Ch. 11: Geocaching and Stories
Chapter 11: The Geocacher As Placemaker: Remapping Reality Through Location-Based Mobile Gameplay
by Ben S. Bunting, Jr.
By linking players’ movements in the physical world to their accomplishments in virtual gameworlds, location-aware mobile games (LBMGs) have quite literally added a new dimension to in-game storytelling. Exploding the traditional boundaries of the TV screen and computer monitor, LBMGs allow a game’s story to extend beyond the virtual. For example, during a gameplay session, the local Starbucks might become the site for a battle with an enemy wizard, or a lonely tree on the horizon might turn out to be the final resting place of a pair of star-crossed lovers murdered by a jealous prince. After the game is over, such resonances remain with the player, effectively mingling gameplay with everyday life. This meshing of the virtual and the physical is exemplified in the LBMG, geocaching and, specifically, the geocaching-based game University of Death. Ultimately, I argue that LBMGs represent the possibility for more engaging in-game narratives as well as more meaningful player-directed explorations of gameworlds by virtue of their ability to blur the line between the physical and the virtual.
This assignment asks students to design their own hypothetical geocache based on their personal place knowledge and then submit a written version of their geocache’s description and a short reflective piece explaining why they made the design decisions that they did. By designing a geocache and then reflecting on their creative process, students will engage directly in two important activities theorized in “The Geocacher As Placemaker.” First, they will be choosing a place experience that they personally value and exploring why that place experience is meaningful to them. Second, they will be trying to share that meaning with others through the creation of a physical artifact meant to draw players to their chosen location.
This assignment can be thought of as having three parts. First, students should decide what place or place experience they would most prefer to share with others through the experience of searching out a geocache as described in “The Geocacher As Placemaker.” At this point in the process, it might be helpful to browse www.geocaching.com, especially pages for particular caches located near your hometown, college, etc., in order to see what players have already created and how those creations are linked to specific places or are meant to communicate one person’s experiences to others. Some examples:
- “The Anniversary Cache” not only leads players to a location of significance to the author, but also requests that they add written accounts of their own to the contents of the cache, creating a log not just of names but also of experiences (http://www.geocaching.com/seek/cache_details.aspx?guid=3fa40b32-0cc3-46a7-9f0a-d3077732dfc1).
- “Wreck at the Petry” is one of the caches mentioned in the article’s narrative introduction, a cache that leads the player to a rusted-out chassis of an early-1900s car that would likely remain hidden out of sight to the casual walker (http://www.geocaching.com/seek/cache_details.aspx?guid=c295c4ad-a846-4bc7-bf0c-6e1ccd5aa7f2).
- “Universityofdeath Start” is the “start menu” cache mentioned in the article (http://www.geocaching.com/seek/cache_details.aspx?guid=1e78f0d0-fa91-43a2-b8a3-22cfc9093c9e).
Once you’ve decided on a place you’d like to share via your geocache, you’ll need to decide on the details of the physical cache itself. Again, you can consult www.geocaching.com to see what exactly goes into making a cache description page, but the basics are:
- Name: Like a paper title, this should be descriptive of the cache’s contents while getting players’ attention.
- Difficulty: Where, very specifically, do you intend to place the cache? Based on this placement, how difficult will the cache itself be to find? Are you going to emphasize the ludic aspect of the search by making it well-hidden, or do you just want to draw players to the place you’ve chosen, with the finding of the cache itself an easy afterthought? Provide a “star” rating just like on the website and include a brief paragraph describing why you think this rating is appropriate.
- Size: How large will your cache be? This plays into the considerations I mention under “Difficulty”: larger caches will generally be easier to find, smaller ones harder. On the other hand, larger caches can hold more contents, such as other players’ artifacts, written submissions, photos, etc. Provide a rating using the scale provided on the website and include a brief paragraph describing why you think this rating is appropriate.
- Terrain: How hard physically is your cache to get to? Does finding it involve climbing a mountain or just walking down a sidewalk? This also plays into “Difficulty” but also serves as a notice for those that might find navigating steep or challenging terrain to be dangerous or even impossible (disabled, children, the elderly, etc.). Provide a “star” rating just like on the website and include a brief paragraph describing why you think this rating is appropriate.
- Latitude/Longitude: You can find the coordinates of a location by simply searching for it on Google Maps. Or you can go there physically and use a GPS-enabled mobile phone or similar device.
- Description: Again, here you want to weigh the ludic part of geocaching against your desire to share your chosen place with players. How important is it for players to focus on the cache’s contents and/or the meaning of its location? If you want the search to be a challenging one, don’t give too much away in the description. Your description should be at least 150 words.
Finally, after drafting your geocache description, write a two-page, double-spaced reflection on the cache creation process. You should include at least two direct references to ideas presented in the article (with citations) and at least consider these questions:
- Why did you choose the location you did?
- What do you hope that other people will get out of searching for your cache at this particular location?
- Why did you choose the cache size that you chose?
- Why did you make the find as easy/difficult as you did?
Again, these questions are meant to be starting points for your reflection. What I want you to focus on in this piece is why you made the design decisions that you made. How were those decisions effected by the fact that your cache is located in a place of personal significance and meaning? How were those decisions effected by the fact that you were, ultimately, creating a personalized game piece in a game that might potentially be shared by hundreds or thousands of strangers?
Image from Alex Schweigert on Flickr (used under Creative Commons).
 Depending on class size, availability of technology, etc., this assignment could be less hypothetical and more literal. That is, students could actually create real geocaches, place them, register them on www.geocaching.com, and so on.
 Registering for a free account on the site will allow students to see more details about each particular cache; however, this assignment can certainly be completed without creating an account and the basic details of caches on the site are visible to unregistered visitors.
 Length of the reflection should be altered as appropriate.
 I suggest a ratio of one citation of the article per each page of writing required.