Friday, March 02, 2012

Phases of a Geocacher

This past week I read a nice blog written by a nice geocacher about the nice phases of geocaching. This has prompted me to finally post my own "phases of a geocacher" essay that I've been working on for some time. My "phases" essay may be not as nice but it is more realistic, IMHO. Here goes...

Phases of a Geocacher

In my interaction with hundreds of geocachers over the years, I have come to recognize that attitudes, opinions and comments of geocachers are often influenced by what phase they are in during their geocaching timeline progression. Therefore, to better understand a geocacher’s attitudes and motivations, it’s helpful to understand what phase he or she is in. Keep in mind that there is no standard duration for any of these phases. Some geocachers move through the entire continuum in a matter of weeks or months, while others may dwell in a single phase for several years before transitioning to the next.

With no offense intended to anyone in particular, here’s my description of these phases of a geocacher. My thanks to a few geocaching friends who have contributed their ideas to this list.

Pre-geocaching phase, also known as “muggle”
You may own a GPS. You may be a hiker. You may even be a letterboxer. But until you first become aware that there is an organized activity called geocaching with thousands of people taking part, you are quite simply… a muggle. (The term is borrowed from the Harry Potter books. The word “muggle” has spread beyond its Harry Potter origins and is used by many groups to indicate those who are not aware or are lacking in some skill. In 2003, “muggle” entered the Oxford English Dictionary with that definition.)

The Curious Excitement phase
You found the web site or found a geocache by accident, or you were introduced to the sport by a family member, co-worker, neighbor, someone you met on a trail, or by a story in the news media. Your interest level is moderately high because you wonder what it would be like to look for a hidden container and what others will think of your strange behavior. After searching on and printing out a cache listing, you’re ready to go on your first cache hunt.

The Irrational Exuberance phase
The phase begins with your first geocache find. In this phase, unless you were introduced to geocaching by a friend or family member, you have not yet met another geocacher.
            After your first find, the “irrational exuberance” phase either continues or it is squelched. The first find can make or break you. If it was a hum-drum location, you may end your geocaching after that first experience. If it was a great location, a clever hide, an ingenious container, or a memorable geocache for other positive reasons, you’re probably hooked, at least for the short term, and the irrational exuberance phase continues, although it is now somewhat more rational because you now have experienced that geocaching is as fun as you hoped it would be.

The Quest For Recognition (QFR) phase
For many geocachers, the next phase involves a desire to be recognized by the local and/or worldwide geocaching “community.” This phase manifests itself in different ways to different people:

You may become a FTF hound/hog.

You may fall to the dark side and realize It’s All About the Numbers. (Note: These first two behaviors indicate signs of geocaching-obsessive behavior. More about that in a moment.)

You may post long, humorous found-it logs on cache pages to demonstrate how brilliant you are.

You may write multiple, frequent forum postings in the Groundspeak forums and/or on your local geocaching organization website. In these postings, you seek to carve out a niche for yourself by adopting and promoting an idiosyncratic stance on a certain issue. For example you may spread the word about non-Groundspeak geocaching sites such as Terra… Open something... whozit… something (sorry, I never can remember the names of those other sites.)

You may create signature items (including geocoins) that you leave in caches and/or trade with or sell to other geocachers.

You may organize geocaching events.

You may create only mystery/puzzle caches and begin building a mystique surrounding your puzzlemaster geocaching I.D. (which is actually a sock puppet account) by never publicly acknowledging that TonyVargossy77’s alter identity is The Enigma.

You may get a local newspaper or TV reporter to do a story about geocaching that features – who else? – you!

The Flame-out phase. Also known as “My life-changing situation”
At some point, obsessed geocachers arrive at a stark realization: “There are other geocachers who are even more obsessed than I am and therefore I will never be able to reach the pinnacle in my Quest For Recognition (QFR)” For many geocachers, this is a bitter pill to swallow. Of course, while this scenario is the cause of many flame-outs, it is NEVER admitted to be the cause. Instead, the stated cause of the flame-out is one of the following: a) My workload has changed; b) My family situation has changed; c) My knee/back/hip/ankle/shoulder/GPS/car/wife/husband/family gave out/up on me.

In its most severe form, a flame-out is punctuated by a “geocide.” This term refers to a geocacher who publicly disavows geocaches, geocachers and all things geocaching. In effect, he or she commits virtual suicide of his identity and vows in the forums to never return to the forums/logs/events/game again. Although the term “geocide” may imply permanence, the opposite is usually true. Many geocides have been known to last no longer than one day, and many geocachers have been known to commit geocide as many as five or six times… and counting. In these multi-geocide situations, the official forum posting to mark the end of a geocide phase usually begins with “OK, I tried to stay away but there’s just one more thing I want to say.”

The “It’s not about the numbers – No really, I mean it this time” phase
After pursuing the Quest For Recognition phase followed either by a graceful Flame-out or a not-so-graceful Geocide, geocachers generally enter the “It’s not about the numbers – No really, I mean it this time” phase.

The “Rodney King (Can’t we all just get along?)” phase
This phase is evidenced when a geocacher posts a forum message with the central theme of: “Everyone should be allowed to play the game the way he or she wants to.” While this is truly a noble and harmonious sentiment, few geocachers actually believe it. The unspoken truth is that if a geocacher does not play the game exactly the way I do, he or she is either a “newbie” a “FTF hound” a “numbers whore” a “coin maniac” or qualifies for one of a number of other derogatory classifications designed to imply superiority.


Susanna Leonard said...

I'm new to geocaching - but totally loving it! I wrote this blog encouraging others to geocache - what do you think?

IowaAdmin said...

Nice blog, Susanna. It reminded me of the excitement I had when I first discovered geocaching 11 years ago. So I had to smile when I read your comment: “Yeah, I was into that in like, 2012, but at, like, the beginning and not the end.”

tufelhundin said...

Great article. Gave me quite a chuckle. I'm sure I'm somewhere in there. I'm doing a 100-day consecutive caching challenge, on day 23 today. My more experienced geocaching buddy and I just co-created a blog for our local geocaching community. We aren't looking for prestige or anything, we just want to be contributing stewards of the sport in our area. I have your blog listed, because you have some great articles. Thanks for sharing.

GZ Marks the Spot: Morongo Basin Geocache Society

tufelhundin said...

Just an update... today will be consecutive day 148. I'm not sure how far I'm planning on going, but the area I live in will support my going a long way. The High Desert of California, in Morongo Basin, provides a bountiful collection of all types of caches.

additionally, the blog has kind of gone by the wayside for now, unless Facebook ever charges for their services.

Please visit to follow our growing local group. If planning on visiting Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree or Twentynine Palms, CA , check us out first for up to date geocaching events and happenings.



TofLaBeuze said...

I love this post ! That's exactly what you describe, for many players (including me).
Great job and verry funny, thanks :D

TofLaBeuze said...

I finally translated in French this excellent post, of course by referring to this initial post, geocachers from France love it ! Thanks IowaAdmin.