Eight ways geocaching is similar to MMO gaming

My geocaching kit: bug spray, flashlight, notepad, pens, business cards, trinkets collected and trinkets to give out.

I’m still very much hooked on the concept and activity of geocaching, even though I don’t seem to have as much time to do it as I’d like.  Still, I’ve been jumping into it at least a couple times a week now, and my cache find is up to 15.

Some readers have asked me what my thoughts on the connection between geocaching and MMO gaming are, and I actually have many.  My conclusion is that if you’re an MMO gamer, this is right up your alley, here’s why:

1. You use a computer

At a bare minimum, you need a smartphone or GPS device — both computers in the technical sense — to participate in geocaching.  It’s a high-tech hobby that wouldn’t have been possible more than a decade ago, but now is accessible to anyone with a smartphone app that shows GPS coordinates (or better yet, the official Geocaching app) or a GPS device.

2. You go on quests

Each geocache site is a quest unto itself.  And here’s the thing: No two are alike.  Some are exceedingly easy to find, some are so difficult I’ve stomped out of locations after a half-hour of fruitless searching, and some have fallen prey to weather or vandals.  You really never know what you’re going to get.  Geocachers as a whole seemed the most delighted when a cache is hidden cleverly so that it does take some thought and searching, but it is ultimately obtainable.

While many MMO quests front-load the story, the story with geocaching happens as you go on the quest.  It can often be a journey just to get to where the place is, to figure out if your GPS is working correctly, and to decifer hints and clues left behind by the creator.  It’s true player-generated content that’s everywhere, and it’s awesome.

3. You have an inventory

While you only need a pen and a GPS device to go geocaching, myself and many other geocachers put together a small kit to take with us on our adventures.  While some geocaches are right off paths and main roads, some require some bushwacking, and it’s a good idea to have some bug spray, a flashlight, and a first aid kit on hand.  Plus, my “inventory” bag contains some business cards I made up to leave at caches as well as trinkets to exchange.  I’m planning to store the trinkets I find in a box until my kids get older, then have them go on a treasure hunt to find it.

4. You interact with strangers

Geocaching is weird in that you often don’t bump into fellow adventurers, yet you still interact with them all the time through the website and the cache logs.  It’s cool to know that others do this and to feel part of a larger community.  I’ve even heard of teams of geocachers that get together for weekly or monthly hunts, so I’ll have to check that out.

5. It requires exploration, puzzle-solving, and orienteering

MMOs may be mostly about killing these days, but that’s not all they have to offer.  The better ones do emphasize exploring and puzzle-solving as side activities for when the bloodbath becomes too much.  Geocaching has very little killing (okay, none), but it definitely evokes the same feeling of venturing off a beaten trail in an MMO and finding cool places that few others know.  Some of the caches not only require a sharp eye to find, but the smarts to solve a puzzle that unlocks coordinates or locking mechanisms.

6. There are achievements

Geocaching is on the honor system (there really isn’t much of a reason to cheat, anyway), and while the site does list how many caches you’ve found, that number doesn’t represent the difficulty or sometimes epic adventures you’ve undertaken to get them.  However, there is a rudimentary achievement system in place on the app that does give you pats on the back for, say, finding your first geocache in any given state or country.

7. There are quest rewards

Many caches are too small to hold anything other than a rolled-up piece of paper, but there are several that are larger and can accommodate trinkets.  While most of these are practically worthless, it’s really cool to have a physical sign that you did find this cache.  Collecting the trinkets is part of the experience for me, and it feels a bit like the fun of quest rewards in MMOs.

8. You can do it in bite-sized chunks or marathons

As with MMO gaming these days, I have the option to splurge on a few hours of engaging in this hobby or to just do a little bit at a time.  Sometimes I only grab a quick five-minute geocache if I happen to be in the area, but I also have been going out on Saturday afternoons in 2-4 hour blocks to try to get a whole bunch at once.  I’ve been partying up with friends and family members as well, which is a lot more fun (and more eyes makes finding the caches easier!).

14 thoughts on “Eight ways geocaching is similar to MMO gaming

  1. This is SO COOL. I’d never heard of geocaching before. Ultimately the area I live in probably has too low of a population to support it. *sigh*

  2. @clumsygrrrl Just follow that link above to the Geocaching.com site and put in your zip code, you will be amazed how many might show up in your area. Of course if you live in say Greenland then I take my comment back 🙂

  3. I like #3 – taking trinkets & business cards with you to exchange when (if? 🙂 you find the cache. Given that Geocaching is on the honor system, if you find an empty cache do you leave a trinket there anyway, even if there was nothing there for you to switch out?

  4. Why hast thou forsaken me?

    My fiance is hooked on geocaching. Just this morning I was went out with her, after much bugging and promising to let me play some Diablo III in peace.

    It’s not my thing, it involved going outside, and there are bugs, and sunlight, and pollen, and people. But she loves it, she’s competing against her dad, and it’s a way for them to connect.

    Plus she needs me for the extra foot of height to reach some, along with me just being more observant and finding them more often.

    So now she’s seen your little article here and I’m doomed to do many more geocaching quests with her.

  5. really cool article; i’ve heard of geo caching before but completely forgot about it. i definitely see the parallels between this hobby and mmo/rpg gaming. this could be a fun twist to add to an otherwise normal family hike etc.

  6. We are newbies to Geocaching but I must say my 4yo son and I are enjoing all the adventures and discivering the hidden treasures. I have even started my own Geocaching website to help other newbies. It is in its early days but I am sure it will grow with our quests. Happy “hunting”

  7. Oh my gosh! There are some in the town where I live … we have a population of under 300.

  8. I know this is a few days late, but just saw the story.

    My wife and I have done some geocaching with our sons. We started it when we had 3, but kind of stopped when she got pregnant with the 4th. it kind of goes with the hicking that we like to do. However, it is more rewarding for young children then just walking from one place to another.

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