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January 2, 2017 12:18 AM   Subscribe

I want to spend more time geeking out about maps, urban geography, trains, and otherwise entertaining the spatial part of my brain! What are some hobbies/games/projects/apps/etc. to try?

My apologies for a somewhat vague question! Some details that might help: Of all the various ways I waste time on the Internet, one of my favorites is pulling up Google Maps to see how cities and neighborhoods are laid out. I also really enjoy watching train cab videos like this one, looking up the routes on wikipedia and then exploring the different stops again using Google Maps.

I think the pleasure I get out of this is all about learning context, bringing a bunch of puzzle pieces together, and getting oriented. I'm not really a completist or detailed-oriented about things like this - for example, I've never been able to get into level creator tools in video games. But I do love roaming around open world games and getting a feel for the vibe in different areas - my favorite game of all time is Shenmue, if you know it.

My goal is really just to find a hobby or new game or tool that is really fun and immersive and maybe lets me learn some new skills, and again skews more to the context/experiential side of map viewing/space exploring rather than the detail completist side. I'm learning to program right now and would definitely be open to a more programming-specific approach, or an IRL hobby of some kind (maybe there's a way to combine journaling/mapmaking with something like hiking and birding?), or a video game (PC), or something entirely unexpected! (Oh also, I tried Geocaching once and liked it, but it also felt a little cumbersome, possibly because the cache was in a No Trespassing part of a park..) I'm open to any type of suggestion that will help me spend a few more hours per week in this happy map exploration part of my brain.

posted by elephantsvanish to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Orienteering. There are clubs all over and it's really fun.
posted by fshgrl at 12:42 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

posted by jrobin276 at 1:29 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]

Yes, this reads like you were trying to describe orienteering and just couldn't remember the word!

If you have elementary school aged children in your life, it's pretty fun to draw maps for them, especially attached to a little scavenger hunt where they solve one clue to the next with your map of their house/yard/neighborhood. It'll exercise your map brain and help teach map skills to kids.

You also make like puzzling over floor plans. Scratches the same itch for me. A lot of real estate listings have them, so I look for interesting houses and check. You can also scroll through website of home plans to build, and historic plans (Pinterest has some good aggregated collections). The NYPL has floor plans for dozens of historic apartment buildings online; Chicago's library has a lot of sales brochures for the buildings posted (with plans).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:15 AM on January 2

Mini Metro is a pared-down subway system sim game that may tick some of your boxes. It's a good spatial puzzle but maybe too minimalist to be immersive.

For something more hands-on & hobbylike, have you tried building a sextant?
posted by miles per flower at 5:44 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]

You can look into table top strategy and roleplaying games, and maybe try your hand at making some maps/floor plans or scenarios based on real-world locations.
posted by Harald74 at 5:59 AM on January 2

I agree that you could be a very fun Ingress player. To play you need a smartphone and a willingness to walk or drive from place to place. It involves learning the locations lots of little publicly-accessible spots in your usual sphere and figuring out ways of drawing triangles between them to get points for your team. There are lots of spots in cities and also lots out in the woods, so it's a nice mix depending on what you like to do. People who get nerdy about getting the maximum number of points for their team do a lot of what you are describing. (Oh also: green team best team.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:59 AM on January 2

Contributing to OpenStreetMap; you'll find some detail that you'll enjoy adding, and you'll learn more about how things are mapped and join together
posted by scruss at 6:28 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]

You could learn GIS and make your own maps, however detailed or not.
Resources for learning GIS for free.

This old AskMeFi thread has some ideas in it.

My students who are not quite ready for real GIS have a lot of fun with Google Earth. If you've never played with it, it's way more fun than Google Maps.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:49 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]

2nding OpenStreetMap; here's a good beginner's guide.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 6:51 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

Study cartography. Find out how maps are made from topography. How do they get the frilly bits of a coastline right on a map?

Create maps. If your interest is in real facts and real neighbourhoods then recreate real facts and real neighbourhoods. You could, for example create a map of a city area you live in and overlay it with hidden infrastructure data that is usually not included, such as power lines, underground cables and ducts, individual bus routes, unmarked ambulance routes and so on. If you are more creative you could start with a real map and personalize it with the data that is important to you, that only stands out because of its importance to you: The bagel shop, that big moving company sign on the corner, the place where the soccer ball went into the swamp, good intersections you don't mind going through and bad intersections which require you to take a risk. Or, if you are especially creative start designing your own fully imagined maps, beginning with a map of an area that has not been developed and progress with it as it gets developed until it is heavily in use. Create multiple versions bad ones, where the area is grim, and good ones where the area is ideal.

These imaginary maps can be shared with tabletop role players. An imaginary map of a contemporary city could be used as the setting of a vampire or a action thriller or superhero game.

Look into house plans and architecture. If the book of 101 affordable bungalow plans is too simple for you schematics and architectural plans of the mega-towers in Dubai and Indonesia could be fascinating, as well as the entire lay out of Versailles and the Forbidden City, interiors as well as exteriors.

Look into Celtic design, like step patterns and knotwork and learn how to analyze the patterns, how they repeat, or reverse, express symmetry or unsymmetry. Learn how to draw them yourself on graph paper.

Adapt a game like Minecraft to create virtual world maps, and layouts within the game, where you design the layout of buildings and figure out all the connections and ducts and things to power a complex with solar panels. To do this you will need a good mod pack such as FTB that offers much more scope than the vanilla version. Play on peaceful. Creative Mode will give you infinite building supplies, but Survival Mode set to peaceful means you don't have to bother with combat while restricting you to only the world generated resources and will have to continuously replenish them which means laying railroad tracks to travel quickly to resource locations, and sinking mine shafts. Creative Mode will allow you scope for hugely complex enormous designs, but Survival Mode will require you to work with what you are given providing you with real-world type of constraints. However, as you progress you can build machines and machine complexes that generate resources, such as mechanized lumber farming, and the mechanize production of sand, gravel and cobblestone. Since you say that actually putting all this together is not your thing, get onto an open server that already has vast and detailed construction and explore how it is laid out and why.

Look up virtual tours on the internet and take them. Some of them allow you to explore and direct where you go. Others merely filmed the path someone else took. I've encountered various ones of these, frequently historical, such as Pompeii.

Look for maps to colour.

Look into mazes.

Go to places that are designed for you to explore such as Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, and wander around in them, not just look at the map like this one. Sometimes film sets are left up after the show has finished filming as tourist locations. Look for those.

Look for maps that go with virtual places you have been. Have you seen the show WestWorld? There might be maps. Probably not since the show is relatively new, but someone somewhere will have made maps based on other popular shows or movies. You might find a map of Dibley, or of St. Mary's Mead, or the Shire or of the city depicted in Blade Runner, or of Coronation Street.

Explore with a young child or as if you were one, roughly around age six to twelve. Let them do the wandering. They don't keep to sidewalks the way adults do and learning the shortcuts in a neighbourhood is a badge of pride and competence. They will help you learn the more interesting routes you missed, such as up lanes, and through apartment complexes on foot and the hole in the fence at the back of the parking lot and what's behind the mall, and the only two places where you can cross the drainage ditch.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:31 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]

Ken Jennings, the Jeopardy! Guy, wrote a book about various map-related interests. It was both an enjoyable book and an introduction to several hobbies that might interest you.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:20 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]

I think you would enjoy GeoGuessr. It's a game where you are randomly dumped into some part of the world via Google StreetView, and you must infer where you are based on the information around you. The closer you are, the more points you get.

There's also Map Crunch, which many folks use for self-guided games of "get to the airport" or "get to a friend's house." Map Crunch usually starts you somewhere interesting. A user describes the set-up for the mode here.

If you enjoy this sort of thing, there are other geodata games to look into.
posted by zeee at 8:36 AM on January 2 [7 favorites]

I'm not sure if this will scratch your itch, but it scratches mine: http://weeklymap.org Weekly map quizzes with clues during the week.

Also, I have not played this, but it seems an interesting way to do maps without going outside. https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2016/12/19/virtual-o-review-early-access/
posted by Maastrictian at 8:44 AM on January 2

Volunteer! Missing Maps
posted by jshort at 10:24 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

I really enjoy using the Marine Traffic app to look at ships near me...it tells where they're coming from and where they're going, and it's kind of satisfying to watch them on their journeys. If you live near a big body of water with a lot of shipping boats it's neat to check in on the ones you've seen.

I also really enjoy Pocket Planes. It's a game where you have an airline, build airports, and send your planes on different jobs. It's kind of satisfying to watch your planes travelling all over the country in the same way the ship app is interesting.
posted by christinetheslp at 10:51 AM on January 2

You didn't ask for books, but I'd also throw John R. Stilgoe's Outside Lies Magic onto the table here as a good companion for a range of outdoor explorations (US in particular). It's a short nonfiction book of smart observation & historical detail on powerlines, motels, railroads, highways, fences, frontage roads, etc., with strong encouragements to jump fences & go look at stuff. Not specifically about maps but very much about why the built landscape is the shape it is.
posted by miles per flower at 5:08 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Geocaching!
posted by bluesky78987 at 11:08 AM on January 4

Here's an excellent collection of games suitable for "games tourism", "playing a game with the primary aim of exploring its world, without engaging in any active conflict such as combat or stealth. Whether conflict is bypassed with cheats, mods, or built-in functionality, the aim is to refocus attention on the game's architecture, aesthetics, storytelling, and atmosphere. Feel free to think of it as a form of art modding or glitching."
posted by lhall at 3:38 PM on January 6

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