The Rise of the Geohobby

By Nicole Gismondo

UIMG_8337nless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Pokémon Go. You probably also saw at least one person walking along conspicuously stopping to swipe their phone. What you probably don’t know is Pokémon Go wasn’t the first hobby with location based gameplay. In fact, there is a whole host of hobbyists out there who breathed a sigh of relief when it finally became cool to wander around with your phone, stopping erratically.

Even Pokémon Go wasn’t the first of its type, developer Niantic first launching ‘Ingress,’ a game based on capturing portals. Released in late 2012, it encompasses a world where it is ‘blue vs green’ with players battling for individual points by capturing portals for their team. It was in fact these portals that became gyms and Poke-stops in Pokémon Go. Given how this has been adapted already, there seems to be significant scope for even more expansions from Niantic, so be on the look-out for their next venture.

Munzee provides a contrast in these new mobile apps, being a little bit more physical in nature. This game involves players receiving points after scanning physical Quick Response (QR) Codes that are stuck on real-life objects. It started in July, 2011 and is most popular in Germany and the US, though it reaches as far as Antarctica, with at least one Munzee on every continent. Common QR placements include telephone boxes, guard rails and public poles, though originally they were placed on poker chips! There is a virtual element to the game as well, that was developed, where people place coloured points on the map that give points when they are scanned, much like Pokéstops. Munzee also features a bit of art, with ‘virtual gardens’ utilising these virtual markers to make shapes. For example, the Sydney Harbor Munzee map features the Australian Flag.

An offshoot from Munzee, Flagstack is a relatively new kid on the block, starting in July 2015. Again, a wholly virtual game, this game offers flags to capture. The flags can generally only be captured once, but there has been some innovation to include eternal and train station flags that can be captured every 24 hours. Both games have evolved to include a team element, where teams compete to be the number one team in the whole world.

Other apps that have popped up over the years include Resources in late 2014 where players scour the earth to mine locations on the virtual map. Possibly the first of the app based games was BotFighters, which allowed players to be virtual robots, which fight each other based on the locations of the players, which was released in 2002.

While many of these apps are quite new, geocaching has been around for a fair while longer. Starting in May 2000, the first geocache was hidden in Oregon, America.  It involves players using a GPSr to locate containers which were originally primarily hidden in bush locations. Caches must be hidden 161 metres apart, and each cache features a terrain and difficulty rating. The main types include traditional, multi-cache, mystery (puzzle) caches and event caches, where other geocachers can meet each other.

The game initially featured virtual, location-less and webcam caches but these have since been ‘grandfathered’ out of the game. However, this added an extra element for players as they now seek out these rarer elements of the game, there only being very few webcam and virtual caches left in Australia. As the hobby evolved, more geocaches were hidden in urban areas, and there are now more 2.8 million geocaches worldwide. There have been Mega (over 500 attendees) and even Giga (over 5,000 attendees) events, and cachers have even been encourage to Cache-In Trash-Out at CITO events.

Geocaching now features its own paid mobile app, though multiple open source platforms also exist. It’s even old enough to have break-off protest movements, like Geocaching Australia, which allows players to hide caches less than 161 metres apart and heavily features trig points. Geocaching has its own spin-off called Benchmarking, which is popular in America for trig points and other points of interest.

The catch with these hobbies though, is that if you’ve ever wanted to get serious, it requires a good investment. QR Codes cost money to place, and though you can earn some flags through capturing them, you’ll need to buy a few if you hope to go well in team events. If you’d ever thought, “what if I just bought one incubator?” on Pokémon Go however (or even actually did *guilty*), then you’d understand the allure of paying to enjoy your favourite pastime.

The geohobby is here to stay, and after only 17 years, the level of innovation already is exciting. This is definitely a space to watch.

Photo courtesy geocaching.com

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