What Does a Smiley Represent?

CR began a thread on big green asking simply, What does a smilie mean to you?. It is indeed a loaded question, but one that stems from many recent threads.

For me, the smiley represents Groundspeak’s influence on the game. Allow me to explain. A smiley is associated with the online part of the game. When one posts a Found It! log, he has a smiley placed next to his log. This is how Groundspeak has determined to recognize a found cache. For each smiley, Groundspeak also increases one’s find count by one. For a company that has stated over and over that geocaching is not competitive, it has refused to remove this meaningless statistic.

Despite Groundspeak’s claim, among the thousands who log caches on their site there are many who are competitive in the game. These folks use the one statistic that is calculated for them (the found count) as a measure. But the rules governing the competition are non-existent. Is the one with the most smileys the leader?

Most, I suspect, would agree that if one finds a cache, signs the logbook, and then submits an online Found It! log, he has successfully found a cache. The problem arises when all those conditions are not met. For instance, what if a cacher seeks a cache, but doesn’t find it? Are there any circumstances where that is considered a find? What if the cacher who has more smileys than any others logs a Found It! log on a cache that was not found? Does that nullify the ranking?

What about these circumstances I wrote about in February?

Add to it that Groundspeak, while claiming the game is about finding physical boxes, adds a smiley for virtual caches, locationless caches, and attending events.

It is quite easy to point out that folks approach geocaching differently. eCache has defined many of the facets of the game the way I play it. By no means does that mean everyone subscribes to my methods. As a matter of fact, many do not. That has not stopped others from ranking my performance against all others. How? Just look at any of the ranking sites. It began with Dan’s way back when. It continues today with the others. Rankings mean so much to folks that I was e-mailed by a local cacher before I ever met him telling me that I should log locationess caches to increase my find count. That I never did on my primary account made the statement that I did not consider them to be the same as the ammo box in the woods.

Now add to it that some cache owners permit multiple Found It! logs to be submitted. Obviously, we are not all counting in the same manner.

It goes deeper than the ranking sites. Folks place status upon those with more smileys than others. That has been my experience locally too.

Having witnessed and been part of some situations where folks claimed finds when the above criteria were not met, I found that some approach the game from a point of maximizing the smileys and not from some other point. Events were posited as a means to increase find counts. I mentioned locationless caches above. I was part of a group that decided to split up to seek two different caches. Using FRS radios, the one group found one cache and the other group found the second. All four names were signed to both logs, despite the fact that only two found them. This bothered me so much I made the 90 minute drive to correct the situation for me.

Another time a cacher requested me to sign the log for the cache while he sat in the car. He claimed the find nonetheless. We were part of a caravan another time where the first car slowed down and pointed to a road sign. I snapped a blurry photograph of a sign that contained the information needed to log the find. The car never stopped, we never saw the information, and my photograph could not be used to discern what was to be logged. Again, this cache was logged.

These are obvious exceptions to finding a cache.

Just today on ESPN there was a piece about whether or not framing a pitch, committing an intentional foul, or other actions are considered cheating in sports. Most consider those actions as part of gamesmanship. What about phoning a friend for help to find a cache? It is more difficult to draw that line. I have been on both ends of those times. A helpful hint after searching is one thing, having someone tell you where to look is another. And as more and more groups get together to cache, I have found that caches are essentially compromised.

There are threads on regional sites that discuss caches that can be logged to increase find counts. The locals ran through a bunch of them last winter. Why else would folks from New Jersey (among other places) be logging caches in Germany (and here) without going there?

Smileys drive the so-called competition. If one did not receive a reward for logging, these types of situations would never occur. And there is no way to even the competition with the tools that Groundspeak provides. That I do not log locationless cache finds and someone else claims 200 of them matters not to those who look at the numbers. There is no distinction made. And that, dear reader, is another reason why I do not log anything on GC.com. This way I have removed myself from the comparisons.

The online part of the game is influencing the out-in-the-wild part of the game. All the examples above are based on the smiley. If the smiley/find count combo did not exist, how many of the above actions would have taken place?

Who to blame is not a worthwhile endeavor. Yes, the individual cachers are the ones performing these actions. But it is Groundspeak who provides the means to do so. Simply, if Groundspeak doesn’t think geocaching is competitive, why does it provide the means (albeit flawed) to do so? One might whisper money, but we’ll leave that out of this discussion. The smiley represents Groundspeak’s influence on the game. Folks are not extending what is considered a find while terracaching. It is the same game, but the online end is handled differently. Both sites provide tools for competition, but one is meaningful and one is not. The smiley is the difference.

So CR, for me, a smiley represents geocaching at its worse. It represents the competition of a group of people who have placed status to a number that represents nothing. And for those who will counter that the number means nothing to them, just see what happens if Groundspeak ever pulls that statistic again. More personally, the smiley reminds me of cachers who I once was close to but now find to be estranged.

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