The average person really struggles with geography. Just ask an American to point out where they live on a map. But those with a competitive side — or an appreciation for detail and strategy — can master the field with simple software and a hell of a lot of practice.
GeoGuessr, a browser game in which the player is shown street-view imagery and tries to deduce what part of the world they’re looking at, has been around since 2013. It made a viral splash upon debut, then engagement fell off, leaving the platform with a small but devoted fandom. Following COVID-19 lockdowns, however, GeoGuessr’s popularity rebounded thanks in part to its globe-trotting escapism, and popular streamers played on their channels, driving another spike in users. The game now features battle modes, including head-to-head duels.
Also, within the past few months, the map challenge has gained a full-time influencer in 23-year-old Trevor Rainbolt, aka “Georainbolt,” whose dizzying TikTok videos have racked up 16.5 million likes since October. From context clues, he can identify any region in an instant.
There’s a ton of information Rainbolt takes in from the photography he sees, including license plates, road signs, climate, vegetation and even the blurriness of the visual. (Here’s a good thread explaining some tricks he uses.) Yet his skills are no less confounding when explained. Said one player on Reddit’s r/geoguessr forum, “I asked him once how he was able to determine Belgium after like a half second with [zero] moving and he said ‘architecture.’ The only thing in frame was a shed.”
Indeed, Rainbolt is so good he can accurately call a location while blindfolded, with someone else describing what’s on the screen. It’s uncanny.
Rainbolt has drawn an audience with not only this prowess but a dry sense of humor — his videos are sometimes jokingly edited to suggest he has no social life — and more comprehensive investigations, like this clip where he nails down a remote stretch of Icelandic highway featured in a music video. But while he’s one of the more famous GeoGuessr savants, even he acknowledges he’s not the best. Here he loses a hard-fought battle against a rival called “Geostique,” whom Rainbolt says is considered the top player worldwide.
Geostique, for his part, keeps a relatively low profile even while making some of the most mind-blowing guesses you’ll ever witness. In the third round of the video below, he’s off by less than 200 meters after an incredibly quick analysis. But he doesn’t reveal himself, talk you through the process or include self-deprecating humor, so his content is relatively little-watched.
A silent assassin, you might say.
While some detractors say the map hacks aren’t as difficult as they seem, others are horrified by the implications for privacy and surveillance. After all, if Rainbolt can figure out what country he’s in based on a 0.1-second glimpse of Google Street View, imagine what a government intelligence agency — or random cyberstalker — could learn from the stuff you share online.
Personally, I’m going to try not to think about it, as I’ve got enough on my plate. We’ll just have to hope these guys are satisfied with playing for fun and not on a CIA recruitment list. As long as they continue to post regularly on TikTok and YouTube, we can trust them… right?