Online Map Games To Encourage and Engage Your Geographic Awareness

This article showcases some of the interactive maps that are scattered around the Web. They aren’t known for their cartographic excellence by any means. 

However, they are simple games that everyone can play to increase their geographic awareness. Or at least their awareness of political boundary shapes and country and state names. There’s actually a big difference between geographic awareness and knowing these shapes and names, as a matter of fact, but these games at least give people a good nudge in that direction.

Before describing some good interactive map games, it would be prudent to point out that this was probably the most fun article I’ve ever researched (usually games are a means of procrastination not a means of getting work done).

While most articles like this will start with some facts about the woeful state of geographic knowledge existing in the U.S. and then go on to say how shameful it is that we are in such a state of ignorance, this one states some of those statistics and discuss them from a perspective that is not often heard.

Beginning with the statistics, a Roper poll conducted in 2006 of 510 people for National Geographic, and widely cited on the Web, states that: 33% could not locate Louisiana even though this poll was conducted fairly soon after Hurricane Katrina; 60% could not locate Iraq and 75% could not locate Israel on a map of the Middle East; and fewer than 30% feel it is important to know country locations that are in the news.

So here’s where the erudite readers are supposed to be appalled at all these ignoramuses running around claiming that this knowledge is not necessary. This makes me think about Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company. He was on trial once and was incensed at the prosecuting attorney who was trying to establish his general ignorance. To do so, the attorney asked him questions about U.S. history. After one of these questions Ford famously said, "Now, will you kindly tell me, why I should clutter up my mind with general knowledge, for the purpose of being able to answer questions when I have men around me who can supply any knowledge I require?" For better or for worse, the mindset that one can be highly effective even without certain knowledge by relying on others who do have that knowledge, is where many people are coming from when they say that geographic place names are not important to them.

There’s another argument to be said here, and that is the idea that knowing country names is not the same as knowing anything about those countries. A similarity can be drawn with that thought and physicist Richard Feynman’s evaluation of the Brazilian educational system of 1950. Feynman observed the Brazilian students and noticed that all they were doing was memorizing physics facts. When asked to solve a novel physics problem, the students were, for the most part, unable to use their (considerable) rote-knowledge to answer the problem.

So clearly there is more to geographic awareness than some would like to believe. However, learning place names and locations is a very good first-step toward gaining this knowledge. And to that end, the following online games are a great way to obtain it while having fun in the process. Enjoy!

1. MapDuel:

This one may give you a bit of vertigo with all the zooming around, but it is the only one I’ve found with a question / answer format. It covers the whole globe. I did find one glitch. In a bonus question it asked me, "What is the language of this country?" when it was referring to a U.S. state. Be sure to click on the "Where the hell is Matt?" link too.

2. MapGame:

Not a competitive game but the fact that it focuses on Middle Eastern and Northern Africa countries makes it pertinent to current events in that region.

3. States:

To win this game you must type in the names of all 50 states in 10 minutes. It places the name of the state that you’ve just typed in its proper location. Don’t forget Alaska and Hawaii (or New Jersey).

4. 50states:

With this game you have to drag and drop a state shape to where it belongs on a U.S. map. It allows you to get it mostly right via snapping within a certain tolerance. You can compete with others for the best score. 


MapGame – drag the country names on the map

About The Author…

Gretchen N. Peterson writes on the subjects of GIS analysis, cartography and ethics. Ms. Peterson is the owner of the geospatial analysis firm PetersonGIS. You can follow her on Twitter @PetersonGIS

Thanks to Tina Cary (@tinacary on twitter) for this topic idea.

Editor (18230 Posts)

Glenn is a geographer and a GIS professional with over 20 years experience in the industry. He's the co-founder of GISuser and several other technology web publications.

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