Sporcle is probably my favorite cartographic game site of all time. Not that I know that many…but it’s ridiculously addictive. The premise of these games is simple: name all the states, countries, rivers, etc. in some geographic region before the time runs out.
They are super popular. This one has been played nearly 15 million times.
I understand that naming places under the stress of a time limit doesn’t sound like the most fun ever, but just try it! I find myself playing the games over and over until I can complete the task. And by the time I complete it, I can name things like all of the capitals in Africa. When I use Google Maps, I tend to not spatially understand where I am or where I am going. I focus on how long it takes to get from A to B. Sporcle makes geographic literacy really, really fun.
Sporcle is especially entertaining when competing against other people. While writing this, I got distracted as other interns and I started playing Name all 47 Countries of Europe. One of the other interns, Katie, slayed me. The Baltic states were my downfall.
While you’re improving your map skills, it’s important to remember that cartographic literacy is not the only way to have geographic knowledge; geography is far broader than knowing where things are on a map. More important is the ability to understand the relationships (in any region or at any scale) between people and land or people and people. A map is an incredibly complex representation and simplification of Place. Sporcle is a great first step to understanding the complexity of the world and its maps.
Will Matsuda is a fall intern at National Geographic Education doing social media, stuff with the blog, and dabbling in the photo studio. He has produced the new #TeachNatGeo series on our blog.