Why Globle’s Online Geography Game Was a Hard Puzzle to Create

The geography quiz World was a product of midlife boredom, its popularity a happy side effect.

While working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, 26-year-old Abe Train from Toronto decided to study web development, quit his corporate job and try something new. Inspired after the simple online word game Wordle gained popularity in January, Train created an impersonator just to practice his skills.

The rules of Globle are simple: “Every day there is a new Mystery Country. Your objective is to discover the mystery land using the fewest guesses. Each incorrect guess will appear on the globe with a color indicating its proximity to the Mystery Land. If the mystery country is Germany and you guess China, China appears in pale beige on the globe, indicating that the correct answer is far away. A guess from France – getting closer! — appears in dark red. Winning requires a pretty decent knowledge of the names of the world’s nearly 200 countries, an idea of ​​where they are and, just as important, who their neighbors are.

As in life, learning from the wrong answers is a key part of finding the right ones, and to Train’s surprise, many people have decided that his homemade practice project is an easy way to brush up on their geography. After gaining traction on Reddit and then Twitter, Globle now averages between 1.3 million and 1.4 million players per day, according to Train, who declined to place ads on the game. come from teachers,” Train said. “Once in a while, I get something like, ‘Thank you from seventh-grade geography class to such-and-such, Virginia.'”

But in the process of creating the game to practice his web skills, Train learned something else he didn’t expect: many national borders are in different places for different people, and creating a single world map for a universal web audience. is so politically charged that some tech giants have long since given up trying.

“Anyone trying to make a map on a global scale runs into this problem,” said Sterling Quinn, an associate professor of geography at Central Washington University who studies digital maps and society. Since the days of paper maps and desktop globes, countries and cartographers have disagreed over sovereignty and the location of borders. Digital maps just made these arguments more, well, global.

Microsoft’s Windows 95 was originally banned in india because the OS’s world map depicted the Kashmir region as disputed rather than as belonging to India. In 2009, Google establishes its own logic to navigate disputes on Google Maps, writing in a blog post: “In all cases, we strive to represent ‘ground truth’ as ​​accurately and neutrally as possible.” In some cases, this involved pluralizing the map viewing experience by “providing multiple claim lines (e.g. Syrian and Israeli lines on the Golan Heights), multiple names (e.g. two names separated by a slash: “Londonderry / Derry”), or clickable links policy annotations with brief descriptions of the issues.

But Google has also created more than 30 different “localized” maps to reflect the preferences – and laws – of local nations. Different users, different cards. Different maps, different realities. Google Maps is all the rage in India in 2010 by describing place names in the Tibet-bordering state of Arunachal Pradesh in Chinese, as Chinese users might wish to see the disputed area. It was a technical error but one rooted in the very real differences between nations.

“There was an interesting period where you would see these companies, at least Google and Microsoft, posting a few statements on their blogs about how they were resolving border disputes,” Quinn said. “Perhaps there was some desire that there was a one size fits all to choose which is the most appropriate border, perhaps based on international courts of justice. … But in the end it was more commercially viable to personalize the cards or make them ambiguous.

Globle, being so new and being the product of a guy who decided to do a geography quiz, relives some of those same challenges, except in game form. Like any good game developer, Train felt the pressure fans to get Globle right and, like its predecessors, to continue to iterate on its project in better, more accessible versions.

Border bugs, if you could call them that, came early. For example, the open-source dataset that Train borrowed from the Github hosting service to create its game’s globe came with country data. It was only after the launch that he noticed that the data showed that the disputed Crimean peninsula in Ukraine belonged to its current occupier, Russia. (“I spoke to my brother who has spent time in Russia and knows the area well, and he was like, ‘Yeah, you should probably change it,'” Train said.) Other countries , like Singapore, were not even included. .

Train dumped the dataset for a more reputable set in the public domain, called natural earth, but user complaints kept piling up. Games change log on GitHub reads like the diary of someone advancing their technical skills between votes at the United Nations.

Edition 1.1.0. Feb 4: “Fixed centering logic for automatic viewpoint switching for some countries, including Fiji.” “Reduced aggressive auto-zoom when clicking on a country.” “Get Crimea from Russia to Ukraine. Combined from Greenland to Denmark.

Version 1.2.0, Feb 13: “Removed the zoom limit when recentering. Fixed a bug that disrupted the order of guesses when refreshing. “Added ‘territories’ to the game, which appear in a neutral color when their sovereign country is guessed Restructured Greenland, French Guiana and Puerto Rico into territories.

Version 1.4.0, March 21: “Changed sharing message to remove URL and include emojis and hashtag. Created new territories for Kaliningrad, Canary Islands, Western Sahara, Martinique and New Caledonia. Adjusted Cyprus borders to include Northern Cyprus.

Train decided he needed a rational framework to adjudicate geopolitical disputes, so he turned to the guide created by the quiz site Sporcle to rationalize its Country of the World Quiz. (Train also credits Sporcle as an inspiration for Globle.)

The Sporcle guide itself, while trying to establish consistent rules, sets out a series of trade-offs between measures: “Universal recognition is NOT a valid litmus test: we cannot wait for unanimity,” says the Sporcle Guide. “If we did, South Korea, North Korea, Israel, Cyprus, Armenia and the People’s Republic of China would all be excluded from the quiz.”

The guide also decided that membership of the UN was too restrictive, because until 2002 it would have excluded Switzerland, deemed neutral. Thus, the Sporcle standard recognizes UN member states as well as Vatican City, Kosovo, Taiwan and Palestine as countries, based on some degree of international recognition or clear autonomy.

When players realize that Globle recognizes a country they don’t want recognized or doesn’t represent a border accurately, they sometimes complain to Train, who is anxious about the responsibility of assessing their concerns and playing arbiter. “I’m just changing a few international borders, that’s okay,” Train said nervously.

As a developer, technical issues can be fun to solve. When it comes to creating a digital dash or figuring out how to calculate the distance between polygonal boundaries of a sphere, “I can quickly tell there’s a good answer here,” Train said. “As soon as I know something can be solved, it’s just a matter of work.”

But when it comes to which government has sovereignty over a disputed territory, “geopolitical issues can’t really be resolved. Everything is a compromise, and you try to find the best compromise,” Train said. “It’s certainly more difficult in the areas that matter most.”

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