Who says gaming is only for lazy, basement-dwelling bums or geeky, nerdy, dorky losers? That’s nothing more than a myth that’s long since been debunked. Thanks to the smartphone, gaming is now for everyone.
This includes outdoorsy types who love exploration and adventure.
Using the GPS functionality that’s built into all modern smartphones, you can now walk out the door and start exploring the world — and make a fun game out of it. In fact, dozens of location-based games already exist, and you can start playing most of them right away without paying a single cent.
Geocaching is a scavenger-type activity where users can hide item-filled “caches” wherever they want, then upload the GPS coordinates to the web for others to find. When you find such a cache, you can take an item from it as long as you replace it with something of equal or greater value.
You can browse a listing of nearby caches on the geocaching website or with one of the many geocaching mobile apps. Caches are categorized by size, distance, difficulty, etc. so you can play with the ones that interest you and ignore the rest. The easy ones can even make for a romantic date night activity!
Website — Geocaching (Free)
Geohashing is a Geocaching-inspired activity that gives you a randomized coordinate every day. The randomization uses your current GPS location (so the destination is never too far away) and modifies it with data from the stock market (so the destination always changes).
What’s cool about geohashing is that there’s a small, tight-knit community that you can join if you wish. Every Saturday at 4 PM, members of the XKCD community meet up at that day’s geohash to play games and hang out. It’s a fun way to meet new people no matter your age.
Website — Geohashing (Free)
Geodashing is yet another Geocaching-inspired activity. Whereas Geohashing zooms in and forms communities, Geodashing zooms out and asks you to broaden your horizons. It’s an excellent game for travelers.
Every month, a new set of random coordinates (called “dashpoints”) are generated around the world. Your goal is to visit as many of them as you can between the first and last day of the month. It’s unpredictable every time.
While you can restrict yourself to dashpoints within your country, you’ll need to be careful if venturing outside your borders. We recommend downloading datapoints ahead of time and investing in a dedicated GPS device so you aren’t hit with unexpected roaming data charges.
Website — Geodashing (Free)
This is the last Geocaching-like game on this list, I promise! Waymarking is similar to Geodashing in that it involves visiting unique waymarks around the world, but it’s community-driven rather than randomly generated. As such, there’s a greater feeling of meaning to this game.
A waymark is any GPS coordinate that’s unique and interesting in some way. It could be a monument, a bridge, a themed cafe, a weird natural formation, or the a site of an incident. There are hundreds of categories and thousands of waymarks to explore — enough to last you a lifetime.
Website — Waymarking (Free)
5. Pokemon GO
By now, Pokemon GO needs no introduction. This game went viral in 2016, and though a lot of the hype has died down due to slow updates and poor direction, the community is still thriving and having fun.
The gameplay is simple: when you walk around in the real world, your avatar walks around in the in-game world. You may encounter Pokemon in the wild, and you can capture them by throwing Poke Balls at them. As of this writing, the main goal is to capture all Pokemon species.
If you’ve never played before, start with some tips for Pokemon GO beginners. And while it’s possible to play Pokemon GO on your computer, we don’t recommend it because it can be buggy and doesn’t fully capture the experience of hunting for Pokemon out in the real world.
Here’s something a lot of people still don’t realize: before Niantic created Pokemon GO, they had a similar augmented reality game called Ingress. Pokemon GO might be more mainstream, but many actually prefer Ingress. Unfortunately, both suffer from the developer’s lack of updates and game vision.
Ingress‘s futuristic science-fiction theme has you exploring the world to acquire virtual objects, capture virtual territory, and participate in a faction war. But as in Pokemon GO, your avatar moves in the game as you move in the real world, so the differences are in the smaller details.
Resources is a location-based game that’s similar to Pokemon GO and Ingress. Instead of catching Pokemon or capturing territory, your goal is to explore your surroundings for virtual mineral deposits. You then process those minerals into products, earn money, and upgrade your operations.
In other words, Resources is an economic simulation game. And yes, you are in competition with those around you! Players can attack you, steal your land, and hinder you in other ways. The only thing it lacks is polish. Resources is developed by one person in his free time, so temper your expectations.
Download — Resources for Android (Free)
8. Color Planet
Like Resources, Color Planet is a location-based game centered on the idea of resource collection. Unlike Resources, which always requires GPS, Color Planet allows you to play remotely when you don’t have a connection.
Gameplay involves resource gathering, missions, item trading, and more. The big difference here is that Color Planet encourages cooperation instead of competition. You can compare with neighbors, but you can’t attack. You can also join or create teams to speed up progress.
As you can tell from the screenshots, this isn’t the prettiest of games. It’s a one-man project, after all. If you can get past that, the game itself is pretty fun — but I wouldn’t blame you if you turn your nose up at it.
Download — Color Planet for Android (Free)
9. Turf Wars
Here’s one more game under the category of location-based territory wars. Using GPS, your goal is to claim territory in your area and encroach on the lands of nearby neighbors, all while defending your domain against hostile competitors.
Your progress from street punk to feared mob boss will involve missions, fighting, exploration, and more. But the gameplay can be a bit hit-or-miss, especially if your area is too rural or too urban. Also, starting anew can be frustrating if you have an entrenched power player in your area.
10. Zombies, Run!
Zombies, Run! hits an interesting trifecta that’s rarely seen in games. It has a lot of interesting narratives, the gamified aspects are compelling, and it can successfully get you in shape and keep you that way.
Go outside, launch the game, and start walking while listening to the audio adventure. Soon enough, zombies will be on your tail — and you’ll need to run away. The audio drama incorporates your running speed (based on GPS movement) and there are consequences if you fail.
Each run is a mission that can last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. You’ll want to use earphones, otherwise the audio narratives will be hard to hear and the experience won’t be as immersive as it should be.
A Few Notes on Mobile GPS and Privacy
Over the past few years, people have grown concerned over the use of GPS on their smartphones. The fear is that GPS can be used against you, whether by government agents or malicious hackers. But this fear may be overblown.
In fact, when used properly, GPS can keep you even safer.
There are apps that trace your GPS so that you can be rescued if you’re ever abducted. GPS is also necessary for most anti-theft apps that are designed to help track your phone when it’s lost or stolen. Similarly, you need GPS enabled when tracking children and family members. But if you’re truly worried, modern versions of Android and iOS do allow you to toggle GPS on a per-app basis.
What’s your favorite game to play? Are there any other good GPS-based smartphone games that we missed? Share with us in the comments below!
Image Credit: Kaspars Grinvalds via Shutterstock.com