabbit hole during the plague, watching the others live their game and pooping through study guides collected by geography enthusiasts. He said he studies four to five hours each day: playing geyser in specific countries frequently to get a sense of the soil and remember how road markers and telephone poles vary across the country.
“Obviously, I had no social life last year,” he said. “But it’s worth it, because it’s so much fun and I enjoy learning.”
Some of the best features that Mr. Rainbowlet uses to differentiate from one country to another, he said, are the bollards, the posts being used as barriers along the roadsides. Telephone poles; License boards Which side of the road do you drive on? And the color of the soil.
There are other signs, too, if you know where to look. Image quality is important – Google has filmed different countries using different generations of cameras – just as car color is used to record land. Mr. Rainbolt said seeing a white car in South America, for example, means you are in Peru, Bolivia or Chile.
GeoGuessr has different game types. One of the most popular formats is Doyle, in which players or teams start with 6,000 points and take a “loss” based on how accurate their opponent’s guess is until it drops to zero. In some games, you are allowed to click to move through the map, while others are “no moving” games. Once one player guesses, the other has 15 seconds to stop predicting.
Professional Geo Geyser players – described as being the best in the world, not that they make a living by doing so – say the competition scene is still new but growing rapidly.
Leon Cornell, a 21-year-old pro player known as Kodiak, from the German Retingen, described competitor Geo Geisser as “joked and divided”. A group of players in France, for example, have formed their own community and are hosting tournaments, while other players have formed groups through Reddit. But GeoGesser’s recent social media reputation has sparked interest in wider competition.
The best players, often youngsters under the age of 15, compete for world records and have started competing in tournaments organized by Mr. Rainbolt and broadcast live on Twitch. There is little money to have, but Star Player takes pride in the thousands of other relaxed Geo Geyser players who gather on the Discord server to change directions and share scores.
Lucas Zucker, 6, of Innsbruck, Austria, fell in love with Geo Geiser when he turned to one of Mr. Rainbolt’s Instagram posts. Mr. Zucker decided he also wanted to be one of the game’s adults.
“Getting good is hard, really good,” said Mr. Zercher, who now devotes his free time to studying bollards and remembering the color of South African soil. “I can get to know all the African countries from a few pictures, but I’m still far from getting better – I’m missing out on all the Eastern European countries.”
Seed Mills, a 22-year-old freelance painter from New Jersey, became fascinated after seeing Mr. Rainbolt’s content. She had previously played Geo Geisser, but was amazed at how quickly she got better after watching videos that provide guidance on getting to know countries.
“This time, instead of passively walking around and desperately looking for a language sign or flag, I would choose things like guards, road signs, bollards,” Ms. Mills said.
He sometimes experiences moments that he imagines are similar to Mr. Rainbolt’s inspiration. Once, while playing Geo Geisser with her father, she immediately recognized a picture in Uruguay, because of the road lines.
In response, she said, “How do you know that?”