A postmodern puzzle

There’s only one article that I am aware of which looks at geocaching with cultural lenses, so I’ll offer a more detailed read of it. Christele Boulaire and Bernard Cova, two marketing scholars, analyse the creation and development of geocahing as a game that is used by adults to create a ludic space at the fringes of society. They understand geocaching as “a postmodern game, a tribe, experiences, emotions, narratives, passions, rituals, a whole parallel universe created and sustained by its players”*

I put together a Flickr set to illustrate this “postmodern bricolage” which geocaching really is – feel free to browse through it before or after reading this post :)

The authors affirm that this playful universe requires a liminoid zone to exist, meaning that the game is situated outside everyday life, but lacks formal boundaries and transitional stages. This situation is linked to the condition of the postmodern subject, whose complex and fragmented life is reflected in a frequent desire to escape of routine and quotidian life. However, as observed by Boulaire and Cova, sometimes individuals become so immersed in the game that they allow it to become something else, something serious, a regular part of daily life, so that it no longer works as an escape zone (and that’s my next post!). While geocaching is conceived to make the treasure hunt possible in within the constraints of everyday life, and the fantasy accessible in terms of time, difficulty levels, resources, location, challenge, and immediate gratification, it also facilitates the transformation of the game into an ordinary activity, a routinely, serious hobby.

Boulaire and Cova refer to the concept of “ludic agency” to explain players’ capacity of total immersion in a game while keeping the ability to exit from it and to alternate phases of play and non-play. With the maintenance of the contrast between play and non-play, value is constantly added to the game. The authors also look at the role of the Internet in contributing to the quick dissemination of new possibilities for the game and simultaneously increasing the impact of new rules and additions to the activity. Similarly to other games which largely depend on the internet to develop, geocaching is interactive, open, participatory and collective. Boulaire and Cova highlight these characteristics and understand online interactions between players as attempts to expand and constantly develop the game. The authors observe that with an exponentially increasing number of caches, managing them becomes time consuming and demands more technological capabilities. Therefore, the continuance and maintenance of the game require that some players make a central life activity of it or, at least, be willing to work in order to improve parts of it. Isn’t this interesting?

Looking at the narratives present in online texts available on websites dedicated to geocaching, Boulaire and Cova conclude that geocaching is an ongoing narrative to which all players contribute as part of a “collective of production-consumption”. Focusing on discourses, they describe the neologisms created by players as examples of bricolage. Other salient post-modern traits of the activity are, as pointed by the authors, the reinvention and repurposing of items; and the bridging between opposites (for example outdoors and indoors, offline and online). Boulaire and Cova suggest that geocaching also bridges indifference (play) with responsibility (maintenance of the game). It links children and adults (or the child and the adult in one’s self); loneliness and togetherness; nature and advanced technologies; objects and subjects; past (treasure hunts) and present (location-based games). All these characteristics conflate into three different liminoid zones: experimental theatres, narrative forests, and home ports, in which the “fire of the game” is kept alive by the collective of players.

So you geocachers out there, do you think this is a fair description of the game? Why? Speak up :)

*All quotes in this post are my liberal translation, since the article is originally in French